Imai Hisashi. That’s my name. I hope I don’t forget it. I’ve heard a lot of stories about how stranded sailors and pirates end up insane when they get found after months or years. I hope I don’t end up like them. I know entries are supposed to start with “1” or something. But it’s technically my third day on this deserted island. Or at least I think it’s deserted…
Our ship got sunk by that freakish storm the other day. I found myself washed up here a couple of days ago. Some of the debris came with me, but no other person. I don’t know if anyone else survived.
So far, I’ve gathered rope, a large part of the fabric from our sails that somehow came out in one piece, and the writing materials I’m using for this. I never knew our crates and barrels were so water-tight. A chest washed up too. Probably from Captain’s cabin. But I haven’t opened it.
Funny thing, a whole crate of rum washed up too. Full bottles and all. I can’t even drink.
Did a bit of exploration. On the first day itself I figured that this used to be a fishing village. Quite hard to miss that fact when houses were lining the shore, the cliffs, and were on stilts. Those right by the beach, at least. For good reason too. The tide comes in quite high. Needless to say I took shelter in one of the beachfront houses when the tide rose on the first night.
Oddly enough, there were no boats. If the inhabitants left the island, I suppose that would explain it. Otherwise… Well, I haven’t seen any dead bodies. Let’s just assume that they took the boats and left the island. Speaking of bodies, no person has been washed up on shore yet.
Anyway, the exploration. I went inland, as far as I could, and found a spring on the way. I guess that’s where fresh water comes from. I went into most of the houses too, to see what I could salvage. There was flint, rusted knives, some clothes, blankets. There’s quite a bit lying around. I suppose the previous inhabitants left in a hurry. Can’t help but wonder why.
Come to think of it, I noticed a cave on the other end of the beach this afternoon, when the tide was low. I thought I saw someone there. Maybe it’s just me.
Found a barrel of apples this morning. A nice surprise. That’ll feed me well enough for quite awhile, assuming they won’t spoil. I’ll have to figure that out.
Key thing today, I went to the cave. There were some things in there, trinkets and stuff. Someone’s definitely been in there recently because I found the Captain’s gold compass in there. I took it. Or rather, I wanted to. But I felt someone staring at me. Fucking creepy. I heard no one. I saw no one.
I left after that. Went fishing. Did miserably. At least I ended up with one fish the size of my palm. Quite proud of that though, actually. At least I have apples to go with that. I should probably eat the bruised ones first.
There’s something strange about this island though. I don’t really want to know what.
Oh, I switched my trousers and shirt for the traditional robes I found in some of the houses. Frankly, they’re more comfortable. But I can see why they’re not worn out at sea. The fabric reaches close to the ground and billows around in the wind. I’d say they’re far too prone to getting wet.
I’m spooked. There was a bag of shellfish and quite a few fishes outside the house this morning. There’s definitely someone else here.
After a week on this island, Imai has found a rhythm for his routine. The surprise food this morning threw him off quite a bit though. What was he going to do for the whole day without the need to search for food? He didn’t really want to explore more either. The knowledge that there was someone else here with him, someone who probably watched his every movement, wasn’t exactly a comforting thought.
In the end, Imai decided to stay in the house and clean up a little more, make things a bit more comfortable. He wondered if he should build a raft or something to try leaving the island. But without the compass, Imai wasn’t sure it was a good idea. Getting lost at sea without adequate supplies would be a much worse fate than staying on this island for the rest of his life.
As night fell, a fire was started in the sunken hearth in the middle of the house. Putting a pot of fresh water over the fire, Imai added in a few strips of the seaweed he found and dried out, along with some of the shellfish that was dropped off at his doorstep this morning. Hopefully the boiling will eliminate any possible toxins.
A full moon rose on the horizon and Imai settled on the walkway right outside the house, bare feet swinging over the edge, just above the water as he set up a fishing rod and leaned back, relaxed. There was no need to catch anything. But having something to do, to anticipate, was better than nothing.
While waiting for his stew, Imai tried to formulate a plan to leave this island. He would definitely have to gather food supplies first, if he wanted to leave on his own. It would be easier if there was a fishing boat still docked somewhere on this small island though. But if a friendly ship came by, and he manages to catch their attention, that would be even easier. Imai wondered if his shipmates were alive. Hopefully they survived. Maybe they did and they were looking for him, or not. Maybe. Hopefully.
The line on the fishing rod unravelled, with the catch on the other end speeding off. Casually, Imai picked it up and started reeling the creature in. It wasn’t too difficult. It wasn’t long before he pulled it out of the water. It was a squid. It’s ink could useful for writing, if that was ever necessary. But he didn’t need more food to keep now. It would just spoil.
Unhooking the squid, Imai threw it back into the water and set his rod down. He hadn’t expected to actually catch something. He shifted, folding his legs in as he stared at the moon. Imai soon got bored though. Humming a shanty he picked up from his time at sea, he stood up and went back in for his stew. Imai quickly ate his fill, but there was still half a pot untouched. He pursed his lips as he put the lid back on the pot. It should still be edible tomorrow.
Imai lay down on the bedding he set a short distance away from the hearth. It took him awhile to figure out how far was too far and how close was too close, but he finally found the right spot. With a satisfied palate, he had intended to go to sleep but the salt from the seafood and the seaweed had him needing a drink. And he didn’t exactly feel like drinking water. He glanced at the untouched crate of rum that sat in a corner of the space.
Without much hesitation, Imai went over to the crate and pulled out a bottle. Popping it open, he sat down on the plank walkway again and started to drink, watching the moon and counting the stars as he did.
Sunlight hit Imai’s eyes as he cracked them open. His head hurt. Why did it hurt? Imai lay motionless, tucked in his bedding as he tried to recall what happened last night. He didn’t remember getting back into bed, but there was a vague memory of drinking from one of the bottles…
As he tried to sit up, his vision swam and a light laughter hit his ears. Imai snapped his head towards the source, making the room spin again as he did. Closing his eyes, he groaned.
“I’ve never met a pirate who barely makes it through a quarter of a bottle,” the voice teased. Forcing his eyes open, Imai squinted as he tried to see who was talking. His aching head immediately felt soothed by the sight before him.
An impossibly beautiful man sat next the hearth, so beautiful that he tugged at Imai’s heartstrings. The man was smiling at Imai, watching him as he rested his chin on an arm placed on the knee of a propped up leg. Imai found himself staring into the man’s dark eyes filled with mirth, his smile drawing him in.
Suddenly, he snapped out of his reverie. Narrowing his eyes in suspicion, Imai asked, “What makes you think that I’m a pirate?”
The stranger hummed in amusement. Cocking his head to one side, he brushed his long dark hair over his shoulder and said, “That brand on the inside of your wrist is telling enough.”
Imai subconsciously shifted his right hand away, keeping his expression impassive as he kept his eyes on the stranger. As pleasing as he looked to his eyes, something didn’t feel quite right.
“Don’t be so uptight,” the stranger coaxed, stretching his legs out, lounging. As the fabric of his long robe shifted, Imai noticed that it shone with an iridescence as it flowed over the stranger’s form, an odd trait for cloth, if that’s what it was made out of.
“Who are you?” Imai asked, his tone level.
“Does it matter?” The stranger smirked at him.
“If you’re going to come into where I dwell, I might as well get to know you,” Imai said, trying to convince the stranger to give up his name.
“You don’t need to know my name to get to know me,” the stranger said, leaning forward with a wider smile. “Besides, I don’t have a name.”
“That’s not possible.”
“Perhaps,” the stranger said. “Perhaps I had one. But if I ever did, I don’t remember anymore.”
Imai continued to stare at him, unsure of what to make of it.
“You, though.” The stranger pointed a slender finger at Imai. “You have a name, don’t you? Tell me?”
“No,” Imai answered. “If I’m not addressing you by name, you won’t address me by name either. There isn’t anyone else to get mixed up with on this island after all.”
The stranger burst out laughing. “How sure are you that we’re the only two people here?”
Imai grew tense. “Are we not…?”
“It’s alright,” the stranger said, waving a hand as his laughter subsided. “You’re right. There is no one else here.”
The stranger’s confirmation didn’t offer much comfort to Imai. He wasn’t even sure that he could trust this person.
“You really won’t share your name with me?” the stranger asked.
Imai shook his head.
A grin appeared on the stranger’s face. His teeth were particularly white. “Afraid I’ll steal your name?” he teased.
Imai shook his head again. “Just so that we’re on equal grounds.”
The stranger’s grin turned into a smirk. “If you say so,” he said, sounding unconvinced as he turned to look out of the entrance of the house, towards the sea.
“Were you the one who left the food outside the house yesterday?” Imai asked. The question has been nagging at him for over a day.
The stranger’s eyes slid towards Imai. Looking at Imai out of the corner of his eyes, the stranger replied, “Of course, who else could it be? Did you enjoy it?”
Cautiously, Imai nodded. “There’s… still a lot I haven’t eaten, actually,” he said. “But thank you.” After a pause, he added, “Still… why would you…?”
“It’s been awhile since I had someone else with me here,” said the stranger. He went back to staring at the sea. “Since you were so bad at spearing fish, I thought you’d starve without help,” he continued, smirking. “Also,” he added, “take it as a thank you for not taking anything from the cave.”
Imai grew tense again, reminded of the hostility he felt when he entered the cave.
“I would appreciate it if you never went back in there,” the stranger said, standing up. Imai remained silent as he began to walk out of the house. Stopping by the barrel of apples, the stranger paused and looked at it intently.
“You can help yourself to them if you want,” Imai offered. “I haven’t figured out how I’m supposed to finish them all anyway. They might just end up going to waste.”
The stranger’s eyes lit up and he picked up an apple. Flashing Imai a smile and a wink, he muttered a soft “thank you” and left, a delighted smile on his face.
I’ve been meaning to ask the man with the strange robes if there were any boats left on this island, but he hasn’t returned since he first showed up in here. Then again, it’s only been a couple of days. But when I ran out of fish last night, more appeared outside the house this morning again. He’s obviously still watching me. I haven’t decided if it’s a good or bad thing.
His warning about entering the cave… it’s odd. I wonder what’s in there that he doesn’t want me seeing. There was definitely a path that led deeper in. I’m worried that I might get lost in there though. Perhaps I could use the rope to mark my path if I were to ever explore the cave
Anyway, I finally opened the chest. Got a sizeable rock from the beach and broke the lock with it. There was a map in there. I don’t know where I am, so that’s not very helpful at the moment. There were more writing materials too, along with some of the Captain’s journals. There was also a bundle of candles, a telescope, a watch, a dagger, and promissory notes. Those notes will be useful if I leave this place. If ever.
I guess I can time when the tides come in and out now with the watch though. Once I have that down I can plan for a trip into the cave. Don’t want to get stuck in there when the tide washes in.
I think I didn’t write about this in previous entries but there’s a bath area in this house. But it seems like there’s an issue with the pipes. I can’t get any water flowing. It’ll be nice to get it to work and finally get a hot bath. I can’t remember the last time I had one.
I’m getting better at spearing for fish. As nice as it is to have someone providing me with food, I don’t really want to rely on him. I’d be left helpless if he decides to disappear or stop feeding me. That’s far too risky for my liking.
Though, thanks to the things he’s brought so far, I could figure out what’s edible and what’s not in the rock pools. But it would be nice if he was with me though. I could just ask him.
He hasn’t reappeared yet. I’m still waiting.
I don’t know why but I’m looking forward to it. I wonder if it’s the loneliness getting to me. Maybe that’s what draws me to him. I wonder where he lives. It doesn’t seem like he uses any of the other houses in the settlement. He’s a strange one.
I got the pipes in the bath area working. I checked around the back and apparently, they were just disconnected. Maybe I’ll go get firewood tomorrow morning then try and take a look around in the cave again.
Glad to note that no dead bodies have washed up. They’ve either all survived, or gotten eaten up. Which it is, I won’t really know.
Imai stood at the entrance to the cave, peering into the darkness. He was told not to go back in but that only piqued his curiosity more. Using a piece of the sails’ sheets, Imai wrapped a few apples in it and brought it with him to leave in the cave. He remembered the stranger’s delight with a mere apple. Hopefully, this would be enough to appease him if he got upset over Imai’s defiance.
Why it mattered to Imai, he didn’t know.
What Imai did know, though, was that he was going into the cave no matter what.
