The sun set the beach aflame, scorching everything below it. It was so hot that it seemed like the sea was about to evaporate and the sand was about to burn. So naturally, Fuuka wondered how he could keep going.
She watched, stopwatch in hand, as Akihiko ran from one end of the shoreside to the next completely barefoot and wearing layers upon layers of clothing on his upper-body. Fuuka felt her heart pound against her ribcage barbarically as every second passed, fearing the possibility that he would collapse from a heatstroke.
Beads of sweat fell from her face—and not just from the sweltering heat. She was seriously worried. Shakily, she lifted her hand and gazed down to the time on the stopwatch. It read: 11m 54s 89. She sighed, listlessly lowering her hand onto the grueling-torrid sand, panting heavily. She was able to fight off the urge to succumb to the heat rays up until now, but now, for some reason, it was starting to get to her. Perhaps checking the time to actually see how long she was going had set off something in her mind subconsciously, or perhaps she was too focused on Akihiko to give as much attention to the sun, but she was seriously starting to regret wearing her navy blue one-piece.
Fuuka felt her body start to give in, and eyes lidded she fell back onto the blazing sand. The heat was excruciating, but it started to feel strangely comforting—almost as if it was calling to her. She sighed and closed her eyes.
“Fuuka,” she heard a masculine voice faintly call out to her.
She didn’t respond, her body feeling heavier, fatigue overriding everything.
“Fuuka!” she heard again, this time much louder, more concerned… and familiar.
“Fuuka! Fuuka answer me!” the voice that seemed to be Akihiko called again.
She opened her mouth to respond… or at least she thought she did. She was finding it hard to move much of anything. Her body stayed stiff—unmoving—like she was an object instead of a person. She fell victim to the heat’s curse, a wave of panic washing over her instantly. She would’ve screamed if she could, but her lips felt numb.
Then suddenly, as if pulling her herself back into control of her old body, a sudden chill splashed against her face. Fuuka’s eyes shot open and a shriek escaped past her previously dumb lips. She quickly sat up and grabbed her shoulders, pupils dilated from shock. She was almost positive that she was about to look have a heat stroke or something similar. She was lucky.
Still slightly frantic, she touched her face with her fingers and examined them. Ice water glistened from her fingertips and she looked around in an attempt to find the source. Strangely enough, she noticed the metallic water bottle before the boy holding it, but when she did see him, she gazed right into his grey eyes, her cheeks slightly pink.
“Oh! O-Oh my gosh, Akihiko-senpai! I-I’m so embarrassed! I’m sorry!” the girl frantically apologized. “I thought I was—!”
“Are you okay?” he cut in, kneeling down and placing her hands on his shoulders. “Do you want some water?”
Slowly, Fuuka nodded, her lip quivering slightly. “Yes, please… I would like some water…”
He held out her hand, offering her the bottle, and Fuuka accepted, near-snatching the bottle out of his hand and downing the whole bottle in a vulgar fashion. Droplets rained down her face, but she didn’t care. She was in survival mode; her adversary, the harsh sunlight.
Once all of the water was gone, she slammed it down onto the sweltering sand and panted, gazing to the ground for a moment before looking back to her senior.
“T-Thank you, Akihiko-senpai. I’m sorry… I thought I’d be okay, but the sun got the better of me.” She looked down to see him still wearing the egregious amount of clothing and then back up to his eyes. “How do you do it…?”
“How do I what?” he asked.
“How do you… survive in all of that…?!” she asked, eyes wide. “I thought you were gonna collapse because of a stroke!”
He chuckled a bit at that. It was a rarity to see Fuuka say something so loud if she wasn’t getting adrenalized captaining them in battle.
“It’s a lot of training,” he answered with a soft smile. “You gotta get strong so that things like the heat don’t affect you. I can run just as long in winter wearing nearly nothing as well.”
“Oh wow…” Fuuka said, mouth going slightly agape. “You must be really strong, Akihiko-senpai…”
In saying that, Fuuka felt a bit stupid. It was a given that he was strong. She knew that already. From the spoken word of the other members of S.E.E.S., from the extreme exercises she would see him readily participating in; even from the battles with Shadows. There was no denying the fact that Akihiko was strong.
“Thanks,” he said, offering a hand to her. “And thanks again for agreeing to this. I think that this sounded so strange that no one else wanted to do it. I think I needed a personal trainer anyway.”
Fuuka nodded, fanning her face but smiling faintly. “It’s no problem… It’s just… it was a bit worse than what I was expecting… I didn’t think it’d be this hot. If I knew I would’ve brought some sunscreen or an umbrella. It’s my fault for not checking the weather though…”
“Sorry,” he said, looking off to the side.
“It’s not your fault,” she assured, putting her hands on the sand and standing up, slipping her feet back into her pink flip-flops.
