“I think I’m going to throw up,” Nagisa said, sounding almost as pathetic and miserable as he felt. He was sitting on a bench with his head between his knees, and Makoto was rubbing his back, but there was less sympathy in the gesture than he might have hoped for. Makoto was paying more attention to his phone than Nagisa’s suffering.
“That last ride was really a bad idea, huh?” There was only the faintest, faintest hint of an I-told-you-so in Makoto’s words, but admittedly he probably deserved it. Nagisa had managed to turn Rin’s offer of a birthday lunch from “anything you want” into “everything you can stuff in your face in one sitting,” which would have been brilliant if they hadn’t immediately followed up their two man chili-dog-and-funnel-cake-eating-contest with a ride on one of the amusement park’s most gut-churning rides.
“If you throw up, you’re paying me back for lunch,” Rin said from somewhere on Nagisa’s other side. He was bent over, too, and sounded just as sick, “Ugh, I can’t believe I spent my train money on that stupid funnel cake.”
“Ahh, but it was so good Rin-chan,” Nagisa said, leaning over to nuzzle his head against Rin’s shoulder.
“Oi, knock it off,” Rin said, shrugging Nagisa off halfheartedly.
“Hey guys?” Makoto sounded more worried than usual, “Sousuke isn’t answering his phone.”
“Hah?” Rin said, then frowned, running his had down his face. “Ah, shit. That’s because it got wet on that stupid water ride Haru made us go on.”
“It wasn’t stupid,” Haru muttered.
“You just wanted to go under the waterfalls,” Rin said, but Haru just shrugged.
Makoto ignored them both and frowned, standing up to scan the crowd for the hundredth time, “Do you think he got lost?” Sousuke had made a beeline for the nearest bathroom as soon as they’d all gotten off the ride, but it had been more than twenty minutes and he still hadn’t come back.
“Yeah,” Rin muttered, “almost definitely.” Rin took a slow, steadying breath, then stood up. “I’ll go look for him.”
“Are you sure?” Makoto asked. “I don’t want us to get separated, too.”
“It’s fine,” Rin said, “My phone is almost at full battery. I’ll call you when I find him, and we can figure out where to meet up. Just don’t lose track of these two idiots or we’ll never find them.”
“Hey,” Nagisa said, “you’re the one that wanted to watch a movie on the train. It’s not my fault my phone died.”
“What’s your excuse?” Rin asked Haru.
“Makoto has a phone.”
“Anyway, it’s fine,” Makoto said, cutting off Rin’s inevitable objection with a gentle smile, “As long as we stick together, it’s fine.”
Rin rolled his eyes, “Whatever you say. I’ll see you losers in a while.”
He started to walk away, but Makoto shouted after him, “Oh, wait, here, take these.” He handed Rin a few small pieces of paper, “Your and Sousuke’s ride passes for the Speedster, in case we don’t meet up in time.”
“Thanks,” Rin said, but immediately started frowning. “Uh, Makoto, this says we’re supposed to be in line in fifteen minutes.”
“Ehhh???” Makoto grabbed the tickets back, his face going pale, “Oh no! I thought they were for 1:50, not 1:15!”
“Oooh, we should go get in line now,” Nagisa said, pushing up from his spot on the bench a little too fast. He did his best to pretend like his head wasn’t still spinning.
“No way,” Rin said, “You’ll puke all over everyone.”
“You really will,” Haru said.
Nagisa turned to Makoto, eyes wide and sparkly, “Mako-chan, you can’t go without me. The Speedster is my #1 must-ride.”
Makoto looked to Haru and Rin for help, only to find they’d both taken a big step back. Makoto sighed, “Nagisa, if you go now, you’re just going to make yourself sick.”
“Mako-chaaaaan, you can’t go without me, it’s my birthday!”
Makoto ran his hand back through his hair, sighing again, “Rin and Sousuke wanted to go on it, too, but they probably won’t make it in time, either. Why don’t Haru and I get new fast passes when we get in line? That way you have a little time to let your stomach settle, and we can all go together later.”
It was not a bad plan, both in terms of diplomacy and damage control, but Nagisa found himself puffing his cheeks out anyway. Before he could say anything, though, Rin’s hand clamped down on the top of his head, “Oi, we already paid for the tickets, so there’s no reason to let them all go to waste.”
Nagisa sighed, shoulders slumping, “Yeah, okay. As long as we get to go on it before we leave.”
“Definitely,” Makoto said with a warm smile. He fished around in his pocket and pulled out a map of the park. “We’re pretty close, and I think… Yeah, there’s a big grandstand right next to the entrance to the ride. Nagisa, you can sit there and rest, and we can all meet up with you later?”
Rin gave a curt nod, “I’ll try to catch up with you.” He gave a little wave before jogging off in the direction Sousuke had disappeared half an hour before, and Nagisa contemplated just laying back down on the bench and going to sleep. He really did feel pretty awful, and it must have showed, because Makoto patted his shoulder and handed him a bottle of water he’d pulled out of his side satchel.
“Try to take it easy, okay?”
Nagisa took the still-slightly-cool bottle and pressed it to his forehead, nodding, “Thanks, Mako-chan.”
“Makoto,” Haru said, but Makoto was already tossing him a water bottle, too.
“Let’s go get in line?” Haru and Nagisa nodded their agreement, and Makoto, map in hand, led them hastily through the park to the ride entrance. Sure enough, there was a huge grandstand just off to one side, and Nagisa stopped next to the steps that led up into the bleachers. For a moment, it looked like Makoto was going to stop to fuss over him, or maybe try to sit the ride out himself. Before Haru could drag him away, Nagisa grabbed Makoto’s sleeve, “Hey Mako-chan, are you sure this is okay?”
“Hm? What do you mean?”
Nagisa had been strategically using his position as fifth wheel for good all day, filling in as Haru’s ride buddy for all the bigger, badder coasters that Makoto wanted to sit out. The Speedster was definitely one Makoto had wanted to avoid, but since Haru staunchly refused to ride anything alone… “I was just thinking, maybe it’s not too late to have Rin-chan come ride with Haru-chan, and then you and I could go look for Sou-chan together?”