Tightening his fist around the bundle of apples, Imai squared his shoulders and headed in. He carefully manoeuvred around the slippery rocks and put a hand on the wall to guide him as he approached the knoll that led up to the open area where the trinkets were.
It wasn’t a taxing hiking, but the humidity in the cave clung to Imai’s skin and clothes, drenching him in perspiration by the time he arrived at the clearing. There was a hole in the ceiling that let light into the cave, allowing Imai to venture this far in without the need for a candle. Any further and that might be necessary, but not today.
The clearing still looked the same. The same low, table-like structure was there, the same trinkets were lying around, though in slightly different positions. The compass was still there too. Staring at it as he approached the table, Imai felt the urge to reclaim it again but he resisted, instead simply placing the apples next to it. His reentry to the cave was already a big enough transgression.
A small voice in the back of Imai’s mind questioned again why he should let that bother him. Pursing his lips in annoyance, Imai smothered the voice away and looked to the back of the cave, trying to see if he can go in deeper.
The path in had a gentle decline that led into darkness. Swallowing his uncertainty away, Imai put his hand on the wall again and started walking in with cautious steps. If he fell in there, he might never get back out.
Moving away from the clearing, Imai was quickly plunged back into darkness. It felt as if it was closing around him, enveloping him, making it harder to breathe. But it was probably just the humidity making his lungs work harder. Hopefully, there was another light source concealed inside, like the hole at the clearing.
It was hard to tell how long Imai has been wandering around, following along the wall, but it felt like ages, and it seemed like he wasn’t going to find an end, nor light if he went on. It was getting harder to breathe as well, more so than before. He decided to turn around. He would be better off coming back another day with the candles.
As he turned, Imai’s ears were filled with the sounds of his heart racing and the echoes of his feet shuffling around on the gravel. He forced himself to slow his breathing and his heart rate, taking in long, deep breaths despite the difficulty. It would be a bad idea to panic now.
The way back seemed to take less time and within moments, Imai was back at the clearing on the knoll. He sat down on the sandy ground, under the spot of light that illuminated the otherwise dark cave. The air felt less oppressive here. Maybe it was the presence of light.
After taking a breather, Imai started to make his way back to the entrance when he threw a glance at the table and froze. The bundle of apples were unwrapped and there was one less apple now. He smiled wryly to himself, half glad that the stranger has accepted his offer yet worried about what he might have to say about Imai’s intrusion. Until the stranger confronts him about it, though, there’s nothing Imai can do about it. That is, if he even shows up again.
Hand to the wall, Imai descended the knoll, heading back to the entrance of the cave. When he made it back into the open air, the sun was just beginning to set and the water has crept back towards the shore, submerging the rocks at the entrance. Imai didn’t expect that he would spend such a long duration in there, but it was hard to keep track of time in the darkness.
Sighing, Imai resolved to take better note of the tidal times. Perhaps he should bring the watch with him the next time he tries going in. As he kept his mind occupied with plans, Imai hurried back to the house, eager to get back before the rising tide forces him to try and swim his way back.
By the time Imai made it home, his body was worn out and his skin sticky from the perspiration and salt in the wind. It’s a good thing he had prepared for a hot bath. After lighting the hearth in the front of the house, Imai fired up the boiler for the bath and as he waited, he sat on the walkway outside, crunching on an apple as he watched the sunset.
When the moon began to glow, Imai had bitten the apple down to its core. He dropped it into the rising water and watched, expecting it to float back up but it never did. He frowned. Weren’t apples supposed to float in water? Staring at the water for a moment more, he scanned the surface but saw nothing that resembled the apple. Giving up, he shrugged to himself and went back inside. Perhaps it was too dark to see.
Stripping his robes off, Imai hung them over the folding screen that separated the bath area from the rest of the house and rinsed his body before slipping into the warm water, sighing as he felt his muscles relax. Submerging himself underwater, Imai let the water work into his hair which has now grown past his shoulders. He has yet to decide if he should cut it short for convenience. Resurfacing for air, Imai was in the midst of wiping the water out of his eyes when a voice spoke.
“Did you think a few apples were enough to appease me?” the stranger asked, his voice light and teasing like before.
Imai made a startled noise and kicked away from the direction of his voice. Raking his hair back and out of his face, he stared wide-eyed at the stranger who rested his head on his arm which he put on the edge of the bath as he watched Imai’s reaction with amusement. The stranger’s long dark hair drew a sharp contrast against his shimmering robes.
“Ever heard of knocking?” Imai sputtered, offended by the intrusion.
“Did you knock?” the stranger returned the question.
Imai stared for a moment. “How do I knock in a cave?”
“How do I knock in a house with no doors?” The stranger replied with a question again, his smile growing wider at Imai’s flustering.
“I…” Imai was at a loss for words. Breathing shallowly from apprehension under the stranger’s gaze, Imai eventually said, “I needed to ask you something. But you weren’t showing up.”
The stranger’s eyes crinkled as his smile grew. “Miss me already?”
“Uhn?” Imai made a confused noise as he felt his body grow warmer. He wasn’t expecting that answer. He technically did miss the company of other people but…
The stranger laughed and waved his hand dismissively. “It’s okay, you don’t have to answer that.”
Imai’s features scrunched into a momentary scowl, annoyed by the stranger’s toying.
“So what was your question?” the stranger asked, clearly enjoying himself as he traced a finger on the water’s surface, posture relaxed. “I’ll try to answer it best I can.”
Keeping a straight face, Imai asked, “Is there a boat I can use to get off this island?”
The stranger chuckled. “That’s interesting… You actually want to leave?”
“Are you going to stop me from leaving?”
This time the stranger burst out laughing. “Oh goodness…” he muttered, wiping at his eyes. “What do you think I am? Some kind of island spirit that collects souls or something?”
“Well…” Imai looked away, feeling slightly embarrassed. “I don’t know much about you…”
“You pirates are such a superstitious bunch,” the stranger remarked with a grin. “Though not for no reason,” he added so softly that it was barely inaudible.
“Why do you want to leave? Are you not comfortable here?” the stranger asked, ignoring Imai’s question.
Imai blinked at him. “I have friends to look for, family waiting for me back home. I need to let them know I’m fine.”
“Family as in… a wife and children?”
“No no,” Imai denied. “Parents. Siblings.”
The stranger hummed. “I see… So very different from the previous ones, you are,” he commented, looking into the distance again. “Your predecessors never wanted to leave. Regardless of whether or not they had people waiting for them.”
“There were others here before me?”
The stranger nodded, lost in his memories.
“What happened to them?”
“Some died of starvation when I stopped feeding them,” the stranger said nonchalantly. “Others got lost in the caves and never made it back.” Before Imai could ask more about them, the stranger said, “Anyway, the short answer to your question is ‘no’.”
“No?” Imai echoed. “So what’s the long answer?”
“Long answer…” The stranger stared at Imai for a moment, contemplating. “Technically, there are boats but…”
“They’re either underwater, damaged beyond repair, or if they’re on land, they’re not seaworthy,” the stranger said. “And they’re not on this side of the island.”
“So how do I get to the other side?”
The stranger held up two fingers. “One way is to swim around the island. I don’t recommend this because the waves will just crush you against the rocks.”
“And the other way?”
“Through the cave,” the stranger answered dryly. “But I don’t recommend expending the effort to get there anyway.”
“What?” Imai frowned. “Why not?”
“That side…” The stranger’s brows furrowed as his face took on a troubled expression. It gave Imai an odd feeling, seeing such a look on him. “It’s a cave exit, right?”
“So all there is on that side is a sandbank and rocks. Nothing like wood that you can use to try and fix the boat.”
The water in the bath sloshed as Imai sat up, thinking intently. “What if I were to bring the materials over through the cave?”
“It’s too long a trek,” the stranger said, shaking his head. “Remember how hard it was to breath when you were in there?”
Imai narrowed his eyes at the stranger. “You knew I was having a hard time and you didn’t do anything?”
The stranger merely shrugged and continued. “It’s also too dangerous to keep going into the cave. I’m telling you to stay out for a reason.”
“What do you mean by ‘too dangerous’?” Imai asked.
“There are… things…”
“Uhhuh,” Imai muttered, unconvinced. “It sounds like you’re trying to convince me that it’s impossible to leave.”
“ I want to leave too,” the stranger stressed, leaning towards Imai over the edge of the bath. His agitation quickly died off as he sank back. “And I can’t do it without you, without someone transporting me out.”
Imai frowned, confused. “Why not?”
“I can’t fix boats, neither can I steer them,” the stranger explained. “There’s no way for me to get far like this, is there?”
“I guess…” Imai muttered. “I suppose that means you weren’t a sailor or something before you ended up here.”
“Of course not,” the stranger laughed, bringing a hand to cover his smile. “I’ve never even been on a boat.”
“Then how did you end up here?” Imai asked.
The stranger froze, an alarmed expression on his face. It looked like he accidentally let something slip. Masking his emotions with a stony expression, he immediately stood up and turned to leave, saying, “That’s enough for today.”
“Wait!” Imai called after the stranger as he scrambled to get out of the bath. He hastily wrapped his robes around his dripping wet torso and hurried back towards the entrance of the house, hoping that the stranger has not left yet.
A sudden draft went through the house, chilling Imai’s body and making him sneeze.
“You should dry yourself up before you catch a cold.”
Imai looked up at the open exit where the stranger peeked in at him from the side. “Oh, good, you’re still here,” he muttered before sneezing again.
“Really now, go dry yourself up,” the stranger chastised. “I need you alive and well, not sick or dead.”
“You’ll still be here when I get back?”
“Can’t bear to be alone?”
“I’d… prefer having company.”
The stranger turned and looked at Imai, surprised. He stared for awhile, as if searching for something on Imai’s face. Eventually, he turned back to face the sea. “I’ll be here.”
Imai smirked in satisfaction and slowly turned back into the house to dry off and change into fresh clothes. He did so quickly, and as Imai headed back to the walkway, now clean and dry, he grabbed the barely-drunk bottle of rum that he opened the other day and brought it with him. Settling down on the other side of the entryway, Imai put the bottle between him and the stranger and said, “Drink with me.”
The stranger glanced at the bottle out of the corner of his eye and stared for a moment. He then burst out laughing. “You can’t even drink!” he mocked.
“I know ,” Imai griped. “But do you?”
Shoulders still quaking from laughter, the stranger looked at the bottle as he replied, “I don’t actually know. I’ve never tried.”
“And you mock me,” Imai grumbled. Taking a quick swig from the bottle, Imai let the liquid warm his insides as he held the bottle by its neck and offered it to the stranger. “Drink,” he muttered.
The stranger’s fingers curled around the bottle tentatively as the wide sleeve of his robes slid down to his elbow, exposing pale luminous skin that seemed to glow under the light of the full moon. The stranger examined the unmarked bottle and sloshed its contents around as he held it up against the moonlight. Taking a cautious whiff of the concoction, the stranger wrinkled his nose and stared at it. Giving Imai a glance, the stranger finally brought the bottle to his lips and drank deeply, swallowing three huge gulps before putting the bottle down.
“You… probably shouldn’t have drunk that much in one go…” Imai muttered, watching the stranger carefully as the alcohol worked its way through his system.
A smile appeared on the stranger’s lips as he leaned back and rested his head against the wall. He chuckled softly and mumbled, “This feels good.”
“I see you’re enjoying it,” Imai observed, subtly shifting the bottle back towards him. The stranger would probably be pissed with Imai if he had too much and woke up hungover.
“No wonder you seafaring types like drinking so much,” the stranger muttered, now looking at the stars. “It feels so nice… and warm… I wonder what it’s like if I went into the water like this,” he continued as he started to shift towards the edge of the walkway.
“Hey, hey, no,” Imai pulled the stranger back towards him. “I’ve seen enough shipmates walk themselves into the water and drown like that.”
The stranger started giggling as he rolled over. “What a joke, I can’t drown,” he said as if that was the most absurd thing he has ever heard of.
“I don’t care what you think, you’re not going into the water like this,” Imai insisted as he continued pulling the stranger in.
With a huff and a resigned smile, the stranger muttered, “Fine, I’ll entertain you.” He sat back up, this time leaning against Imai’s shoulder as he kept his silent gaze fixed on the full moon.
As Imai took another sip from the bottle, the stranger started speaking again. “Y’know, maybe, if you wished hard enough, the sea might bring you that boat you need.”
