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Nightswimming

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“Then, if there’s no more questions, I’ll leave you to set up,” Dr. Jotaro Kujo said to the handful of graduate students gathered before him on the beach after sunset. Every year, he brought a group out to monitor the nesting season of the loggerhead sea turtle, an activity in which he mostly sat and watched while the kids took notes and marked off the nests with stakes and yellow tape. It had frankly gotten a little boring, but this year, he was in higher spirits, because Noriaki had come along with him.

He sat there on a rock, cane in hand, the object of interest of the young marine biologists in training who were still trying to wrap their heads around the idea of stiff, serious Dr. Kujo having an actual personal life. Jotaro wasn’t sure why he’d only now expressed an interest in seeing the turtles lay their eggs, after all these years of hearing about it, but at this point, he was used to Noriaki’s seemingly random academic fixations, and he did agree that this was a sight worth seeing. And besides, him being here gave Jotaro an excuse to avoid some fairly tedious chaperoning.

“Take a walk?”

Noriaki glanced up at him. “Sure.” Jotaro extended a hand to help him to his feet, a movement that had become automatic over their past twenty years together, almost like an extension of his own body. They were beyond intimacy at this point, sharing without thinking, lightening the burdens on one another whether they be the pain in Noriaki’s body or the scars on Jotaro’s psyche. Today, thankfully, their challenges were mild.

“I hate teaching,” Jotaro muttered, as soon as they were out of earshot of the students.

“I know.” This was not a new topic of conversation between the two of them “You’re good at it, though; those kids were hanging on your every word.”

“Just because you’re here. In class, they mostly sleep or play with their phones.” Noriaki snorted a laugh. They’d discussed him quitting, joining up with the Speedwagon Foundation in a research capacity or, to put it bluntly, as hired muscle, but as much as Jotaro claimed to hate his job, it provided him the time and resources to pursue his own research. Dealing with teaching was a minor inconvenience.

They followed the curve of the shoreline, down along the wet sand where the ground was firmer and easier to traverse with the cane. The night air was filled with the soft sounds of waves lapping against the beach, the graduate students chatting in the receding distance. A rocky outcropping about a quarter mile down gave the two some privacy, and the chance for Noriaki to use Hierophant to steady himself now that nobody could see him. Still, he looked a little flushed, beads of sweat forming on his forehead.

“You doing okay?” Jotaro asked with concern as Noriaki abruptly stopped and sat down on a large piece of driftwood, midway around an inlet.

“Yeah.” He wiped his forehead. “I’ll never get used to Florida weather, though.” Jotaro nodded. Still hot and humid even after dark; he wouldn’t have chosen to settle there if not for the whims of academia. He took off his battered hat and wiped the sweat from his own brow, noticed out of the corner of his eye Noriaki taking off his shoes and socks, and then his shirt.

“What’re you up to?”

“Going for a swim. Wanna come?”

“Really?” Although actually, that didn’t sound like such a bad idea, the inlet was hidden from the rest of the beach and they still had a little time before they had to get back. Might be nice to cool off with a little dip. Noriaki had slipped out of his pants by now and was carefully folding his clothes in his meticulous way, placing them on the driftwood where they’d be safe from the sand. “...Yeah, okay.” He took off his own clothes, still watching Noriaki, who was wading into the inlet, Hierophant wrapped around his legs and lower back for stability.

Despite the warmth of the surrounding air, the water was a bit cooler than he’d have preferred, making his feet feel a little numb when he finally ventured in. Best to get it over with all at once. He took a deep breath and plunged forwards, making a shallow dive headfirst into the inlet, shaking his head like a dog’s when he surfaced. Much better. Noriaki, floating placidly nearby, gave him one of those wide smiles that had made Jotaro fall for the skinny, self-assured boy all those years ago.

They were both avid swimmers. In Noriaki’s case, swimming was an exercise he could do without having to be upright for too long, and it took the pressure off of the artificial spine that the Speedwagon Foundation had constructed to replace the one that Dio had pulverized. Their medical interventions had saved his life, but were still in the early experimental stages, and he still endured a fair amount of pain. Allowing the water to carry his weight gave him some relief. For Jotaro, it was similar: swimming in his beloved ocean, which stretched across the globe, made him feel refreshingly small and unimportant. On land, he needed to be strong and unflinching, ready to protect his loved ones and any innocents caught up in an unscrupulous stand user’s schemes. In the ocean, he was just another creature, one of millions, as unimportant as any.

Jotaro turned onto his back to float, heard the muffled splash of Noriaki submerging as he did. The night was clear, and this beach was far enough from civilization that the view of the sky was mostly unmarred by light pollution. As always, Jotaro was in awe of the way starlight reached his eyes over both time and distance, a memory of the past visible against an infinite canvas. The two of them had once spent the better part of an evening lying against a cooling sand dune, watching the sky. At the time, they’d been annoyed that they couldn’t get any privacy from the other two, in the grip of teenage hormones and almost oblivious to the natural beauty that had been laid before them. But it became a cherished memory to him, the majesty of the stars, the quiet of the desert, the feeling of Noriaki’s hand curled warmly in his.
And he was in awe, as always, of this gorgeous, brilliant creature who, seemingly against all odds, loved him, and who had continued to love him through all his mistakes and trials and personal crises. The man who’d just resurfaced to float alongside him, his dearest friend for over half a lifetime, whose fingers were curling around his in that comfortably familiar way, who sighed with contentment in the private world that contained only them. Life was perfect.

Perfect except for one nagging detail. He hated to ruin the moment, but the professor side of him couldn’t help pointing out: “We don’t have any towels.”

“Sure we do,” said Noriaki, “they’re in the-” He stopped, suddenly realizing the seriousness of their predicament. “...They’re in the Jeep.” Which was in the parking lot, past Jotaro’s entire Advanced Seminar in Marine Biology class. “Oh no.” He started laughing, despite himself. “It’s fine, I can wear wet clothes-”

“No you won’t.” Jotaro paddled in towards shore, ignoring Noriaki’s weak protests. He knew that his partner hated the kind of discomfort sitting on a beach in damp clothing would bring. And at the very least, Noriaki did thank him before dissolving into chuckles again at his going-to-the-Jeep outfit of shorts and jacket, and breaking into full on-laughter as Jotaro rounded the outcropping and was greeted by the cheers and whistles of his students.

It was the kind of embarrassment that would have haunted him when he was younger and had more of a chip on his shoulder, but he was satisfied with his choice an hour later, watching the turtles crawl in from the ocean as if for the first time, through his partner’s eyes. Noriaki was as fascinated as Jotaro had imagined he’d be, still smiling through the admittedly gross spectacle of the egg laying itself. Thousands of little potential lives, as numerous as the stars above them, as if they were witnessing the birth of a new galaxy. The students enjoyed themselves, as they always did, but their gratitude was nothing next to Noriaki’s whispered, “Thank you, this is fantastic.” And Noriaki’s gratitude was nothing next to the silent thanks Jotaro gave for being able to share this with him, as well as the rest of his life.