An expression flitted across Makoto’s face – half a second of horrified realization, maybe a brief wish that he’d thought of it himself – before he shook his head, “No, Rin wasn’t feeling well, either. Besides, he has a better chance of finding Sousuke in time to make the ride than we would, anyway.” It was probably true – Nagisa sometimes wondered if Rin had secretly had Sousuke fitted with one of those pet tracker chips – but he still shot Makoto a skeptical look. Sure, Makoto would never, of his own volition, come up with a plan that involved him being parted from Haru’s side for even a minute, but that didn’t mean it was too late to save him from himself. But Makoto just laughed at Nagisa’s pout, “I’ll be fine. Who knows, I might even enjoy myself.”
Nagisa rolled his eyes, waving his friends on, “Yeah, sure. Have fun you two~”
Haru gave him a nod, then took hold of Makoto’s arm and pulled him the rest of the way into the line.
Nagisa sighed, twisting open the water bottle Makoto had given him and drinking a few sips before pouring the cold water straight onto his face and into his hair. He never got sick from overeating, and he never got sick from roller coasters, but apparently both back to back had been a little much, even for his iron gut. He poured a little water into the palm of his hand and swiped it across the back of his neck, then over each of his arms. It wasn’t much, but it helped him catch the slight breeze that just barely moved the stifling afternoon air.
He climbed the metal steps, the feel of them beneath his feet bringing up a tactile memory of the grandstands at perfecturals. And what he wouldn’t give to be in a pool right now; he wished, not for the first time, that they’d held off on the water rides until it had gotten really hot, or at least not changed out of their wet clothes, but Makoto had staunchly objected to everyone walking around soggy all day.
The water he’d poured on himself was already turning hot and mingling with his sweat, and he wondered briefly how much of his clothing he could take off before it would get him kicked out of the park. Instead, he just tugged at the front of his shirt, fanning it to try to get a little cool air on his skin, his head still swimming with nausea. Maybe if he could find a spot to take a little nap? Sleep usually made him feel better, whatever the problem happened to be, and while this wasn’t exactly the greatest spot for it, he definitely didn’t want to stay feeling sick the rest of the day.
The stands overlooked the roller coaster, which whizzed by with a whoosh of air and a trail of excited screaming as Nagisa made it up to the first row of seats. The stand wasn’t crowded by any means, and was clearly occupied by people who had gotten ditched by their groups – mostly parents and small children that wouldn’t (or couldn’t) go anywhere near a serious roller coaster. Definitely Makoto’s turf.
Nagisa ran his hand back through his damp hair, sighing as he surveyed the stands and looking for somewhere that could serve as a makeshift bed. His eyes caught on something unexpected, though. Mixed in with all the moms and toddlers was a guy about his age who appeared to be… doing homework? He was sitting at the highest point of the stands, about as far away from the entrance as he could get, and there were what looked like thick textbooks and notebooks spread out on the seats around him.
Curiosity drove Nagisa forward, and before he had time to think better of it, he was making his way toward where the guy was sitting. As he got closer, Nagisa realized that Homework Guy was actually very, very attractive. His dark hair was tousled in just exactly the way that you knew he spent a lot of time on it in the morning, and he was wearing a pair of thick-rimmed, cherry-red glasses that just screamed look at me! The guy was also way overdressed for the weather, wearing a navy blue short sleeved sweater over a short sleeved baby blue button down and black skinny jeans. He looked good enough that Nagisa would have assumed he was on a date if he hadn’t been sitting absolutely alone, surrounded by schoolwork, in the middle of a theme park.
Before he knew it, Nagisa was standing right next to the guy, having spared absolutely no thought for an excuse to be approaching him. Homework Guy glanced up, alerted to Nagisa’s presence by a shadow or a sound or some movement in the air, and when he did, Nagisa realized that behind those saucy red glasses were a pair of the most beautiful amethyst colored eyes he’d ever seen. “Uh, hi.”
Homework Guy raised an eyebrow, “Hello.”
“Is… this seat taken?” Smooth, Nagisa. Homework Guy’s pretty purple eyes glanced eloquently at the completely deserted seats all around them. Okay, time to backtrack. “I mean, I… It looks like you’re going to be here for a while, so I was wondering if you could watch my bag while I try to sleep?” Not the best excuse he’d ever come up with on the fly, but definitely not the worst, either.
“While you what?”
Oh, right. Maybe some holes in that explanation. “Er, I went on that stupid spinny ride right after I ate lunch, and now I feel, just, awful…” as he said it, the full force of just how bad he felt hit him all over again, and he sat down with a groan, putting his head in his hands, “My friends made me sit out this ride so I wouldn’t puke on them, and I was thinking if I took a nap, I might start feeling better.”
“Oh,” Homework Guy said. Before Nagisa could contemplate throwing himself over the side of the stands to flee the gross overshare that had just escaped his lips, the guy added, “Why didn’t you say so?”
But Homework Guy had already turned away and was digging around in a purple backpack that – honest to god – both perfectly matched the shade of his eyes, and had a big butterfly emblazoned on the back. Nagisa was just starting to wonder if he’d misheard when Homework Guy sat up triumphantly and handed him a small cardboard box, “Here.”
Nagisa blinked at the package, “Fast acting motion sickness relief?”
“I have something of a weak stomach myself,” Homework Guy admitted.
Nagisa flipped the box over and skimmed the label on the back before pulling the top open. He wasn’t exactly one to take random pills from a stranger, but they were still in the blister pack, and Homework Guy seemed earnest enough. “These really help?”
“It’s better if you take them beforehand,” Homework Guy said, pushing those red glasses up the bridge of his nose, “but yes.”
“Huh,” Nagisa said, popping one of the pills out of the packaging and swallowing it with the last gulp of water from his bottle. “Thanks,” he said, handing the box back, “I’m Nagisa, by the way.”
“Ryugazaki Rei,” he said with a small nod, tucking the box back into his bag and turning back to his abandoned notebook, clearly finished with the conversation.
Unfortunately, ‘fast acting’ did not, evidently, mean ‘immediately effective,’ and Nagisa still felt swimmy and miserable. He glanced down at the bench beneath him, shifting a little from side to side. The metal was hot and the bench was narrow; he might have been able to lay down on it flat on his back or on his stomach, but it would have been precarious if he actually did fall asleep, and the sharp heat coming off the metal was already making his wooziness worse. Besides, if he laid down here, he’d end up either with his feet in Rei’s face or his head in his lap, neither of which he expected would be appreciated.