Imai snorted. “What am I, a three year old?”
“Well, I wished for a companion and you appeared,” the stranger said, his tone aloof.
“Oh,” Imai uttered, suddenly struck by a loss for words at the stranger’s frank statement. “... Could be a coincidence.”
“What about the apples though?” the stranger continued, languidly gesturing his hand towards the barrel in the house.
“Now you’re just making things up,” Imai chuckled, wetting his lips with another drink.
“Well, there’s no harm in trying, is there?” the stranger insisted, sounding slightly dejected.
“You’re right though,” Imai muttered. “No harm in trying.”
The stranger hummed, satisfied with Imai’s answer as he reached for the bottle. Imai handed it to him and the stranger took another long drink from it. The bottle was almost empty now.
Imai was staring at the glistening sea under the moon, lost in his thoughts when the stranger spoke up again. “Hey.”
“Can I sleep here tonight? I don’t feel like moving much.”
Imai raised his brow, surprised by the stranger’s sudden request. “I… guess… There’s no door stopping you anyway.”
The stranger chuckled. “True,” he muttered.
Imai took one final drink from the bottle before passing it to the stranger. “Here, finish it.”
The stranger took it without hesitation and gulped the remaining alcohol in one go. Staring at the empty bottle, he suddenly said, “Atsushi.”
Barely having heard what he said, Imai voiced a vague inquiring noise in response. “Huh?”
“My name,” the stranger stated. “Atsushi.”
Imai shot his eyes over to the stranger, or rather, Atsushi. “I thought you said you didn’t have a name?”
“I guess it’s been so long since it was last used that I couldn’t recall there and then,” said Atsushi, his expression unreadable.
“Huh,” Imai muttered. “I guess… You can call me Hisashi.”
“What a common name,” Atsushi taunted.
“Take it or leave it.”
Atsushi chuckled. “I’ll take it, Hisashi.”
What do you know? A boat actually showed up on the shore this morning. Despite Atsushi’s claim that there weren’t any seaworthy boats around here, one actually did appear. It's just the sails that need fixing. Thankfully, I already have the things needed for that.
I guess the wishing thing really works? If it does, why won’t the sea just lead a fishing vessel or something with other people here? Just pick us up and leave this island. Honestly, though, I’m starting to wonder if this is some kind of a dream with the way that everything just conveniently falls into place. Or maybe I actually drowned in that storm and this is some version of the afterlife or something. Anyway…
Atsushi is the name of that stranger. Or, at least he says it is. I don’t know where he stayed before coming up here to this house but it looks like he has every intention to stick around. Though he did disappear for a moment during the day. He came back with more shellfish and crabs. Apparently he was at the rockpools but I couldn’t see him…? Oh well, I could’ve been too fixated with checking the boat.
Oh, there was a chicken on board that boat that washed up too. I guess eggs will be added to the menu too. Anyway, we’re almost out of apples. It feels like that’s all that man eats. Then again, if I all I’ve had to eat was seafood so far, I’d probably do the same. The apples can’t last any longer anyway. Had to get rid of a few rotten ones already. The chicken won’t get sick from eating that, right?
Come to think of it, I had the strangest dream last night. Felt like someone was touching me…
So I fixed the sails. But guess what? The winds are blowing inland. There’s no way we we can fight both the winds and the waves. I suppose all we can do is wait until the directions change.
Atsushi’s been telling me about the island. The inhabitants supposedly left because fishing boats weren’t coming back. And like the superstitious seafaring folk that they were, they thought that it was a sign that the island didn’t want them staying here anymore. Well, it’s either that or that there was some kind of sea monster or something.
Who knows, really.
Not much else happened.
Though it seems like Atsushi has taken a liking to drinking. I need to teach him moderation before he drowns himself in everything we have.
Atsushi gets very chatty when he drinks. He actually started talking about how to get to the other side of the island through the cave, despite his insistence that I never step in there whenever he's sober. It’s pretty simple. Apparently I just need to navigate northwards, just keep going north. He also added that I must, “ABSOLUTELY must”, as per his words, make sure that I can’t hear anything when going through the cave. And also to stay “as far away from any puddles or pools of water as possible”.
He didn’t explain why though. He just… fell asleep on me. I wonder if he’ll remember what he said tomorrow morning.
He also gets very touchy when drunk. Hands all over the place. I guess he’s the reason for the weird dream. That might’ve actually been him.
Not that I mind
Those advices he gives about the caves, they’re rather unusual, aren’t they?
Come to think of it I wanted to ask him about the compass. I’ll need it if the winds work in our favour and we get to leave. He’s agreeable to everything when drunk but it doesn’t feel right to ask him for it when he’s like that. Maybe in the day.
Nothing much happened yesterday so, no entry.
We’re just sitting around and waiting for the winds to change now. Food isn’t an issue with Atsushi’s fishing prowess and the chicken producing eggs for us. I tried asking Atsushi for tips on spearing fish better. He wasn’t very helpful. He said the fish just happen to turn up for him whenever he needs them.
It sounds ridiculous but there might be some truth to that. I’ve watched him fish. There’s nothing special to his spear throwing and sometimes it doesn’t even land right. But whenever he pulls the stick back in, there’s a fish right there at the end. This man’s got some kind of crazy luck. There’s no other explanation for it.
Atsushi seemed rather grumpy today though. I think he’s finally experiencing a hangover. He actually declined the rum after dinner. I’ll ask about the compass tomorrow or when he’s in a better mood.
Actually, there was something yesterday. I woke up before daybreak for once and Atsushi looked like he was leaving. I think him separating himself from me was what woke up. He didn’t look like he expected that. Atsushi didn’t say where he was going but he said he’d return soon. I suppose I just went back to sleep.
The next time I woke up he was at the hearth tending to the pot, as usual. Now I wonder if he’s been heading out every morning. But where is there to go? The cave? That’s the only place I can think of.
There’s another odd thing I noticed though. Atsushi always wears the same clothes. I don’t know how it never occurred to me earlier. I’ve never seen him take a bath either, or go into the water.
He still smells nice -
Such a curious man.
Imai and Atsushi were seated on the walkway outside the house again, listening to the waves and watching the stars slowly appear as they sipped on seafood stew. It has barely been a week since Atsushi decided to stick around almost all the time, but Imai has already settled into this new normal of having someone else around. It was better than being alone after all.
So far, Atsushi has asked him about a lot of things. He seemed excited about the prospect of leaving, and judging by how curious he was about what things were like in the rest of the world, away from this island, Imai guessed that Atsushi has probably lived his entire life here. He never did ask though. He decided that as long as Atsushi didn’t ask about his past, Imai wouldn’t ask about Atsushi’s either.
Atsushi held his bowl of stew in his hands with a relaxed expression on his face as he listened to the crashing of the waves. Bringing the bowl to his lips, Atsushi glanced over at Imai and caught him staring. He raised an eyebrow, amused. What?
Imai hastily looked away, not realising that he had been watching Atsushi for a tad too long. Mutely, he shook his head and drank his own stew, munching on the shellfish that came with it.
“You’ve been preoccupied, these couple of days,” Atsushi commented.
“No, I’m not,” Imai muttered. He avoided Atsushi’s eyes, staring at the undulating waves below them instead. He didn’t quite know how to ask about the compass yet.
“What is it?” Atsushi probed, turning to face Imai as his robes rustled softly.
Imai glanced at him for a moment. “It’s nothing.”
“So there’s something then,” Atsushi confirmed. Imai could hear a smile in his voice. There was another rustle as he felt Atsushi come close. Peering at Imai up close, Atsushi said, “You want something.”
“Huh?” Imai looked at Atsushi, hiding his surprise under impassiveness.
Atsushi put his bowl down. Tracing Imai’s jaw with chilly fingers, Atsushi looked into Imai’s eyes, as if peering into his consciousness. As Atsushi smiled, Imai felt his heart skip a beat. He was beginning to struggle with keeping a straight face.
“I know what you want,” Atsushi whispered as he grinned, inching closer.
“What?” Imai asked, feigning ignorance as he pulled back.
Atsushi cupped Imai’s face, stopping his retreat. “That compass… and…”
“And?” Imai raised his brows, partly startled by Atsushi’s guess, partly perplexed by the idea that there was something else. What else was there?
Atsushi suddenly widened his eyes in surprise and blinked, as if snapping out of a trance. His hand left Imai’s face as he retreated. Picking up his bowl, Atsushi stood up and walked back into the house without a word.
Imai remained seated on the walkway, finishing the rest of his stew on his own. The whole event was weird, unnerving to say the least. He supposed that Atsushi could’ve guessed that he wanted the compass since that was what Imai eyed every time he went into the cave. But aside from that…
Just as Imai’s bowl went dry, he heard Atsushi’s footsteps exiting the house. Fingers tapped on Imai’s shoulder. Looking up, Atsushi standing behind him with an open palm, asking to take the bowl from him. Imai stared at him for a moment, trying to make sense of the strange expression that Atsushi had on his face but he failed to reach any form of understanding.
Atsushi twitched his fingers and Imai put the empty bowl in his hand, brushing his fingers over Atsushi’s. Why his mind thought that was significant, Imai didn’t know but Atsushi lingered for a moment, staring at Imai with a slight crease in his brow. Eventually pulling away, Atsushi walked back into the house with the bowl, leaving Imai alone again.
A sudden thought struck Imai. Could it be that Atsushi was debating whether or not he should relinquish the compass to Imai? He sighed. Then again, he didn’t necessarily need ownership of it. He could technically just borrow it from Atsushi.
As Imai stretched his legs out and leaned back, a bottle of rum was put down on the floor to his left. Atsushi settled on the floor too, kneeling with his legs to the side, as usual. Without looking at Imai, Atsushi uncorked the bottle and said, “Drink with me.” It sounded more like an insistence than an invitation.
Obliging, Imai took the first sip then passed the bottle to Atsushi. Surprisingly, he mimicked Imai’s sip instead of drinking in large mouthfuls like on previous occasions.
Putting the bottle down, Atsushi was silent for a moment, staring at the sea with an unreadable expression before saying, “Is there a reason why you always have your eyes on me?”
Imai felt another jolt and he shifted his eyes away, embarrassed. There was nothing negative in Atsushi’s tone, no disdain or whatsoever, but Imai couldn’t help but feel awkward about it. For some unfathomable reason, Imai’s gaze would just naturally end up on Atsushi, as if there was some kind of magnet that subconsciously drew him to Atsushi.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to,” Imai muttered, thoroughly abashed.
“It’s not that I mind,” Atsushi said. “I was just wondering…”
“Will you leave without me?”
Imai frowned. “Why would I do that? Didn’t we agree that we’d leave together?”
“Well… If there were circumstances that prevents me from doing that, will you go off on your own?”
“I don’t… understand. Why would-”
“It’s just hypothetical,” Atsushi cut in as he turned to Imai and flashed a smile. “Just… what if. Will you go?”
Imai stared, trying to decipher the reason for all the strangeness that Atsushi suddenly started exhibiting. He supposed answering Atsushi’s question might shed some light on that…
“I don’t feel inclined to do that,” he said frankly. “I agreed to take you with me and that’s what I intend to do,” Imai added firmly, turning away to cast his eyes over the sea again. He reached for the bottle and took another sip, hoping that the rum would settle the unease that has started growing. He really didn’t like the idea of leaving without Atsushi.
A soft laugh came from Atsushi. “I see…” he muttered. Imai heard Atsushi pick up the bottle, drink, and set it down again.
Imai waited for Atsushi to say something, letting the silence between them draw out. The waves continued crashing. Neither of them touched the bottle. Atsushi remained mum.
Eventually, Imai’s patience wore out. “Why did you ask such a question?”
Atsushi turned to Imai, leaning closer to him. His eyes slowly wandered over Imai’s body. His slim legs, crossed. His faded navy robes, wrapped around his slender frame. His collarbone and chest left exposed by the loose neckline. His hair, now long enough to reach his shoulder blades.
“Atsushi?” Imai called and Atsushi snapped his eyes to Imai, his expression inscrutable with a strange look in the dark depths of his eyes.
“I can give you the compass,” Atsushi finally said. “But the other…” His words trailing, Atsushi looked down, his finger tracing the grain of the wooden planks.