There was a silence and a slight air of awkwardness mixed with the heatwaves as the two of them stared into each other’s eyes for a couple moments, Fuuka’s cheeks growing darker by the second and not from the heat.
She looked at Akihiko’s face and meticulously examined his features. His masculine features drenched in sweat, his shambolic grey hair, his warm, caring eyes, his look of absolute moxie. Suddenly, she felt her heart start to pound against her chest.
Wait. Why was she thinking like that? Why was this happening?!
Before she even had the chance to panic, Akihiko spoke again.
“Uh… would you like ice cream?” he asked.
“Well… girls like sweet things, right? And it’s hot out, so I thought you would like some ice cream. I’ll buy some.”
“N-No… um, no. I’d feel bad if I made you pay for me. It’s okay… The water was enough. But thanks…”
“Right.” He sighed, looking off to the side. “What was my time?”
“For ten laps. When I came back to you. How long did it take?”
Fuuka raised the hand, which she held the stopwatch to her face, blinking at it a few times at noticing it was still running. She then lowered her hand back to her side and bit her lip as she looked back to Akihiko.
“I… forgot to stop it,” she said with a frown. “I’m sorry, but… but! At the last time I checked it, it read twelve minutes, so I’d probably put another thirty seconds to a minute on that to estimate your time…?”
“Uh, it’s okay…” He paused. “So, thirteen minutes. It’s not my best time, I think I’ll need to be a little faster. Do you want to come back tomorrow?”
“Do you have plans?” he asked. “Sorry. I can go by myself if you want.”
“I’m sorry. I promised Minako-senpai I’d go to the park with her and Koro-chan tomorrow.”
He smiled. “It’s fine. You’ve decided to be my personal trainer today anyway, it would be wrong of me to ask you to go out in this heat again. You’re strong though, Fuuka. You lasted a really long time.”
“Oh. Thank you.”
There was another silence, except this time, both of them broke eye-contact. Suddenly, Akihiko started shedding layer after layer of clothing, dropping them onto the sand. This shocked Fuuka, but she ultimately watched, her gaze immediately going to his eye-catching rock-solid abs. Upon realization, she quickly looked away, looking back into his eyes, feeling slightly guilty.
He stretched and yawned. “That’s better. Anyway, are you ready to go back to the dorms?”
Slowly, Fuuka nodded. “Whenever you’re ready.”
Just as she said that a group of three girls came running up to them. Fuuka instinctively stepped back, hiding behind her senior slightly and peeking from behind him. One of the girls was short with brown hair, another, tall and blonde, and the third redheaded and curvaceous. Though the girls all looked different, other than the matching pink bathing-suits, there was one common trend among them—they were all smiling widely, their eyes fixed on Akihiko. When they noticed Fuuka, however, it was only for a moment, but all of them glared at her with the strength of a thousand suns. It was a brief, territorial glare that made her cower even more behind him. But, she recognized the girls as second-years who had attended Gekkoukan High School with them.
“Akihiko-senpai!” the blonde one screamed. “Are you training again?”
“Well, yes,” Akihiko said plain-faced. “I’ve just finished.”
They all giggled in unison like a hivemind.
“Look at his abs, guys!” the brown-haired girl laughed.
“Ugh, Himiko! You’re such a perv!” the blonde hair girl chided.
The brown-haired girl, who was supposedly named Himiko, just laughed it off. “Okay, Chiaki!” She playfully stuck her tongue out at her. “What do you think, Sayaka?”
The girl jumped at the mention of her name, seemingly entranced by something. “Y-Yes?! Oh…” She blinked a couple times, gazing Akihiko up and down. “Well… he is… rather nice…” the girl apparently named Sayaka said.
Fuuka peeked at Akihiko. He seemed extremely uncomfortable with the entire situation. Fuuka considered saying something… but she wasn’t exactly sure what. Her mind went through all the possibilities, calculating the best approach, but before she even had a chance to say anything, one of the girls said something.
“Who’s that with you?” the blonde asked. “Is she your girlfriend?”
That made Fuuka blush more, her entire face a sea of red, though she wasn’t sure if that was from embarrassment. She could feel her face flaring up and she hoped it wasn’t a rash or a sunburn.
“Girlfriend?” Akihiko asked, confused. “No. Fuuka is my friend.”
“Oh, just a friend?” the brown-haired girl asked. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure… and we were about to leave…” he said, getting mildly annoyed. “Sorry. We have to go.”
The hivemind all sighed in unison and cleared a path for the two of them. Akihiko grabbed his clothes and the two of them departed, leaving prints in the scorched sand. Fuuka gazed back at the girls for a split-second, only to see them leering at her. The look of complete and utter disdain mixed with a hint of jealousy burnt in her mind, she looked forward and quickened her pace, anxiously heading towards the black limo Mitsuru had prepared for them.