But feeling sick sucked and was boring, and sitting there with his eyes closed wasn’t helping. Since he couldn’t lie down, Nagisa found his eyes wandering back over towards the thick notebook poised in Rei’s lap, looking for a distraction. “So what are you working on up here, anyway?”
For a second, he thought Rei wasn’t going to answer, but eventually he said, without looking up, “An assignment.”
“Like for a class?” Nagisa asked, leaning a little closer to try to get a better look.
“I’m here with a class,” Rei said, scooting a little farther away from Nagisa.
“No kidding? What kind of class?” Nagisa asked, scooting after him.
Rei sighed and looked up, “If you must know, it’s a college preparatory engineering class. We spent the morning examining the inner workings of the rides with some of the park’s technicians, and now I’m compiling notes about the experience.”
Nagisa’s eyes lit up, “No kidding? You got to get up close and personal with the coasters? What was it like?”
Rei glanced over, a sour look on his face like he maybe thought he was being made fun of, but the idea of monkey crawling around in the underbelly of a roller coaster was maybe the coolest thing Nagisa had ever heard of, and it must have showed on his face, because Rei sighed and passed Nagisa his notebook.
The notebook was graph paper rather than lined paper, and the page on top was covered in incredibly detailed pencil sketches of various pieces of machinery. Nagisa started to flip a page but hesitated and asked, “May I?” Rei gave a small nod, and Nagisa started perusing the notebook, eyes pouring over all the little diagrams. Some of the drawings were of individual parts – the interlocking struts that made up a track, or the complex little wheels that held the carts in place. Others were very technical, small mathematical-looking notations penciled in alongside detailed drawings of familiar tracks, marking heights and slopes and curves. A few looked like long, sinuous spines, curves of interlocking vertebrae that were almost sensual. “These are beautiful,” Nagisa said, genuinely awestruck. When he’d worked his way all the way back to the front of the notebook, he turned and looked up at Rei, “You had to do all these for a class?”
“Well, not all of them,” Rei admitted, adjusting his glasses. “Technically, our class was dismissed for the day after the tour, but I thought I would take full advantage of the opportunity to sketch from a reference.”
Nagisa pondered that for a moment. Probably the rest of Rei’s classmates were out actually riding the rides, but Rei had spent his day sitting in the mom section, recreating the park’s rides in loving detail. It had never really occurred to him, but… “A lot of work must go into building one of these.”
Rei hummed his agreement, following Nagisa’s gaze out to the roller coaster in front of them. A car whizzed by, a whoosh of air, a trill of excited screams, before whipping out of sight again, just like all the ones that had come before it.
“Is that what you want to do?” Nagisa asked, “Design roller coasters?”
“Hm?” Rei asked, evidently surprised by the question. “Oh, probably not. I’m more interested in architecture, or maybe structural engineering. But I’ve always thought that these sorts of rides had their own minimalist sort of beauty.”
“You capture it,” Nagisa said, then laughed, “To me they’re just, you know, sixty seconds of adrenaline, but these…” he pointed at one of the less technical sketches in Rei’s notebook, “are really, really beautiful.” He passed the notebook back to Rei, “Thank you for showing them to me.”
“It was no trouble,” Rei said, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose and looking away. And… was he blushing?
The thought barely had time to register before two small children ran up the steps next to them, raced precariously along the bench behind them, and started yelling down at someone standing at the base of the grandstand. It would have barely even been annoying, except that both the kids were holding big, fat, onion-covered chili dogs, and the smell of it immediately brought Nagisa’s nausea back full force. He put a hand to his mouth and sat, rigid and wide-eyed, trying not to breathe too deeply.
“Nagisa-kun, are you alright?”
Nagisa gave a small, tight shake of his head. “I think I’m gonna-” But he couldn’t even say it without making it happen. He closed his eyes, breathed through his mouth, tried to ignore the sickly sweet taste of saliva building up around his tongue. Then the kids yelled again and pounded back down the bleachers, taking the smell with them and leaving Nagisa to wonder how he was going to make it all the way to a trashcan without vomiting all over himself.
Then he heard the sound of water glugging, and a moment later there was a cool, damp cloth pressed to the back of his neck, and Rei was speaking quietly to him, “Lean forward a bit if you can, and try to keep your breathing slow.” Nagisa nodded vaguely, doing as he was told. “Give me your hand?” Okay, that request was a weird one, but Nagisa was in no state to argue; he held out his hand.
Rei took hold of Nagisa’s hand, turned it over so his palm was facing up, and gently pressed three fingertips to the inside of his wrist. Nagisa opened his eyes slowly, moving his gaze – slowly – to one side to see what Rei was doing, but by the time he got there, Rei had already pressed his thumb firmly down against the inside of Nagisa’s arm, just below where his third finger had been. Rei’s eyes eventually wandered up, catching Nagisa looking at him. “It’s acupressure,” he explained, fussing with his glasses with his free hand, “I’ve studied the theory extensively. It should settle your stomach within a few minutes.”
“I feel like I’m going to die,” Nagisa said, resisting the urge to spit because he knew it would only make it worse.
“You’ll be alright,” Rei said, “just close your eyes and breathe.”
Nagisa nodded, again doing as he was told, though he was surprised when Rei started rubbing his back, tentative and gentle.
He was maybe more surprised when, just a few short minutes later, his stomach had settled, and he was… actually feeling kind of okay. He sat up, cautiously, and Rei sat back, letting go of his arm. “Feeling better?”
“Yeah,” Nagisa said, marveling at the inside of his forearm, “Thank you.”
“Well, I certainly wasn’t going to let you be ill.”
“I appreciate it,” Nagisa said, reaching up to pull the no-longer-cool cloth off the back of his neck. As soon as he touched the material, he realized that it wasn’t just a napkin or something. In fact, it was a very, very nice purple handkerchief with a small butterfly embroidered on one corner. “Oh no,” he said, “I hope the water didn’t ruin this.” He held the handkerchief out helplessly; it was still soggy, but he was hesitant to wring it out for fear of damaging the fabric.
“Just lay it out on the bench,” Rei said. “It’ll dry.”