“What ‘other’ are you talking about?” Imai asked, perplexed. “If you’re worried about me leaving you behind, I’m telling you that’s not happening. Is my word not enough for you?” he continued, growing upset as a distressed frown took its place on his brow.
“It’s not that,” Atsushi denied. “It’s just… If you… I’m scared that you’ll…”
“Is it about what happens after we leave?” Imai ventured. “You can stay with me. With the boat and the promissory notes we can go anywhere, do anything,” he said. After a moment, a thought struck him. “Or are you worried that I’d abandon you then?” Imai laughed bitterly, suddenly feeling dread instead as he smirked wryly. “I’m more afraid that you’ll leave me after finding out how much more interesting the rest of the world is compared to me.”
Atsushi stared at him and Imai froze, realising what he just said. He didn’t even understand what made him say something like that. He liked Atsushi but he shouldn’t stop him from exploring the world… right?
With that in mind, Imai hastily added, “But if you want to, you should.” He immediately reached for the bottle and drank a couple of mouthfuls, trying to ignore Atsushi’s intense stare.
“And if I don’t want to?” Atsushi asked, his voice soft.
“Then do what you want,” Imai said nonchalantly, hiding the small sliver of gladness he felt.
Atsushi chuckled and shifted. “I… don’t know if I should.”
Imai moved to get up, grunting as he said, “Well it’s your choice, isn’t it?” He could feel Atsushi’s eyes following him as he walked back into the house. “I think I’m going to turn in,” Imai muttered. Maybe sleep was what he needed to clear his head. He had expected Atsushi to head indoors with him, but this time, Atsushi chose to stay on the walkway while Imai drifted to sleep.
It felt like Imai merely blinked, though, when he stirred to the vague sensation of something brushing across his cheek and heard a quiet murmur of his name. “Hisashi…”
“Hn?” Imai grunted groggily.
There was a sharp intake of breath. “You’re awake?” Atsushi whispered, startled. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“What is it?” Imai slurred. Cracking his eyes open as he turned, Imai saw the vague outline of Atsushi illuminated by the low fire in the hearth behind him which reflected off his robes. It looked as if Atsushi’s pale skin was adorned by spots of multi-coloured lights in Imai’s blurry vision as he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes.
“No, no, it’s nothing,” Atsushi muttered quickly. “Go back to sleep.”
“I’m awake,” declared Imai. His eyes still felt dry but it didn’t matter. “What is it?”
“It’s nothing. I was just thinking about… things,” Atsushi insisted. “Don’t worry about it, just go back to sleep.”
“You were touching my face, weren’t you?” Imai asked, speech still slurring. Adjusting his position, Imai lay on his side as he faced Atsushi.
Atsushi’s eyes grew wide and he turned flustered. “You must be mistaken! I don’t- I haven’t-”
“Weren’t there other occasions too?” Imai continued, looking past Atsushi to look at the wall behind him. “Though I think your hands were under my clothes.”
“Ah! No! I- That’s- You weren’t supposed to wake up…” Atsushi’s protests diminished into a whimper.
Imai hummed, amused by Atsushi’s denials. “What were you trying to achieve? Hm?” he muttered as he reached for Atsushi, who let Imai take hold of his fingers without much of a response.
Looking at Imai, Atsushi seemed to have words stuck in his throat while his eyes shone with unguarded feelings, with disquiet, with yearning. As affected as Imai was by Atsushi’s emotions, it was the honesty of it that struck Imai harder. Atsushi was usually so enigmatic with his actual sentiments hidden under the layers of his teasing and playful flirting.
A shine in the gloom suddenly caught Imai’s attention. It was the bottle of rum that they were sharing earlier. Or rather, it was now just the bottle. Worry gripped Imai. The bottle was still almost full when he went to bed. Atsushi never had that much to drink. Then again, Imai was usually there to take the bottle away.
Imai gently pulled Atsushi towards him, down towards his chest. “Atsushi, it’s fine, let’s just go to sleep, alright?” he coaxed.
“Hisashi…” Atsushi called, his voice barely a whisper as he looked up at Imai while held close. Before Imai could react, Atsushi reached up and pressed his lips to Imai’s, kissing him softly.
If there was any shred of drowsiness left in Imai, it has all been swept away by shock. He wasn’t upset by Atsushi’s affections, but he certainly wasn’t expecting it. He wasn’t even sure if this was something that will stick around when Atsushi turns sober.
Imai felt Atsushi’s lips part and push his tongue against Imai’s lips, teasing them open as Atsushi slid his tongue in. Rolling onto his back, Imai grunted, trying to hold back from giving in to Atsushi’s advances but Atsushi kept pushing, pinning Imai under him as he snaked his arms around Imai.
The cool fabric of Atsushi’s robes felt like silk against Imai’s skin, a contrast to the heat building within Imai, made more stark by Atsushi’s chilly fingers caressing his face and body. Atsushi sucked on Imai’s lower lip before flicking his tongue against Imai’s once more and then shifting lower, to his jaw and neck.
“Atsushi…” Imai growled lowly, taking in deep breaths as he tried to calm himself down. It didn’t seem like Atsushi heard him. Feeling Atsushi’s hand slip under his robe and run over his chest, Imai gasped and tightened his arm around Atsushi.
“Atsushi!” Imai hissed, his tone growing sharp. Still no response. Deciding to take things into his own hands, Imai held Atsushi as he rolled over. Atsushi lay wide-eyed and frozen under Imai, stunned by Imai’s aggressive move and the sudden switch in positions.
“Atsushi, please! Stop!” Imai pleaded.
“But why?” whined Atsushi. His face scrunched up as frustrated tears filled his eyes. “Aren’t I one of the things you wanted?”
Imai flinched. Was that the ‘other’ thing that has been bothering Atsushi? But how could Atsushi tell? He wasn’t that easy to read, was he?
Quickly recovering, Imai muttered disapprovingly, “You’re not a thing!” Atsushi looked away and pouted, chastened. “And not now! Not when you’re like this!”
Atsushi rubbed his pelvis against Imai’s groin, making Imai lurch closer to Atsushi with a surprised grunt. “But you want me, don’t you? Hisashi?” Atsushi purred, his voice low and seductive.
Cursing violently, Imai grabbed the blanket and bundled Atsushi up in it. “For fuck’s sake go to sleep,” Imai said, ignoring Atsushi’s protests and struggles.
As Imai wrapped his arms and legs around Atsushi, retraining him, a devilish grin appeared on Atsushi’s face. “I can feel you,” he whispered in a sing-song voice.
Imai felt a pressure against his crotch. His face growing warm, he headbutted Atsushi, smacking his forehead into the other man’s. It hurt, but that stopped Atsushi. “I said stop it! I’m not doing anything with you when you’re this drunk!”
“I’m not drunk!” Atsushi whined again.
“Just listen to yourself!” Imai reprimanded, unyielding in his stance as Atsushi continued complaining.
Eventually, Atsushi gave up, resigning himself to be content with nuzzling against Imai while curled up in the blanket. By the time Imai finally fell back asleep, the hearth had died and he was beginning to feel the cold creep under his skin, pulling him into an uncomfortable sleep.
Oh joy. I developed a fever overnight. Turns out sleeping without covers is a bad idea. Then again, we’re not in the tropics after all. Atsushi was really sorry for this, quite upset with himself too, when he woke up. He does remember what he did last night though. He didn’t seem as sorry about that compared to me getting sick. I guess he knew what he was doing after all.
I wanted to head out but Atsushi wouldn’t let me. He wanted me to rest while he went to get the compass. But he wouldn’t give me the covers. He said I’m not supposed to add more heat to my body. He insisted on that even though I’m fucking shivering my ass off.
He fucking dunked me in a cold bath too. I should’ve known better than to expect a hot one when he said he prepared it. He’s a maniac.
I hate him.
No you don’t
Who said you could look in here. Let alone write in here.
So Atsushi stole the diary away yesterday.
I reclaimed it today. Apparently he did that because I looked stressed when I was writing the previous day’s entry. I wasn’t stressed. I was annoyed by the cold bath and him depriving me of a blanket. I hope he didn’t flip through. He didn’t seem to have done that in front of me but who knows if he did out of sight.
Anyway, I felt better today. A couple of days ago I thought of heading out into deeper waters on the boat to fish, and also to see how much energy I’d need to paddle out. Even if the winds turned in our favour, it would be useless I don’t have the stamina to get us out there. Waves are much stronger past the reef so if I can’t even paddle far in these calmer waters, what chance do we have out at sea?
I mentioned this to Atsushi and he agreed it would be a good idea to try paddling out. Unfortunately he insisted to wait until I fully recovered. So, not today. He’s being annoying about this. He dunked me in a cold bath yesterday and earlier today again. Though… I hate to say it but his methods seem to be working.
He still keeps hugging me to sleep though. I’m worried that by the time I get better, he’d be the one getting sick next. Hopefully that doesn’t happen. At least sleeping without covers doesn’t seem to affect him. Somehow.
“Are you done writing?” Atsushi asked, breaking Imai’s train of thought. He draped himself over Imai’s shoulders as he peered down at the journal.
Imai snapped the book shut. “Stop prying,” he muttered. “Are you sure you didn’t read anything in here?”
“I swear on the chicken’s life that I didn’t,” Atsushi said with mock gravity.
Imai clicked his tongue and smacked Atsushi with the book. “That’s not a very high stake.”
“Oh, yes it is!” Atsushi exclaimed, sitting up. “No chicken means no eggs, and you know how much I love eggs. I’d be devastated,” he said, flopping to the floor dramatically.
Standing up, Imai gave Atsushi a kick as he walked past him towards the chest which now held his belongings. “Aren’t you in a good mood,” Imai remarked. “You seem to be having too much fun for someone who’s supposedly taking care of a sick person.”
Atsushi chuckled. “Do I really look like I’m enjoying myself?” he asked, crossing his outstretched legs.
“Oh. Really. You aren’t?” Imai replied with a deadpan tone.
“If only you knew how much my heart aches each time you’re in discomfort,” Atsushi lamented.
“Oh, yes,” Imai nodded as he crossed the room, walking back to where Atsushi lounged. “You looked very distressed when you threw me into the tub and forced me to stay in there while laughing the whole time.”
“Didn’t you hear the sound of my heart breaking?” Atsushi asked, smirking as Imai stood over him.
Bending over, Imai looked Atsushi in the eye and muttered, “All I heard was the sound of your gleeful giggles, you devilish fiend.”
To that, Atsushi laughed and pulled Imai down to him. “You know it’s all for your own good,” Atsushi said softly, bringing himself closer to Imai. He had intended to give Imai a kiss but he was stopped.
Imai’s palm blocked Atsushi from getting closer. “I told you not to do that. You’ll get sick,” he said, a disapproving frown on his face as he lay down. “You’d tell me to wait to go out to sea but you wouldn’t wait for this.”
“You left me wanting the last time,” Atsushi breathed, resting his chin on Imai’s chest. “How chivalrous of you. And so unlike a typical pirate.”
Imai scoffed. “That again. How many pirates can you have possibly met?”
“You’d be surprised at how often pirates and sailors get washed up here,” Atsushi chuckled. “They’ve all been rather… boorish, to say the least.”
A cynical smirk tugged at Imai’s lips. “You’re telling me.”
“Makes me wonder if you’re really one,” Atsushi baited, trying to prod Imai for more insights about himself again.
“Why don’t you tell me?” Imai challenged, still smirking.
Atsushi narrowed his eyes at Imai as he gave it a thought. “Well, you can read and write, for one,” he muttered to himself. “That’s already more than what the average pirate can do.”
Imai said nothing, keeping his expression neutral as he waited for Atsushi to continue.
“Hm…” Atsushi lay his head down, pressing his ear to Imai’s chest and listening to his heartbeat as he continued to contemplate. Picking up Imai’s right hand, Atsushi let Imai’s sleeve slide down his forearm, exposing the brand on the inside of his wrist. As Atsushi watched Imai’s expression, now wary, he gently brushed his fingers over the scar. Atsushi heard Imai’s heart speed up for a moment and saw the hint of an involuntary wince on his face.
“The memory’s still fresh, isn’t it?” Atsushi whispered.
Imai gently pulled his hand out of Atsushi’s grasp and looked away. Atsushi could feel Imai closing himself up, distancing himself from Atsushi. Agony pricked at Atsushi, realising that he may never get that close again just because he intruded too much. Unsure of what he should do, Atsushi muttered an apology and began to separate himself from Imai, only to feel a pressure around his waist, holding him in place.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Imai muttered, watching Atsushi out of the corner of his eyes. “You deprive me of blankets and now you want to leave me to catch another cold?”
“I thought… maybe you wanted to be alone…”
“Bullshit,” Imai mumbled, making Atsushi lie down on the bedding as he held Atsushi close and pressed his head to Atsushi’s shoulder. “I still need you to sleep.”
Atsushi felt an irresistible urge to smile at Imai’s words. Wrapping his arms around Imai, Atsushi nuzzled against and began kneading the back of Imai’s neck with his fingers, hoping to comfort him. After all, he still felt bad for bringing discomfort to the man. Imai simply stayed as he was, quietly falling asleep from Atsushi’s caresses, dreaming of days long past.
Yesterday, Atsushi brought up that he has never been on a boat, much less did he know what ‘paddling’ meant. It sounds like he’s lived here all his life but when I asked him about the previous inhabitants, he said that he didn’t know nor see them. It’s all so confusing.
Anyway, I spent yesterday teaching him the movements on the beach and we finally went out to sea today. He actually picked it up rather quickly. And while we were out there, I said something about hoping that the boat won’t flip from a rogue wave otherwise it’ll be all over for me. Obviously he asked why and I finally told him that I can’t swim.
He lost it. He started yelling at me and about how I’m not fit to be at sea if I can’t even swim. It’s not like I don’t know that. Though I might’ve sent him into a panic because I’m only mentioning this to him that once we’re out there surrounded by water. If we were on land, he might’ve just laughed it off. After that, though, he basically set the paddle down and refused to let me go. Not until we’re back on land.
On the whole, it wasn’t too bad. The energy expended wasn’t too much but I felt like I was baking under the sun. I hope my skin doesn’t burn. I don’t know how the sun seemed to have no effect on Atsushi. His skin tone is oddly pale for someone living on an island like this too. I actually asked him about it. But he simply shrugged and called it one of his ‘special traits’.
I asked him about his skin being cooler than usual too. He said he didn’t feel any different, and that he thought I was the one who was warmer than usual. Maybe he’s right. Since there’s no one else around for comparison, I can’t really say. It’s not like I used to get touched by other people a lot.
Honestly? Atsushi’s chilly touch is a godsend of my burnt skin and sore muscles. It hurts every time I move now. I haven’t even started fishing.
I was the only one paddling today. Atsushi actually didn’t want me heading out, not without learning to swim first but I can’t be bothered. I never learnt as a child and I don’t really want to learn now. It’s just troublesome. Atsushi realised I was going whether or not he came with me so he settled for holding onto me while I paddled. He was sulking the whole time but I don’t mind. Not when he’s helping to block the sunlight from my skin.
Despite all his earlier protests, Atsushi made me go around the island today, pointing out where the reef ended and how to spot certain currents. I accidentally went too far and the waves almost swept us into the rocks. For the most part though, it was alright. The island was apparently surrounded by shallow reefs, thus the calmer waters.
Atsushi showed me the cave exit on the other side of the island. It was near there when we had that little scare with the waves and the rocks. I don’t think Atsushi ever held me so tightly before that. Anyway, it wasn’t possible to get to the shore in the cave though. The reef around it made the waters too shallow for the boat to cross. But like he said in the beginning, there were dilapidated boats there. I could see that much. It was a bit like a lagoon though, smaller rocks surrounded the shore, almost like a rock pool but one big enough for people to frolic in.
After that I brought us back to this side where the houses stood. My arms, my shoulders, and my back are aching like hell. From what I’ve seen, getting to the other side by sea really is a bad idea. Be it swimming or by boat, it’s just too risky. Considering what Atsushi rambled about walking through the cave the last time, it sounds like that’s the easiest way after all. Though I still have no idea what else is in there that he doesn’t want me seeing. He’s still quite against my going in.
Anyway, I guess I’ll trying fishing out on the water tomorrow. I hope my body doesn’t protest too much.
Soaking in the cold bath, Imai sighed in relief as Atsushi slapped a towel on his sore skin. After multiple days of cold baths in a row Imai had hoped for a hot one to relax in but alas, it would be far too painful to bear with the sunburns he had sustained. Perhaps he truly wasn’t meant for this seafaring life after all.
Gently dabbing at Imai’s skin with the cloth, Atsushi clicked his tongue in askance. “You’re staying indoors if tomorrow’s sun is as harsh as it has been these two days,” Atsushi said. He wasn’t giving Imai a choice.
“We’re almost out of food though. And-”
“I’ll get the food,” Atsushi cut Imai off irritably.
“Are you… are you angry with me?”
“I don’t understand how you’ve lived till now if this is how you take care of yourself,” Atsushi grumbled. “First you run a fever, then you tell me you can’t swim even though you’ve been at sea this whole time, and then you get these burns and you still want to stay outside even more and let it worsen.”
Imai couldn’t help but chuckle at Atsushi’s grousings. When Atsushi turned away to rinse the cloth, Imai leaned against the back of the tub and looked over at him. “Maybe I like being taken care of by you,” he grinned.
“Are you saying that this is my fault?” Atsushi muttered crossly.
“You’re a perk in my predicaments,” Imai replied, merely smiling at Atsushi when he turned and narrowed his eyes at Imai.
With a frustrated huff, Atsushi threw the towel back at Imai and marched out of sight, his shimmering robes fluttering after him. Unsettled by how upset Atsushi seemed, Imai quickly stepped out of the bath, dried off and dressed himself. Heading to the front of the house, Imai searched for Atsushi and found him seated on the walkway, leaning against the wall of the house.
As Imai approached Atsushi, he began to mutter to himself. “I don’t know what’s the point of me being so concerned for you when you don’t even seem to care about yourself.”
“You really don’t have to do this, you know?” Imai said, sitting down next to Atsushi. “You can just… let me deal with things myself.”
Atsushi stared at him as if Imai had just said the most ridiculous thing he ever heard. “How am I supposed to leave you alone like this?” he snapped. “You’ll wreck yourself by the end of the week…”
“No, I won’t,” Imai chuckled, pulling Atsushi to him. “Why are you getting so worked up? Hm?” he asked gently as he brushed Atsushi’s hair away.
“Because I care!” Atsushi flared, slapping a hand on a patch of tender skin on Imai’s calf. “And you’re being reckless!” Imai hissed and winced as Atsushi continued, “Will it kill you to listen to me and just stay indoors?”
“Mm… If you really insist…” Imai muttered reluctantly and rubbed the back of his neck.
Atsushi suddenly sprang up, held Imai’s face in his hands and kissed him, surprising Imai. He almost fell back from the momentum but quickly stopped his descent by thrusting an arm behind him. Imai wasn’t sure how to react to this. The last time Atsushi did this was after he had drunk a bottle of rum. But this time…
Imai was about to return the kiss when Atsushi suddenly pulled away. Hands still cupping Imai’s face, Atsushi looked him in the eye with a serious expression and said, “One more thing. Never, ever, ever go onto the water without me.”
“But I’ve been fine so far, haven’t I?” Imai protested.
“You’ve been lucky,” Atsushi retorted. “What if you fall in when I’m not around and the waves swallow you?” he challenged. “I’ll never see you again…”
“It’s a good thing you’re coming with me when I leave then,” Imai smiled, attempting to placate Atsushi. Perhaps this afternoon’s close shave was a little too close for Atsushi.
“Hisashi…” Atsushi’s hands slid to Imai’s shoulders, distress in his eyes as he gave Imai a squeeze. Looking away, Atsushi put a hand on his forehead, over his eyes. “I… What am I getting so upset over…” he muttered with a sigh and his lips in a wry smirk.
Imai leaned forward and put his arms around Atsushi, letting Atsushi rest his head on his shoulder. He didn’t know what to say as Atsushi let out another sigh while making himself comfortable in the space between Imai’s legs. Looking out to sea, Imai noticed that neither the moon nor the stars could be seen tonight. Cloud were probably responsible for that.
As a chilly wind blew inland, Atsushi sat up and turned to face the sea as well. After a moment, he said, “Hisashi, let’s go inside.”
“Do you think it’s a storm?” Imai asked, slightly worried. If the weather was too violent, neither of them will be able to head out to gather food.
“Maybe” was the only answer that Atsushi offered while his eyes were fixed on the sea, as if trying to see something in the darkness out there. Imai waited. If Atsushi wasn’t moving yet, things probably aren’t that bad.
Atsushi put a hand on Imai, pulling Imai’s attention to him. “We should close the storm shutters for good measure,” Atsushi said, still staring into the distance.
Atsushi nodded. As he stood up with Imai, Atsushi began to stare at the water beneath the walkway and backed into Imai, pushing him into the house without looking at him. Once indoors, Atsushi had a stern expression on his face as he wordlessly slid the shutters outside the house close, sealing the front.
“Atsushi? What’s wrong?” Imai asked, perplexed by Atsushi’s sudden austerity.
Eyes glued to the shuttered entrance, Atsushi barely moved as he said, “Don’t go out when it’s raining.”
“That’s a lot of don'ts coming from you tonight,” Imai muttered, folding his arms as he raised an aloof brow.
“I’m trying to keep you alive,” Atsushi stressed, frowning slightly as he continued watching the shutters.
“It’s just a storm, isn’t it?” Imai asked.
A worried frown on his face, Atsushi’s lips were pressed into a thin line as he thought about it. “Mmh… I hope you’re right…”
“If it’s anything worse, there’s nothing we can do about it anyway,” Imai concluded, sitting down in front of the hearth with his legs crossed. “Sit with me,” he said, tapping the space next to him.
As Atsushi slowly turned away from the shutters, his eyes darted between Imai and the entrance, still wary in his reluctant retreat. Even when he sat down next to Imai and leaned against him, Atsushi continued to watch the door.
“I’m sure the shutters will hold,” Imai said, casting a sidelong glance at Atsushi. “Besides, even without me, you can still get off this island in your own with the boat, the compass and the other things in the chest. You don’t need me,” he reasoned.
“Don’t say that,” Atsushi muttered angrily, offended. He spun around. “What makes you think that-”
The smile on Imai’s face caught Atsushi off guard, causing the break in his words. Realising that Imai didn’t mean what he said, Atsushi felt heat rise to his face and he quickly turned back around. “Don’t tease me,” he muttered.
Atsushi felt Imai’s shoulders shake as he laughed silently. Feeling movement around his waist, Atsushi looked down and found Imai’s arm around him, holding him. Atsushi was surprised. Imai was almost never this forward with his actions. Though his initiative made Atsushi smile.
Imai felt Atsushi’s cool fingers slowly curl around his hand, his movements slow as if shy as their fingers interlocked. Tightening his hold around Atsushi, Imai let out a long sigh and felt the tension he didn’t even know he had leave his body. Atsushi leaned back into Imai more as he shifted, turning away from the hearth to face Imai’s direction.
As the wind outside started howling and rattling the shutters, Atsushi reached for Imai with his other hand, fingers grazing Imai’s jaw as Atsushi drew him into a kiss. This time, Imai was ready to respond, parting his lips as they met. Atsushi’s desires grew and he slid into Imai’s lap, gently grinding against Imai while his arms encircled Imai’s body and his hands wandered, feeling the contours of this body that Atsushi has become familiar with.
Imai wrapped his arms around Atsushi, one hand around the nape of his neck and the other on the small of his back, supporting his body. As his fingertips scratched at Atsushi’s neck, Atsushi made a soft noise, moaning as he pressed closer to Imai and scratched at the fabric of Imai’s robes on his back, as if eager to rip them off. Atsushi’s enthusiasm aroused Imai, encouraging him to deepen their kiss as his hand slid lower, approaching Atsushi’s hips. Just then, Atsushi gasped and recoiled, breaking away from Imai.
“What? What’s wrong?” Imai asked, perplexed by Atsushi’s sudden balking.
“Hisashi, I… I can’t, I’m sorry,” Atsushi muttered quickly, looking at everywhere except for Imai. He now sat a distance away from Imai, legs tucked under him.
Imai slowly approached him. “Atsushi?” He carefully reached for Atsushi’s hand, taking it in his own. Thankfully, Atsushi didn’t pull away. It wasn’t his person that was the issue then. “Atsushi, what’s wrong?”