“Right, good idea,” Nagisa said, carefully laying out the small bit of cloth on the hot metal of the seat in front of him.
“I suppose now you’ll be able to meet back up with your group,” Rei said. His tone was casual, but the thought made Nagisa a little sad.
“Why don’t you join us?” He said, the words spilling out of his mouth as soon as the idea entered his head.
Rei blinked, “What?”
“When my friends get back, why don’t you come with us? We have an odd number of people anyway, so if you come, I won’t have to ride alone anymore. We could probably get a full cart to ourselves on most of the rides, even!”
Rei looked like he was about to protest. Then he just frowned and said, “Why me?”
Nagisa tilted his head curiously, “Why not you?”
“Well, I don’t know any of your friends, for one.”
“An hour ago you didn’t know me, either.”
“I suppose that’s-”
“Besides, you really like roller coasters, right? It would be a shame not to go on at least a few, since you’re here anyway.” Nagisa frowned, “Though if you do join our group, we’re going to have to find a way to get a few more fast passes.”
“Uhm, actually,” Rei said, pulling a small keychain out of his pocket, “I have a-”
Nagisa’s eyes went wide, “No way! You have an all access pass? These are like, super expensive!”
“We got them as part of the tour. Everyone in our class did, since we spent the whole morning with the-”
“You have an all access pass and you haven’t been on any rides?”
“Okay, you are definitely coming with us,” Nagisa said firmly.
Rei started to protest, but was cut off by the static of the parks PA system kicking in. “Matsuoka Rin-san, your child is at the north gate.”
Nagisa’s eyes went wide and he held up a hand, “Hang on, shh.”
“Repeat, Matsuoka Sousuke-kun is waiting for his mother at the north gate.” Nagisa clapped a hand over his mouth, not quite managing to stifle a laugh. “Matsuoka Rin-san, please make your way to the north gate.” As soon as the PA cut out, Nagisa lost it, cackling and slapping his knee as the message repeated once more.
Rei was looking at him like he’d grown a second head, “What’s so funny?”
“Oh my god,” Nagisa wheezed, “Oh my god, Rin-chan is going to kill him.”
It took Rei a moment, but, “Wait, was that announcement about your friends?”
Nagisa nodded, laughing breathlessly, “Oh god, Sou-chan is gonna die.”
“Am I safe to assume that Rin-san is not Sousuke-kun’s mother?”
But that only sent Nagisa into another fit of laughter. Eventually, he managed, “No, Rin is a guy and they’re the same age.”
“Oh,” Rei said, then, “Oh dear, and Rin-san will have to meet with the park staff to reclaim his, er, ‘son.’”
“Yeah if by ‘son’ you mean his six foot one, musclebound boyfriend,” Nagisa said, wiping a tear from the corner of his eye, “Oh god, and he took RinRin’s last name. This is amazing.”
“Why have the announcement made, though? I mean, why not just call each other and set up a meeting place?”
“Because Haru-chan steered Sou-chan under a waterfall on the river ride and wrecked his phone. Our group only has two phones between us, and Sou-chan couldn’t navigate his way out of a paper bag. He probably has no idea where he is.”
“Wait, how many people are in your group?”
“Just five of us,” Nagisa said. “Rin-chan, Sou-chan, Haru-chan, and Mako-chan.” He looked up and grinned, “I’m kind of the fifth wheel.”
“Haru-san and Mako-san are also…together?”
“Er, yeah,” Nagisa said, rubbing the back of his head, “Whenever we all get together, it’s kind of like a miniature Pride parade.”
Rei turned a little pink, “Are you also…?”
Nagisa raised his eyebrows, then flashed Rei a wicked little smile, “Why, are you interested?”
The pink in Rei’s cheeks went red, but before he could say anything, someone called out Nagisa’s name.
Nagisa looked up and found Haru standing at the base of the bleachers doing absolutely nothing to attract his attention. Haru gave a little jerk of his head, indicating the stairs, and Nagisa held up a hand and waved, then shouted down, “Be right there Haru-chan!” Then he turned to Rei with an apologetic smile, “Looks like that’s my ride. You sure you don’t want to come with?”
Rei hesitated, dropping his eyes to his feet, “Uhm.”
“It’s okay. You don’t have to if you don’t want to.” Nagisa slung his bag onto his shoulder, his smile softening, “Thanks for your help, and uh, sorry if I…” He stopped and shook his head, “Anyway, thanks.” He took a step down to the next row of bleachers, then hesitated and turned around. “You know, I understand admiring something from afar,” he said, nodding toward Rei’s notebook, “but for what it’s worth, I think there are some things you can’t really fully appreciate unless you experience them yourself.” He grinned, “Wind in your hair, sun on your skin and all that.”
Rei’s shoulders stiffened in surprise and he looked up. Their eyes met for a moment, and then Rei said, “Okay. Just let me… give me a minute to pack up?”
Nagisa beamed, “Of course.”
Less than a minute later they were headed down the stairs off the bleacher, Nagisa bounding down the steps with unbridled enthusiasm, and Rei taking the uneven steps at a more normal pace. At the bottom of the stairs, Nagisa slammed into Haru, wrapping him up in a huge hug, “Haru-chan! I found us a sixth!” Haru’s eyes flicked up to Rei, and Nagisa added, “He has an all access pass, so he can go wherever we go.” Nagisa let go of Haru, sliding back to his own feet and pulling away a little so he could face Rei as he joined them on the landing, “Rei-chan, this is Haru-chan. Haru-chan, Rei-chan.”
“Hi,” Haru said.
“Uhm, hello,” Rei said.
Nagisa glanced around, “Where’s Mako-chan?”
“He couldn’t make it up the stairs,” Haru said.
“What?! Is he hurt? What happened?!”
“Come see,” Haru said, turning and leading them out of the grandstands.
Makoto was leaned up against the wall at the base of the stairs, hunched down a little and visibly shaking. Nagisa’s eyes went wide, “Mako-chan! Are you okay?”
Makoto let out a bubbly little laugh, “I’m f-f-fine, I just, ah, need a minute.”
Nagisa glanced at Haru, who shrugged, “Adrenaline.”
“Oh Mako-chan, I’m so sorry I made you go on this one.”
“Ah,” Makoto said, “Actually, it was kinda f-fun? I just can’t quite… ah, stand up on my own yet.”
“He wants to go again,” Haru said, “Even though he was shaking so bad he couldn’t get off the ride by himself.”
“Mako-chan is a closet adrenaline junkie,” Nagisa marveled.
Haru rolled his eyes and ducked down beside Makoto, slinging Makoto’s arm over his shoulder. He gently pulled Makoto to his feet and half carried him towards one of the park benches. “Ah, my phone,” Makoto said as Haru eased him down onto one of the seats. Makoto fumbled his phone out of his pocket, nearly dropping it before Haru took it from him.
Haru turned the phone on and put it to his ear, “What?” After a moment he added, “Okay,” then, “Yeah.”
Nagisa pulled on Haru’s sleeve, “Who is it?”
“Rin. He found Sousuke.”
Nagisa snorted, “Yeah he did! Give me that!” He took the phone from Haru, grinning mischievously, “RinRin! Congratulations! I always thought it would be Yamazaki Rin for sure! Have you two set a date?”
“One more word Hazuki and I swear to god-”
“It has a nice ring to it, though, right?” he said, then put on his most sensual voice, “Matsuoka Sousuke.” He paused, waiting for a reaction, and when none came, “Hello? Ah, damn, he hung up.”
“What was that all about?” Makoto asked.
Before Nagisa could answer, Haru interrupted him, “He said they’ll be here in five.”
“Oh, that’s great,” Makoto said, sitting up and stretching out his arms and legs and looking a little more composed. Then his gaze lighted on Rei, “Oh, hello. Who-?”
“This is Rei-chan!” Nagisa said, pulling Rei forward and smiling. “He’s going to be our sixth!”
“That’s wonderful!” He blinked, then smiled, “That means I can go again, too!”
Haru snorted. “Unbelievable.”
“We should go over our must-ride list again,” Nagisa said, “Now that Mako-chan isn’t going to sit out half the rides.”
“Must-ride list?” Rei asked.
Nagisa dug around in his pockets, then pulled out a slightly crumpled piece of paper and unfolded it, “Before we came, we made a list of all the rides. Everyone wrote down the one ride they absolutely had to go on, and then their top five, and we made a day plan from that.”
He handed the paper to Rei, who nodded his approval, “Very democratic.”
“It was Mako-chan’s idea. He wanted to make sure everyone was happy,” Nagisa said brightly.
Rei turned the paper over, then added, “Oh, you even planned a route through the park… This last one seems a bit out of place, though.”
Nagisa leaned over his shoulder to look, then grinned, “Oh yeah, Makoto bartered his whole top five for that one. RinRin is the one who figured out the route.”
“Still talking about me, shorty?” Nagisa stiffened a moment before Rin’s arm wrapped around his neck, dragging him off balance.
“Only good stuff, Rin-chan!” Nagisa protested, but too late – Rin started digging his knuckles down against Nagisa’s scalp.
“Yeah, right. Who’s the megane?” Rin asked, letting Nagisa go.
Rei pushed his glasses up his nose, standing stiffly and introducing himself before Nagisa had a chance to catch his breath, “Ryugazaki Rei. Nagisa-kun invited me to join your group.”
Rin looked skeptical, then suddenly grinned, slapping Nagisa on the back, “You move fast, kid.”
“Rin!” Nagisa squawked, horrified. Rei wasn’t quite fast enough to hide his surprised blush behind his hand.
“I warned you,” Rin said. He hooked his arm around Nagisa’s neck again and pulled him close, whispering in his ear, “And if you ask about the wedding again, I won’t let you be my best man.”
Nagisa gasped, pulling back abruptly, eyes wide and mouth agape. A hundred questions were racing through his head – mostly some variation on seriously?! – but Rin gave him a challenging look, and he knew he couldn’t ask any of them. Nagisa puffed out his cheeks, and Sousuke came over and rumpled Nagisa’s hair, “Aww, cut the kid some slack, RinRin.”
“Don’t you start,” Rin said.
“Why don’t we all go get in line?” Makoto interrupted. “Our ride window should be opening up in a few minutes, anyway.”
“Great idea! Let’s go!” Nagisa said, linking arms with Rei and all but dragging him toward the ride entrance in his haste to escape Rin’s attention.
Their ride passes got the whole group near the front of the line, but it was a busy summer day in the afternoon, so even the “fast” line wasn’t exactly short, and they came to a standstill before they could even see the ride. Nagisa hopped up on the metal railing and kicked his feet idly. Rei frowned, but didn’t say anything. Haru and Makoto struck up a conversation with Rin and Sousuke, and Rei inched a little closer to Nagisa, clearing his throat, “So, uh. How do you all know each other?”
“Oh, we go way back,” Nagisa said. “We all used to swim together in middle school, and we competed together in high school. They all graduated last year, though.”
“That’s too bad,” Rei said.
“Yeah, I basically had to rebuild the Iwatobi swim team by myself, but at least I finally got to be captain.”
“Wait, you’re from Iwatobi?”
Nagisa blinked, “Yeah, I go to Iwatobi High.”
“That’s like half an hour away from my house,” Rei said, “I almost went there.”
“You’re kidding,” Nagisa said, eyes going wide. It was like fate, though he didn’t dare say it out loud.
Rei shook his head, “If it wasn’t for the commute, I might have. Their track team was pretty good.”
“You do track?” Nagisa asked, scootching along the railing as the line started moving forward again. “What’s your event?”
“Pole vaulting,” Rei said, holding a nervous hand out to catch Nagisa if he fell. “Up until this year, at least.”
Rei shook his head, “I quit. I realized I was unlikely to earn a university scholarship for it, and decided to focus on my studies instead.”
“That’s too bad,” Nagisa said. “I bet you were amazing. You definitely have the build for it.”
Rei opened his mouth, then closed it, evidently unsure how to respond to that. “You said you were a swimmer?”
“Scouted at regionals, on my way to nationals,” Nagisa said with a proud grin. “I was actually in town checking out a couple colleges, and the guys surprised me with this trip.”
“For making it to nationals?”
“Uh,” Nagisa said, hopping down off his railing and trailing after the moving line. “Yeah, something like that.”