Atsushi looked at Imai warily, a measure of fear in his eyes. “I… It’s…” His sentences were halting, starting and stopping, as if he was struggling to find the words for himself.
“Did someone hurt you before?” Imai asked, trying to find a plausible reason for Atsushi’s discomfort.
“No! No, it’s not like that!” Atsushi exclaimed, aghast at the mere thought of it.
“Is it… me-”
Atsushi rushed forward, closing the gap between Imai and himself. “Even further from the truth,” he breathed, a certain desperation in his voice. Atsushi’s hands were on Imai again, stroking his face as he closed his eyes and pressed his forehead to Imai’s, a furrow between his brows. “If only you knew how much I…”
“Hm?” Imai pushed back against Atsushi, a light headbutt. As Atsushi looked at him with his doleful eyes, Imai chuckled with a resigned sigh and got up. “Fine, I guess there’s no going any further then.”
“Huh?” Atsushi stared as Imai walked off and tucked himself in under the blankets. “You’re just-”
“Going to bed,” Imai finished, turning to lie on his side. “Otherwise you’ll just leave me with a serious case of blue balls.”
Just as Imai was getting comfortable, he felt the covers fly off him and a hand grab his shoulder to turn him back around. Lying flat on his back, Imai was pinned down by Atsushi who had a solemn expression on his face as he held up to fingers before Imai.
“Two things,” Atsushi announced. “One, no looking. Two, no touching.”
“Hah?” Imai gave him an incredulous look. “What the hell am I supposed to do then?”
Atsushi’s lips stretched into a sly smile. Sticking his index finger out, Atsushi planted it on Imai’s bare chest between the opening in the front of his robes and slowly dragged it down his torso, loosening the fabric slightly until he stopped at the belt that kept Imai’s robes folded close.
“You can just lie here and relax,” he said, smirking as he tugged the belt loose and brought the long strip of fabric over Imai’s eyes.
“Wait, are you seriously doing this?” Imai asked as the belt, now a blindfold, was fastened. “But why?”
Imai could still feel Atsushi on him, now rubbing a hand over his exposed torso, making him shiver involuntarily. Unable to see, Imai tried to sit up and grab hold of Atsushi but he was pushed back down. He heard a rustle that could only come from the fabric of Atsushi’s robes. Imai then felt Atsushi’s chilly hands taking hold of his wrists, bringing them above Imai’s head as he tied them together, supposedly with the belt from Atsushi’s own robes.
“I said no touching,” Atsushi whispered into Imai’s ear as he drew away.
Imai cleared his throat, unable to respond. The thought of Atsushi body now bare before him turned him on and Atsushi clearly noticed this as his fingers closed around his penis, growing harder under Atsushi's touch. There was a huff of warm air on Imai’s chest as Atsushi chuckled at Imai’s shallow breaths.
A wet flick at his nipple made Imai gasp. Atsushi’s lips were on his chest, kissing Imai’s skin then moving back to suck at his nipples. Being unable to see appeared to intensify the sensations for Imai. With Atsushi’s languid stroking of his erection and playful teasing of his torso, Imai’s huffing turned to low groans.
Imai felt Atsushi’s weight on him as he leaned forward and pressed his body against him. He has held Atsushi as they slept many times before, but this was the first time they were lying skin-to-skin and the deep intimacy of this brought a surge of warmth in him. Feeling a strong desire to hold Atsushi in his arms, Imai tugged at his restraints restlessly.
As Atsushi’s fingers continue stroking Imai’s erection with an irregular rhythm, Atsushi brought his other hand up to Imai’s arms, his touch bringing a stillness to Imai’s struggling. With another frustrated groan, Imai moaned breathlessly, “Atsushi…”
“Hisashi…” Atsushi returned his call. Imai felt Atsushi nuzzle in the crook of his neck, planting soft kisses as he did. “Hisashi… may I put you in me?” Atsushi asked as he proceeded to suck on Imai’s ear lobe.
Atsushi’s giggle sounded oh so pleasant as he drew away again. Imai let out a long frustrated sigh from the loss of physical contact. He felt Atsushi’s precum-slicked hand trailing cold lines on his thighs as his other hand stroked his face.
Then, a soft sigh came from Atsushi and Imai felt his legs on either side of him, straddling him. It suddenly occurred to Imai that Atsushi has always kept his legs together, even when asleep. He has never even entangled his legs with Imai’s before.
Imai felt Atsushi holding his erection, stroking him again as he raised himself above Imai and adjusted his position. All at once, Imai felt heat envelop him and Atsushi released a blissful sound, between a sigh and a moan. The soft skin of Atsushi’s legs gripped Imai’s torso as he began to move up and down, moaning each time he sank down onto Imai.
Arching his back, Imai tugged at his restraints again, eager to return Atsushi’s affections. With a frustrated groan and a firm tug, they finally came loose and Imai pushed himself up, wrapping his arms around Atsushi’s torso and trailing kisses on his body.
Atsushi yelped, or tried to as a whine escaped his lips. “No! Don’t!” He pushed uselessly against Imai, torn between enjoying Imai’s loving and his anxiety.
Imai felt Atsushi nibbling on his shoulder and neck, clearly enjoying their close proximity despite his protests. “Atsushi, tell me,” Imai whispered, almost breathless from pleasure. “Tell me where to touch you.”
“Hisashi!” Atsushi jerked, grinding his erection against Imai’s lower body. “Hisashi! Just… not…” His words ended in shallow panting and a restrained moan as Atsushi tried to control his vocal chords. Unable to speak, Atsushi instead took Imai’s hands in his and guided his hands, letting them glide from just above his naval, across his chest, and back up to his neck and face.
Hearing Atsushi’s soft moans as he brought his hands to explore his body, Imai couldn’t resist sticking his fingers into Atsushi’s open mouth. Atsushi readily sucked on Imai’s fingers, moaning with renewed gusto as Imai teased his sensitive nipples.
Distracted by Imai’s fingers and tongue, Atsushi all but stopped riding Imai. Deciding to take over, Imai removed his fingers from Atsushi’s mouth and held him tight as he brought Atsushi to the floor, positioning under him. Nudging at his blindfold with his shoulder, Imai managed to bring sight back into one eye.
As his blurry vision adjusted to the reintroduction of light, Atsushi’s flushed and distressed face came into focus and Atsushi pushed his hands to Imai’s face. “No! Don’t look!” he moaned, both aroused and upset at the same time. “I beg you! Please don’t look down!”
Atsushi’s pleading tugged at Imai’s heart, making it ache. He couldn’t understand Atsushi’s discomfort but he could comply with Atsushi’s wishes. Crouching down, close to Atsushi, Imai looked at him in the eyes and said, “I won’t. I promise you I’ll do as you ask. All I want is to see your beautiful face, and to know I’m not hurting you.”
“Hisashi…” Atsushi was close to tears. As his hands reluctantly shifted away from Imai’s eyes to caress his jaw, Atsushi drew Imai into another kiss, wordlessly giving Imai his permission to go on as he is.
Hugging Atsushi, Imai began thrusting into him. Atsushi moaned and writhed under Imai as he felt the pleasure intensify. True to his word, Imai kept his eye on Atsushi’s face, forcing himself from looking elsewhere. Closing his eye, Imai pressed his face into Atsushi’s skin, nuzzling against his neck and shoulders as Imai, too, felt a swell of pleasure building in him.
With Imai in reach, Atsushi bit down on his shoulder, stifling his moans as he came. Listening to Atsushi’s constant murmuring of his name, Imai felt his own pleasure overwhelm him, making him gasp as he quickly pulled out and spilled his ejaculation over Atsushi’s thighs.
Propping himself up on one arm, Imai shared a moment with Atsushi, looking at each other for a long while before he blinked and looked away, snapping out of his trance as he pulled off his makeshift blindfold. “I’m… sorry… for the mess,” he muttered, choosing to stare at the dying embers in the hearth, suddenly feeling awkward. He had never actually done it with a man before, after all.
Atsushi moved and Imai felt a kiss on his cheek followed by a hand caressing his cheek. “Thank you,” Atsushi whispered.
Keeping to what he said, Imai continued staring at the fire, only grunting to acknowledge Atsushi’s appreciation as he slowly stood up and left to clean up. Left to himself, Imai found himself stuck with his feelings, unsure of how he truly felt, and unsure if he was just a passing fancy for Atsushi. He could hear the beginnings of a storm outside as the wind continued to rattle the storm shutters, as if imitating his inner turmoil in sound.
Cool fingers touching his cheek brought Imai back to reality and he looked up at Atsushi. He had a soft smile on his face, one resembling contentment. Aside from that, he looked the same as usual, as if nothing had happened.
Understanding his cue, Imai nodded and got up, taking his turn to clean up. When he came back, Imai found Atsushi settled in the bed, staring at the shutters with a pensive expression as he waited for Imai. Noticing Imai’s return, Atsushi cast that expression aside and welcomed him back with a warm smile and open arms. Imai returned the smile and settled in with Atsushi, letting him rest on his chest as they slowly drifted to sleep.
Imai woke suddenly to the rumble of distant thunder. It was still dark. The fire was now even dimmer than when they fell asleep though. Atsushi was fast asleep on him, but the blanket has somehow been tossed aside. When Atsushi murmured something and shifted, a glint of light caught his eye. Imai’s eyes were naturally drawn to it, to what he now realised was Atsushi’s leg sticking out from under his robes and entwined with his own legs.
Frowning, Imai stared at the gleam in the dark. It reminded him of the iridescence from Atsushi’s robes under sunlight, only that it was on now his skin. He shook his head in small movements, careful to not wake Atsushi. His mind was still much too bogged down by sleep. Moving carefully so as to not wake Atsushi by accident, Imai reached for the blankets and covered the both of them with it again. Once warm and comfortable, it didn’t take long for Imai to fall back asleep with his face in Atsushi’s long dark hair.
The sea is kind to me.
That’s what Atsushi said when he came back from fishing this morning.
The storm grew overnight. When Atsushi slipped out through the shutters, the wind that came in through the gap was so strong that it felt like a typhoon has come in. It honestly feels like a miracle that Atsushi came back unscathed AND dry. Only his hair was a little damp.
He wasn’t clear about where he went for the food nor about how he got it. The only thing he says is that “the sea is kind to me”. In his own words, whatever he needed or wanted the sea has always provided. Like a mother, he said.
Needless to say I didn’t step out today. Just hearing the winds and the thunder, it sounds like an apocalypse out there. And the fact that Atsushi went out…
I guess there’s a reason why he’s alive.
The storm hasn’t let up. Atsushi went out again and came back with shellfish and crabs. He checked on the boat and said that it was fine too. Thankfully. He also said that based on the weather patterns, the winds should change in our favour soon.
I asked him a few things about himself. He seemed more willing to divulge after
that our we that night.
He’s apparently been here his whole life. His first memory was waking up in the waters around here as a child. But he’s never even met the original inhabitants of this place. Whatever he shared about them was gleaned from some old records that he found in some of the other houses over the years. The ability to read and write apparently came to him naturally.
The only other humans (he emphasised on this word a lot, for some reason) Atsushi have ever met were the ones who got washed up here. And that no one has ever managed to leave the island.
That’s honestly troubling. Maybe that’s why he’s so worried about me being on the water.
After that question, he grew unwilling to say more. And he started asking about me instead. So I told him about my childhood, growing up near the coast, going to school. About my family’s trading business, travelling around and making deals when I grew old enough. I suppose that was enough to satisfy him. He didn’t ask any more.
I can’t imagine how lonely he must’ve been through all his years here though.
The storm is still raging. Atsushi hasn’t returned. Maybe he went back to the cave and got stuck there.
He’s still not back. I hope nothing bad happened. He should be capable of taking care of himself out there… Right?
The storm lost its intensity this evening and Atsushi finally came back late at night. But something didn’t feel right though.
He looked pale. Very pale. I mean, his usual skin tone already was pale but this time, he looked weak, maybe even sick. He was exhausted too. He fell asleep the moment he stumbled into my arms.
What was most bothering was the long red lines, like welts, all over the skin of his arms and torso. They remind me of jellyfish stings. But this looks much worse, more severe. I can’t imagine what could’ve
He just woke up, screaming and in tears. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what happened while he was gone to make him like this. What do I do? How do I fix this?
My chest hurts
It’s still raining. But less now, I think. It might clear up tomorrow.