Rei tilted his head curiously, but he didn’t have long to wonder, because Makoto leaned over and said, “For his birthday.”
Nagisa flushed, shooting Makoto a look. “Oh!” Rei said, obviously surprised, “Happy birthday.” He looked vaguely guilty, like he felt bad for not having a gift and cake on hand for the occasion, and added, “I hope I’m not intruding.”
“Not at all,” Nagisa said with a grin. “I invited you, remember?”
“Now c’mon,” Nagisa said, pulling on Rei’s arm, “we’re almost up, and I want to sit up front.”
As it turned out, Rei was nearly as bad with (yet inexplicably thrilled by) roller coasters as Makoto was, the main distinction being that he screamed on steep drops while Makoto tried to disappear into the cart. Rei also started babbling about angles and velocity as Nagisa helped him out of the ride harness, while Makoto just giggled helplessly. After about three more rides, the two blossoming adrenaline junkies started to get their sea legs, but it didn’t stop Nagisa from buying the photo from every single ride to cherish everyone’s ridiculous faces – “Look, Haru-chan is looking right at the camera in this one, too!” “Rei-chan, you almost lost your glasses on this one!” “Rin-chan, did you know you grab onto Sou-chan when you’re scared?” – much to everyone else’s chagrin. Nagisa, of course, looked absolutely fabulous in every single one of the pictures.
It didn’t take long for Rei to settle in with the group, partly because Nagisa was constantly peppering him with questions about everything from the technical specs of the roller coasters they rode to the color of his pajamas, and partly because Nagisa was very good at landing on topics the others found interesting (Rin wanted to compare notes about their workout routines, Makoto was all too happy to talk about the struggles of finding a cheap, decent apartment in the city, Sousuke picked Rei’s brain about post-op recovery diets – which apparently Rei had “studied extensively” to help a friend through PT, and Rei had patiently listened to Haru lecture him about the importance of having a close personal relationship with water after he’d accidentally let slip that he had no idea how to swim). For once, Nagisa was content not to be the center of attention. Rei shone with confidence whenever he had the answer to a question, and Nagisa liked the way it looked on him. It also didn’t hurt that Rei laughed – really laughed – at all of Nagisa’s jokes, and responded in just the right way at just the right moment to all of his stories. After a lifetime of eye-rolling from his senpais, it was surprisingly refreshing.
It was Rin who finally blurted out, “You should come watch Nagisa swim at nationals.” And then, evidently impervious to the flaming blush that had erupted on Nagisa’s face, pressed on, “He’s been killing it since he stopped having to worry about the four of us all the time.”
“That’s a great idea,” Makoto said. “We’re all going to be there, and you’d be able to meet some of the other guys-”
“And see Nagi in a swimsuit,” Rin said with a grin.
Rei, a bit more cognizant of the embarrassment radiating off Nagisa, said, “Well, I wouldn’t want to intrude…”
“I would love it if you came,” Nagisa blurted out, a little louder than he intended to. “I mean, if you want to.”
“I would love to see you swim,” Rei said.
Nagisa had to bite the inside of his lip to keep himself from actually sparkling with delight, “I’d have to clear it with Ama-chan, but I think I could get you in for free.”
“That would be-”
“Nagisa. Rei.” They turned and looked, and found Haru standing in front of the entrance to a ride, looking impatient. “Come on.”
This time, when the ride crested the top, just before the drop, Nagisa put his hand over Rei’s on the grab bar and screamed with him all the way down.
The sun had just barely started to set when they got off the ride, which was the second-to-last item on the must-ride list and located at the far end of the park. Nagisa double checked the list, then glanced up at the sky before turning to Rei, “We’re going to have to go all the way back through the park for this last one, but we still have a little time. Is there anything else you really wanted to go on?”
“Actually, there was one we looked at this morning that I found intriguing,” Rei said, holding his hand out for the park map and unfolding it, “The one where the seats hang off to either side of the track… Uhm, the War Bird?”
“Ooh yeah, that was on my list, but Rin-chan vetoed it. It’s on the way, isn’t it?” Nagisa said, peering over Rei’s shoulder at the map, then turning to look back at Makoto, “Is it okay Mako-chan?”
“If the line isn’t too long, I don’t see why not.”
Nagisa beamed, “You’re the best! Let’s hurry!”
The ride was, indeed, on the way, and the line was, indeed, fairly short, but Rin insisted on sitting it out (he didn’t like rides where his legs dangled) and Sousuke stayed with him. As the remaining four of them settled into the line, Nagisa asked, “How come this one?”
“It’s a clever design,” Rei said. “Extending the cars to either side of the track rather than affixing them directly above or below completely alters the experience of the ride. The construction itself is fairly simple, but the design makes subtle changes in the track feel more pronounced.”
“…this is going to make us barf, isn’t it?”
“Absolutely not. We have been properly medicated.”
“Actually, I think we’re going to sit this one out, too,” Makoto said. “Right Haru?”
Haru opened his mouth, clearly about to object, then said, “Right,” and let Makoto lead him back out of the line.
Nagisa gave them both a little wave before leaning in and whispering to Rei, “He doesn’t want to feel sick for the last ride.”
“Ah, I see.”
“Tell me more about how the ride works?”
“You’re really that interested?”
“The math is way, way over my head,” Nagisa admitted, “but I’ve always been curious about the way things are put together, and you’re great at explaining it.”
“You know,” Rei said, “this isn’t the only field trip my class is going on. If you want, I could see if it’s possible for you to come along.”
“Wait, for real? What other kind of stuff are you guys doing?”
“Well, this trip is probably the most conventionally ‘fun’ one, but I think next time we’re going to get to inspect some of the bullet trains and take a day trip up north?”
“Whoa, seriously? Like, inspect as in, look at the engines and everything?”
Rei nodded, “And the track, and talk to some of the people who designed and maintain them.”
“That sounds amazing.”
“I’ll talk to my teacher about it,” Rei said with a soft smile.
The ride, luckily, did not make them sick, and afterwards Nagisa practically skipped out of the gate over to where his friends were sitting. “You guys ready?”
Makoto nodded, “We should hurry.”
“So what’s the last ride we’re going on, anyway?” Rei asked as the six of them bustled back across the park through the thinning crowds.
It was only when Rei actually voiced the question that Nagisa drew up short, mentally connecting their destination with the person walking beside him. He pushed his hand back through his hair and scratched his head, “Uhm, actually, it…” he sighed, then pointed, because they were almost there anyway, and it wasn’t exactly hard to miss.
Rei followed Nagisa’s gesture up toward the huge ferris wheel in the center of the park, which stood out starkly against the blazing oranges and pinks of the evening sky. It was Makoto’s gambit: he’d go to the park, ride whatever everyone else decided on, and select absolutely no sissy rides of his own for the master list, just as long as he got to ride the ferris wheel with Haru at sunset.
Rei said, “Oh.”
“I was kind of planning on fifth wheeling my way over to some cotton candy while the four of them, you know,” Nagisa said.
“But you aren’t the fifth wheel anymore,” Rei said.
Nagisa whipped around to look at him, surprised, “Do you want to…?”
“Yeah,” Rei said, looking up at the ride silhouetted against the setting sun, “Why not?”
There were a lot of potential why nots, but that Rei was evidently unperturbed by any of them made Nagisa’s toes curl inside his shoes, and a smile threaten to brand him as way, way overeager. “Okay,” Nagisa said, trying not to sound like he was about to break into dance, “Let’s do it.”
The cars were only big enough for two, the ride intentionally designed for couples rather than families. Nagisa and Rei were the last ones in, and Nagisa could only hope that Rei missed the salacious wink and big thumbs up Rin shot them as his and Sousuke’s car shifted backwards, up, and away. Rei held out a hand to help Nagisa climb into the slightly wobbly car, and they stayed holding hands as Rei climbed in after him and pulled the safety bar down in front of them. Rei’s hand was big and warm and lightly callused, and it made Nagisa feel small and dainty in a way that was unexpectedly thrilling. Their car jerked suddenly as it started moving backwards, and Nagisa startled a little, gripping Rei’s hand instinctively.
Rei adjusted his grip, lacing their fingers together, and Nagisa wondered if there was an upper limit for how much nervous excitement his body could contain – if the little fluttery thrills racing through him would actually cause him to explode. He wanted to laugh, or wiggle, tap his feet against the floor – something, anything to alleviate the tight wound feeling of anticipation in his chest – but there was nothing he could do in the small cart but gently squeeze Rei’s hand.
The ride up to the top was slow going as the rest of the cars on the ferris wheel filled in below them, but as they neared the highest point, the city stretched out beneath them – the last rays of sun glinting like fire off the cars in the parking lot, the sun a drop of molten gold sinking down into the jagged skyline, the air alive with pink and lavender below the last lingering blue high in the sky. And for a moment Nagisa forgot that he was nervous, eyes widening in awe as he whispered, “Wow.” The view from up high was gone too quickly, the wheel cycling smoothly around, but when they got back up to the top and the ride stopped, Nagisa used his free hand to grip the bar that held them in place and leaned forward to get a better look at the view. “It’s so beautiful.”
Rei gripped his hand tighter, “Be careful, Nagisa-kun.”
He turned to face Rei, ready to tease him, but the sight of Rei so close, looking him in the eye, gilded by the sunset, drove every thought from Nagisa’s mind, stole the smile from his lips, and made his breath catch in his throat. Rei was beautiful, more beautiful than the sunset, more beautiful than anyone Nagisa had ever seen before, and the way Rei was looking at him made him feel like he was blooming on the inside, but he couldn’t quite make his brain form the words to tell him.
Then Rei said, “Can I…?”
And Nagisa’s mind screamed Yes! Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me! Oh my god, kiss me, yes!
Then Rei loosened his grip on Nagisa’s hand, reached up to brush his thumb against Nagisa’s jaw, just that one touch making Nagisa’s eyes go half lidded.
Then the ride lurched forward, and Rei pulled back, startled, and instead of saying kiss you? he said, “Can I get your phone number?”
Nagisa choked out an abrupt, surprised little laugh, but nodded, “Yeah, of course.”
“Ah, but my phone is-” In his giant bag full of books, which they’d stashed in a locker on the opposite side of the park.
“Do you have a pen?”
Rei closed his eyes and put his face in his hands, “In my bag.”
“I’ll find one,” Nagisa promised, reaching over and gently brushing Rei’s bangs out of his eyes.
Rei looked up, and Nagisa wasn’t sure what it was that he saw, but there was a hitch in Rei’s breath and a subtle change in the air between him, and he opened his mouth to say something...
…just as the ride came to a stop, and the attendant came over to let them out.
Nagisa was pretty sure he would fulfill any request, perform any task, or pay any bribe for just one more trip around the damn ferris wheel, but before he could come up with an adequate ransom, they’d been booted out of the car and someone else had moved up from the line to take their place.
Haru, Makoto, Rin, and Sousuke were all standing together a little ways off, paired off holding hands and looking the slightest bit disheveled… and clearly giving Rei and Nagisa their space. “Wait here,” Nagisa said to Rei before heading toward his friends. “Mako-chan, do you have a pen I can borrow?”
Makoto looked surprised, but immediately reached for his bag, “I think so, uhm…” He rummaged around for a moment before pulling one out, “Will this work?”
“Yeah, it’s perfect, thanks.”
“Remember we need to get going soon if we’re going to make our train,” Makoto said gently.
“I know,” Nagisa said. “I’ll be right back.” He puffed out a little breath before heading back to Rei. So close. But if he’d come that close, that meant he’d call, right? They lived in the same town, after all, and… But it wasn’t worth thinking about. He put on a smile and said, “Give me your hand?”
Rei raised an eyebrow but did as he was told. Nagisa took Rei’s hand and uncapped the pen with his teeth, then wrote his phone number out on the inside of Rei’s arm, punctuated on either side with two bubbly hearts, and a quick scribble that said ~call me!~
Rei turned his arm so he could read it and laughed, “I will.”
“You’d better,” Nagisa said, putting the cap back on his pen and shoving it in his back pocket. He chewed his lip, “I should probably get going. We have a train to catch.”
“As do I,” Rei said, but he didn’t sound overly happy about it.
“We’ll talk soon, yeah?” Rei nodded, and on impulse – because the space between them was suddenly too much, and the thought of it getting bigger, imminently and maybe indefinitely, was too awful – he pulled Rei into a hug and leaned up to press a kiss to his cheek. “I’m glad I ran into you today.”