Atsushi has been quiet. He’s eaten but that’s all he’s done today. He wouldn’t say what happened.
We both stayed in today.
“You can go home tomorrow,” Atsushi said out of the blue, his voice soft as he watched the pot simmer over the hearth. “The rain will stop tonight.”
“You mean ‘we’?” Imai asked, putting his journal down.
“No, you. Just you,” Atsushi corrected, sitting motionless.
“I’m not going then,” Imai said firmly, a steely stare at Atsushi’s back. This decision was weirdly easy to make.
Atsushi spun around, angry. “You have to leave,” he stressed. “There’s nothing for you here!”
“That’s not for you to say,” Imai retorted, turning back to put his writing materials away.
Heavy footsteps thumped on the floor as Atsushi charged over to Imai, grabbing him by his shoulders to make the other man look at him. “You must leave!” Atsushi insisted, tears in his eyes despite his attempt at a stoic stare. “I want you to leave me alone!”
Imai scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Oh please, you’re convincing no one like this,” he muttered, turning away again.
“Hisashi!” Atsushi whined. “I’m serious here! You have to leave tomorrow!”
“Not without you.”
“Don’t be stubborn!”
“I could say the same to you,” Imai retorted, closing the chest with a snap. “I made a promise to you and I’m keeping it.”
“Then leave first and come back for me later,” Atsushi suggested, changing his tactic. “I’ll wait for you here.”
“What difference does it make?” Imai asked, casting an annoyed glance at Atsushi. “Wouldn’t it be easier if you just left with me tomorrow? And didn’t you say you didn’t want me on the water without you?”
“I don’t have a choice!” Atsushi wailed in anguish.
“There is always a choice!” Imai spat, exasperation building in him. “What aren’t you telling me?” he demanded.
Oddly enough, Atsushi broke out in an uncontrollable laugh tinged with a sense of cynicism. Imai sat there in silence, waiting for Atsushi’s laughter to die down. When it eventually did, melancholy took over as Atsushi said bleakly, “If I told you… at best, you wouldn’t believe me. At worst, you’d leave and never look back.”
Imai stared, searching for an answer from Atsushi who kept his eyes to the floor. As the silence dragged on between them, Imai found his eyes visually tracing one of the red lines that stretched from Atsushi’s neck down under his robes.
Reaching his hand towards Atsushi, Imai gently trailed his fingers along Atsushi’s jaw and down his neck. “At least tell me what happened,” he whispered.
Atsushi simply shook his head, rejecting his request. Taking Imai’s hand in his, Atsushi held it to his lips and sighed, a troubled frown etched into his brow.
“Does it still hurt?”
There was a slight hesitation before Atsushi shook his head.
With his free hand, Imai carefully brushed over the angry red streaks on Atsushi neck, unconvinced that it no longer bothered Atsushi. True enough, Atsushi winced. But instead of shifting away, Atsushi leaned in, urging Imai to touch him more.
“It obviously still hurts,” Imai muttered, keeping his fingers away from reddened skin as he trailed lines on Atsushi’s neck.
“Don’t mind me,” Atsushi replied, his voice trembling slightly as he looked up at Imai with a weak smile that resembled a wince.
“Tell me what to do,” Imai said, stopping his movements. “What helps with… this?”
Atsushi looked down again. Chewing the inside of his lower lip as he hesitated again, thinking for a moment before finally saying, “Seawater. Seawater helps.”
Imai immediately got up and went to the bathroom. Grabbing a wooden bucket with a rope attached to its handle, Imai strode back to the front of the house and slid the shutters open just as Atsushi exclaimed, “Wait!”.
There was still a slight drizzle going on and the sky was overcast but there were blinking lights in the water, as if the stars in the sky were reflected on the water's surface. Unusual as it was, Imai thought nothing of it and threw the bucket into the sea.
As he was beginning to pull it back in with the water collected, he felt a tug on it, giving him pause. Imai frowned and tugged harder. The opposing force disappeared. Perhaps the bucket snagged on something.
Leaning over the edge, Imai started hauling the bucket of water up when something shot out of the water and grabbed it. The sudden weight caused Imai to lean just a little too far forward, making him lose his balance. He was about to fall when he felt a grab for him from behind, pulling him back and flinging him in the direction of the house.
Landing, Imai quickly recovered and continued hauling the bucket back as Atsushi threw one of the fishes that they kept in a makeshift tank into the sea. Just as it hit the water, the lights in the water shifted and the water exploded in a flurry of splashes.
Imai stared at the sight before him in confusion as Atsushi dragged him back into the house with the bucket of seawater and slammed the shutters close. It was only then that it finally occurred to Imai that those were not lights in the water. They were eyes.
“What… was that…?” Imai muttered, stunned.
Atsushi panted as he stared at the shuttered entrance of the house. “The… things I mentioned…” Imai was a man of rather slight build, and this wouldn’t normally tire Atsushi out but he hasn’t fully recovered after all. As he continued to pant, Atsushi wiped the sheen of sweat off his brow. Yet another close call.
“I thought you said those were in the caves,” Imai recalled.
“Why didn’t those… things… show up on previous nights?” Imai asked.
“The moon, the stars, they’ve always been there,” Atsushi explained. “As long as there’s a source of light…”
“They won’t come out?” Imai finished for him.
Atsushi nodded. “It’s not safe for you here,” he muttered.
“And you’re safe?” Imai shot back as he got to his feet.
“They won’t touch me,” Atsushi assured. “They know their place.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Atsushi refused to answer, shaking his head mutely with finality. As he straightened up, Atsushi extended a hand to Imai. “Help me with my back, will you?”
Imai narrowed his eyes at Atsushi, annoyed that he was avoiding his questions again. But when Atsushi made a pleading expression, Imai could only give him a resigned sigh as he walked to Atsushi with the bucket of water, following him into the bath. As expected, Atsushi didn’t undo his belt. Instead, he simply let his robes slide off his shoulders and pool at his waist as he sat down on the short stool.
Atsushi’s once pale, smooth skin was now marred with those red welts streaking across his body. Seeing it made Imai wince involuntarily, and he was glad that Atsushi couldn’t see his expression with his back to him.
Picking up a dry washcloth from the towel rack, Imai came up behind Atsushi and set the bucket down. Sensing Imai’s presence, Atsushi tentatively gathered his long black hair up and brought it over his shoulder, giving Imai full access to his back.
Imai knelt, bringing himself level with Atsushi, and dipped the cloth into the bucket. Wringing the excess water out, he muttered, “Tell me if it’s too much to bear.”
Atsushi nodded quietly and Imai got to work, carefully pressing the cloth to Atsushi’s ruined skin. As Imai moved across his back, Atsushi exhaled a shaky breath, feeling the salt from the sea water bite into his skin. He grit his teeth against the sting but found himself slowly edging forward, subconsciously shifting away from Imai.
Imai was soon done with Atsushi’s back. As much it seemed to hurt, Atsushi's skin already looked better. The streaks went from an angry red to a pale pink, and the swelling seemed to have gone down. Without asking, Imai continued on, this time wiping down Atsushi’s arms with the seawater.
Atsushi tried to twist around. “I can handle this myself,” he said quickly, trying to stop Imai.
“Just stay still,” Imai mumbled, continuing without pause as he embraced Atsushi from behind, reaching further down his arm.
As he came to Atsushi’s forearm, where the red streaks were more concentrated, as if they were the result of some form of restraints, Atsushi exclaimed in shock from the burst of pain and curled himself up against Imai, burying his face in Imai’s shoulder. Imai could hear Atsushi gasping and breathing heavily as he clenched his fists, trying to bear the pain as quietly as he could. Imai moved quickly so as to not prolong Atsushi’s torment and when he switched over to Atsushi’s other arm, Atsushi seemed better prepared for it this time, reacting less although he still hissed and clenched his fists.
“I’m sorry,” Imai whispered, feeling an ache in his chest at the torment he was making Atsushi endure.
Atsushi shook his head furiously, rejecting Imai’s apology and burying his face deeper in Imai’s robes. “Not your fault,” he muttered.
Imai could feel Atsushi’s stare on him as he moved on to Atsushi’s front, watching him as Atsushi relaxed his body against him. Focusing on the task at hand, Imai willfully ignored him but as he moved down Atsushi’s torso, towards his belt, Atsushi put his hand over Imai’s, stopping him.
“That’s enough,” Atsushi breathed, his eyes still on Imai.
Shifting his gaze to Atsushi, Imai felt Atsushi’s hand on his cheek, pulling him into a sudden kiss. Imai let the washcloth fall to the floor and tightened his hold on Atsushi as he let his urges take over. As if responding to Imai’s willingness, Atsushi grabbed desperately at him with eager hands, kissing him harder.
With a sigh, Imai responded in kind, his fingertips scratching against Atsushi’s scalp as he bunched up Atsushi’s dark locks in his fist. Atsushi whined softly and shifted, slipping his hands under Imai’s robes to caress his skin. But upon hearing the noises Atsushi made, Imai loosened his grip, worried that he might have been too rough with Atsushi.
As if to compensate for Imai’s reaction, Atsushi clung even tighter to him, pressing their bodies together even as Atsushi broke the kiss. Looking at Imai with lustful eyes, Atsushi said nothing as he sank lower, untying Imai’s belt and putting his face up against Imai’s groin while deftly removing his underwear. Imai protested all the way, curling his fist in Atsushi’s hair again, this time in an attempt to keep him away. Atsushi paid him no heed. As he started working his tongue around Imai’s hardening erection, Imai instinctively jerked his hips, aroused by Atsushi despite his intentions.
As Imai tried to speak, Atsushi gently closed his fingers around Imai’s balls, making Imai moan from his advances instead. Imai tugged at Atsushi’s hair in another weak attempt to dissuade him, but Atsushi merely hummed in response, seemingly enjoying the pulling.
Gripping Atsushi’s shoulder tightly, Imai tried to call him, muttering, “Atsu… shi!”
“Hn?” Atsushi hummed, casting his large eyes up at Imai as he put his lips to the tip of Imai’s erection, sucking lightly.
Imai moaned, his mind blanking out momentarily as pleasure washed over him, making him lose his train of thought. Breathing deeply, Imai tried to regain his composure but when Atsushi made eye contact with him, Atsushi whispered, “Fuck me from behind.”
Imai shook his head, turning away from Atsushi. “You’re not… You’re still…”
Atsushi turned around, pressing his back to Imai as he leaned into him and trailed his fingers along Imai’s jaw. With his other hand, Atsushi continued massaging Imai’s erection behind him. “Look at me,” he murmured, pressing his fingers to Imai’s chin.
Letting his head turn according to the pressure of Atsushi’s fingers on his chin, Imai felt helplessly enraptured by Atsushi’s amorous advances. With lips parted suggestively and a carnal desire in his eyes, Atsushi breathed, “Love me.”
At those words, Imai felt himself move, as if responding to a command as he met Atsushi’s lips with his for a short, blissful moment before Atsushi pulled away from him, leaning forward. As Atsushi pushed his rear against Imai’s erection, Imai bent over with him, kissing his back and tasting the salt from the seawater on Atsushi’s skin as his hands caressed Atsushi’s torso. Imai could feel Atsushi’s hands stroking his erection, guiding him towards his entrance.
Looking over his shoulder, Atsushi said, “Love me, Hisashi. Do you?”
“Yes,” Imai whispered, his hot breath against Atsushi’s skin as he pressed closer to Atsushi who hummed, delighted by his answer.
Despite his view being obstructed by Atsushi’s robes, still held fast by the belt around his waist, Imai found no difficulty with inserting himself into Atsushi with his assistance. Atsushi moaned from his penetration and Imai’s fingers dug into Atsushi’s flesh at his waist, above the fabric of Atsushi’s robes, as he began to thrust his hips. Atsushi moved in tandem with Imai’s rhythm, continuing his soft moans each time Imai pushed in.
As he thrusted, Imai gave Atsushi gentle nips on his back, keeping in mind the likelihood of Atsushi’s skin still being tender while resisting the urge to let loose and bite down. Feeling the pleasure escalate in him, Imai removed one hand from Atsushi’s waist and curled his fingers into Atsushi’s hair again, tugging hard as the pleasure peaked and erupted, waves of it like ripples running through him.
Sighing, Imai felt the tension release his body from its hold as he rested his forehead on Atsushi’s back. He felt Atsushi take his hand off his waist, bringing it to his lips as he eased away from Imai, chest heaving in slow deep breaths.