Rei smiled, lifting a hand to his cheek, “I’ve never been so happy to have someone almost throw up on me.”
Nagisa laughed, giving Rei’s shoulder a little shove, “Text me when you get home? So I know you made it?”
“I will,” Rei said, then hesitated, “Er, I likely won’t be getting home until late, are you sure you-”
“Text me,” Nagisa repeated.
“Okay. Goodnight, Nagisa-kun.”
It was awkward, awful, agonizing to walk away from each other like this, unsaid words and a not-quite-kiss hanging between them, but they waved and parted, Rei heading out to retrieve his bag, Nagisa heading back to his friends and toward the entrance to the park. Nagisa and the others walked in silence for a few minutes, sunset turning to twilight, his friends hand in hand and him walking, only very slightly deflated, in between them.
Rin was the one to eventually break the silence, “So did he-”
“Don’t,” Nagisa said.
“Really?” Rin said. Nagisa sighed. “I thought for sure he would. God, you should have seen the way he was looking at you.”
“What?” Nagisa said.
“You were practically falling out of the damn ride looking at the sunset, but he was looking at you like he was thinking about making you breakfast in bed.”
Nagisa felt his cheeks heat. “How do you know?”
Rin reached over and ruffled Nagisa’s hair, “When have I ever not been looking out for you? Don’t answer that.”
“He’ll call,” Haru said.
“You think so, Haru-chan?”
Haru just nodded, but with a sense of finality that, evidently, closed the matter. He’d find out soon enough either way.
They took their time walking, enjoying the slow descent of dusk and watching as the park gradually lit up. Eventually they made it back to the little locker area near the front entrance to the park, and they all started pulling out keys and punching in codes and hauling their bags and wet clothes out of their lockers. Nagisa had just untied his flannel from around his waist and started to pull it on when he heard someone calling his name.
He looked up and around, bewildered. The voice echoed off the walls of the lockers, and he couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Then he heard Rin say, “He’s over there,” and a moment later Rei appeared from around a corner, red in the face and hair a little wild.
As soon as Rei laid eyes on him, he let out a huge sigh of relief, then promptly bent forward, hands on his knees, breathing hard.
“What… What are you doing here? Are you okay?” Nagisa said, taking a tentative step forward.
Rei, still bent over, held up his arm, the inside of his forearm facing Nagisa, “My friend… ah.” Nagisa closed the distance between them, taking Rei’s arm in his hand. It was the arm with his phone number on it, but three of the digits were smeared beyond recognition. “I thought… I might be able to, ah, find you…. But I didn’t-” He sucked in a breath, forcing himself to stand, “I don’t even know your last name, and I didn’t want to risk it. I promised I would call you, and-”
“You ran all the way here just to find me?”
“I had to catch you before you left,” he said, “I couldn’t stand the thought of never seeing you again.”
“I should have kissed you.”
“Why don’t you?”
“I was thinking too hard, and I didn’t want to make you feel cornered, and- Wait, did you say-?”
But Nagisa was done with waiting. He went up on his toes, looped his arm around the back of Rei’s neck, and pulled him down into a kiss. It caught Rei by surprise, but he didn’t hesitate for long, reaching up to cup Nagisa’s face in his hands and kissing him slowly, already breathless, his lips soft and sweet, just enough to send shivers racing down to Nagisa’s toes before he pulled away. “You should do that again,” Nagisa whispered, lips just brushing against Rei’s.
“If I do, I’ll never leave.”
“That’s fine,” Nagisa said, pulling him back down, and Rei didn’t resist him, let himself be guided back until Nagisa’s back was against the lockers and Rei was leaning down over him, and they were sharing the same air and soft, tentative touches of tongues.
This time, when Rei pulled away, his heavy breathing had nothing to do with the fact that he’d just sprinted across the park. Nagisa curled his hand in Rei’s shirt, trying to pull him back again, but Rei held out a hand and pulled the phone out of his pocket, putting it to his ear. “Yeah,” he said breathlessly, “Yeah, I found him. Can you let everyone know? Thanks.”
Nagisa tilted his head, “You had someone else helping to look for me?”
Rei let out a breathless little chuckle, “Only about half my class.”
Nagisa put his hand over his mouth, his cheeks turning pink, “You told them all about me?”
“It was, admittedly, a rather brief summary,” Rei said, “But I told you, I couldn’t stand the thought of losing you.”
Nagisa patted himself down, then pulled out his beat up old pink phone, with its whopping 4% battery. “Let’s do this right?” Rei held up his phone and they traded numbers. As soon as Nagisa was in his contacts, Rei texted him “Test.” As soon as Rei was in Nagisa’s, Nagisa pulled him down, snapped a picture of them both, and sent it to him.
Rei’s phone rang again, and he glanced at the screen before dismissing the call, “I really need to get going.”
“I know,” Nagisa said, “but I’m really glad you came to find me.”
Rei let out a little laugh, “I’m glad I wasn’t totally misreading the situation.”
Nagisa raised an eyebrow, “We did kind of already set up two future dates.”
“We did, didn’t we?”
“Unless you changed your mind about letting me tag along, or coming to see me at nationals.”
“I wouldn’t miss it,” Rei said. “But to be clear, we’re talking date-dates?”
“Do I need to kiss you again?”
Rei blushed a little, “I just-” He was cut off by his phone ringing again, but again he ignored the call. Instead of making his exit, though, he leaned down and kissed Nagisa again, slow and lingering, before murmuring softly against his lips, “We’ll talk soon, okay?”
Nagisa nodded, pressing another quick kiss to Rei’s lips before he could draw away, “Okay.”
And then Rei’s phone rang again, and this time he answered it – just a curt I’m on my way – before he waved to Nagisa and started heading back into the park.
Late that night, after a big dinner in a budget-friendly restaurant, several slices of cake, a short train ride and a long, hot bath, Nagisa was curled up on the spare futon in the living room of Haru and Makoto’s apartment, setting his alarm for the next morning, when his text alert pinged.
~Rei-chan~: Made it home safe
~Rei-chan~: You’re likely asleep, but I just wanted to say: Happy Birthday, Nagisa-kun