Atsushi shifted, and Imai straightened up, tilting his head back as he looked up at the ceiling, stretching the muscles in his neck. Noticing an opportunity, Atsushi took over, wrapping an arm around Imai’s waist as he buried his fingers in Imai’s hair and grasped firmly but gently. Through half-lidded eyes, Imai exchanged a glance with Atsushi before he brought his lips to Imai’s exposed neck and sucked hard, drawing a breathy moan out of Imai.
Atsushi carefully lowered Imai, pinning the man under him as he began his assault on Imai’s body. He nuzzled against Imai as his lips wandered along Imai’s jaw, neck, and collarbone. Nipping, licking, and sucking as he went, Atsushi held Imai’s writhing body close as his fingers gently rubbed Imai’s nipples, further stimulating his body.
Imai lay on the floor, leaving himself at the mercy of Atsushi’s teasing as his mind grew hazy. He suddenly felt Atsushi’s hand on his back slide lower, down towards his rear. As Atsushi’s fingers brushed over his anus, Imai gasped and jerked. Feeling a sudden panic well up in him, Imai uttered, “Atsushi!”
Atsushi paused his kisses, shushing Imai gently as he met his eyes. “I’ll never hurt you, Hisashi,” Atsushi whispered, placing a soft kiss on Imai’s trembling lips. Breaking away, Atsushi gazed tenderly into Imai’s anxious eyes, murmuring, “Trust me.”
Imai groaned, his voice weak as he felt Atsushi’s fingers easing into him, stretching him. A warmth different from any he has previously experienced enveloped his nether regions as Atsushi’s fingers moved in and out of him. Breathing shallow, Imai closed his eyes and felt his body tingle, as if his insides shivered from the sensations.
When Atsushi removed his fingers, Imai knew what was coming and he gritted his teeth, bracing himself. However he tried, Imai still found himself underprepared when Atsushi thrust into him. Back arching, something between a groan and a moan escaped his lips as sparks of white exploded behind Imai’s eyes, his vision unable to register anything for that split second. Imai could feel the heat from Atsushi as he hugged Imai tighter, whining softly while relishing their closeness.
It was only after a few moments that Imai realised Atsushi had started shallow. When Atsushi suddenly thrust harder, pushing in deeper, Imai’s voice broke out in a startled cry, unable to hold back. Struggling to calm himself, Imai dug his fingers into Atsushi’s back as he writhed and moaned with each thrust. He could hear Atsushi’s voice in his ear, low baritones like the gentle waves ebbing, quelling the frenzy in him. Before long, all negative feelings were washed away and Imai felt himself melting in Atsushi’s arms, feeling nothing but pleasure flood his senses.
As Atsushi’s pace grew vigorous, the warm comfortable buzz gave way to harsh jolts that surged through Imai. He screwed his eyes shut, gasping again as he tightened his hold on Atsushi. Imai felt Atsushi nuzzling against his cheek, his hot breath against Imai’s skin as he breathed hard. Atsushi heard his name as a long, drawn out moan as Imai’s body rocked to Atsushi’s flow.
Fingers entwined in Imai’s thick mane of hair, Atsushi moved to kiss him, hushed words spilling from his lips each time they broke apart. Cradling Imai in his arms, Atsushi continued his relentless momentum, his breathing growing ragged as he lost himself to his building ecstacy. Warmth spilled between their bodies and feeling Imai tighten around him, Atsushi moaned, twisting and curling against Imai as he came in him.
Imai let his arms and legs slip off Atsushi to the side. His lower half ached, his limbs felt worn out from clinging onto Atsushi so tightly, and that was all his mind could comprehend at the moment. Before Imai could recover, Atsushi hastened to remove himself from Imai's person and adjust his robes to cover himself up again. Despite everything he felt for the man, he still wasn’t sure of whether he should let Imai see him as he was. Atsushi wasn't ready to risk it. Not yet.
Overwhelmed, dazed, and fatigued, Imai was vaguely aware of hands, supposedly Atsushi’s, picking him up and depositing him in a warm bath before he was left alone. Slowly working up the motivation to wash himself, Imai took his time as he did so languidly, half hoping for Atsushi to join him.
Atsushi never did, but he did return with a clean set of clothes and an affectionate smile on his face. He did wait for Imai patiently, folding his arms on the edge of the bath as he gazed at him. He did accompany Imai with casual chatter, tossing ideas and opinions between themselves. He did wrap his arms around Imai, snuggling up to him as they settled in bed to sleep.
The only thing that Atsushi didn't do, though, was the one thing that mattered the most to Imai. He didn't promise to leave with him.
It doesn’t feel like it’s only been a month since I got stranded here. If I didn’t keep this log, I would’ve thought that at least a couple of months or longer have passed.
In any case, today’s the day. I suppose.
Atsushi… I thought maybe I could talk him into leaving with me this morning, but he was gone by the time I woke up.
He didn’t even say goodbye
The sky was overcast when Imai slid the storm shutters open. There was a strange sense of relief that flooded him when the daylight hit his eyes. Was it because he was finally going home?
Walking to the back of the house, Imai was glad to find that the chicken was still there, nestled in the makeshift shelter that they made for it out of a barrel. There were a few eggs laid that were left uncollected during the storm too. Imai picked the chicken up, along with the eggs, and brought it back into the house. It should be safer in here until Atsushi comes back for it. If he ever decides to. Taking a few steps back, Imai gave the house one last look before he cradled his chest of things in his arms and stepped out.
Imai set the chest down in the storage hatch on the deck. He decided he didn’t need anything else, not even food. When he opened the map earlier, there was a new mark made on it, supposedly the location of this island. Imai suspected that Atsushi made that mark. But when, he did not know.
This was apparently an uncharted island, but based on estimations, they weren’t actually too far from the port where his hometown was, maybe a day or two’s journey away. The only problem was that the island was situated in a high risk zone. The tides and currents kept other vessels away from the island, dissuades people from venturing within sight of it. Imai swallowed as his mind ran through that information again. Coming back for Atsushi might be more difficult than they originally assumed.
Standing on the deck, Imai scanned the coast again, hoping to catch a glimpse of Atsushi before he left. His brows furrowed and he scratched an itch on his chin. Disappointment welled up, squeezing his insides as he reluctantly came to accept that Atsushi wasn’t going to see him off. Perhaps they were better off this way.
As Imai moved to untie the ropes that kept the boat to shore, he did so slowly, stalling for time, turning back to scan the shoreline ever so often. He was soon down to the last rope to undo. If he unfurled the sails, the winds will propel him forward, away from the island once and for all. That is, until he returned.
Imai stared at the knot as he held one end of the rope in his hand. One tug will do it. He turned to look at the shore again, hoping that Atsushi would be there. Maybe he would show up at the last moment. The wind blew his hair into his face as he stood alone, waiting.
As Imai considered abandoning the notion of leaving, his mind harkened back to Atsushi’s obstinance. What if he stayed but Atsushi decided to leave him alone? Atsushi didn’t want him staying after all…
Taking a deep breath, Imai made his decision and grabbed the rope tightly in his hands, pulling firmly.
The winds came in strong as soon as the sails rolled down, swiftly pushing the boat towards deeper and rougher waters. Imai sat down on the deck, firmly refusing to look back. As he watched the water to occupy his sights, Imai paddled casually, ready to pick up the pace when needed.
The knowledge that he was sailing back towards his childhood home stirred up a ball of nervous excitement in Imai. How would his family react? They probably thought that he died at sea years ago. What were they told? What was the official reason they were given for him never having returned? Imai grimaced at the possibilities, suddenly feeling more apprehensive about going home than eager.
A splash of water to his side shook Imai from his thoughts. Those things he could worry about after he got past his imminent hurdles. After all, there was no use in dwelling about that if he wasn’t going to make it through this. As Imai maneuvered the boat towards the first swell of a wave, the bow was about to cut through when Imai felt something pull hard on his paddle and before he knew it, he was swallowing salty seawater by the mouthfuls.
Imai heard the roar of water filling his ears and felt the back of his throat burning as he struggled to see and breathe. There was no air to be found, only more water. Kicking and flailing desperately, Imai tried to reach for the surface but each time he thinks that he was about to break out, the force of another wave pushes him down, driving him deeper underwater. Imai frantically strained for air yet in spite of that, he could only helplessly watch the last bubbles of air escape his lips and float up and away. His vision darkened and the faint shadow of the boat grew smaller against the dimming sunlight. Feeling his body sink, all Imai could think about was how he should have taken up Atsushi’s offer to teach him how to swim.
Light flooded Imai’s eyes and his throat burned as he hacked and coughed, expelling water onto the sand. The salty sea breeze flooded his lungs, suddenly feeling relief from inhaling air instead of water. Trying to get his bearings, Imai rolled back down onto the sandy shore, thankful for land as he closed his eyes and breathed in deeply.
From the side, Imai heard sobs as a barrage of kisses and little droplets suddenly rained down on his face. His blurred vision focusing, Imai found Atsushi’s tearful, anguished face inches away from him. Holding Imai’s face in his hands, Atsushi said something but Imai still felt too addled to register his words. Atsushi kissed him again, this time on his lips as he cradled Imai in his arms like a precious object.
Breaking apart to breathe, Imai groaned and croaked weakly, “Where were you?”
“I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry,” Atsushi muttered, ignoring Imai’s question as tears filled his eyes again. “I should’ve known I can’t trust them to keep their word…”
“What…? Who…?” Imai asked, growing more confused with each statement. Watching the tears roll down Atsushi’s cheeks, Imai absentmindedly brushed them away with his fingers when doubt suddenly hit him. “Wait. I’m… still alive… right?”
Atsushi managed a laugh as he nodded, long hair falling to the side, like a curtain blocking out the sunlight. “Yes. Yes, you are,” he said, his hands caressing Imai’s face. “Please stay that way,” he whispered earnestly, eyes crinkling as he spoke.
“I’ll try,” Imai muttered, wanting to laugh but unable to. “Where were you?” he asked again. As grateful as he was, where Atsushi came from was a big question for him. He couldn’t have swum from the shore, could he?
Rubbing his eyes, Imai suddenly felt Atsushi go still. Puzzled, Imai blinked and turned his attention back to Atsushi, who watched the sea intently. As he tried to sit up under Atsushi’s weight, Atsushi suddenly whipped his head back to Imai, damp hair flying out behind him.
Eyes wide with fear, Atsushi began to push Imai up in frenzied motions. “Hisashi, run!” he ordered, trying to get Imai to his feet despite still sitting on the sand. “Run before the next wave comes in!”
Confused, Imai glanced at the sea, trying to figure out what Atsushi saw. An unnaturally large crest of water was on the horizon, the size of it casting a looming shadow over it’s immediate vicinity. Imai has never experienced a tsunami, though he supposed that’s what it would’ve looked like. But there was no earthquake, was there?
Imai tried to hasten his sluggish body, forcing his muscles to obey. It was only when he looked back at Atsushi that he realised Atsushi’s skin was clear again. There was no sign of the marks from the previous night. He didn’t have his robe on either. It's usual iridescence was somehow on his skin instead, along his back, shoulders, and parts of his arms.
“Atsushi, where are your robes?”
“Quit dallying and go!” Atsushi shouted, urgency in his voice.
Imai furrowed his brows, confused by Atsushi’s tone when he wasn’t making any move to leave with Imai. He began to protest, “But you aren’t-”
“Hisashi, just go. There’s no time,” Atsushi implored, his expression sombre as he kept his dark eyes fixed on Imai, refusing to follow Imai’s line of sight.
“Hisashi, there’s no time to explain,” Atsushi insisted, his voice rising.
“Where are your legs?”
Atsushi threw a fistful of sand at Imai. “Go!”
Imai stood stock still, unable to comprehend. He was only vaguely aware of the wave crashing down behind Atsushi. It was then that Atsushi broke eye contact with Imai, turning around as dread gripped him, like the claw-like shapes in the sea foam rushing towards them. Atsushi snapped back to Imai, intending to say something, perhaps a warning or something of the like, but all that came out from him was a strangled cry as the foam hooked into his… scales?… and his skin, dragging him away.
Imai instinctively darted forward, grabbing Atsushi’s forearm in a bid to pull him back. Atsushi looked up at him, bewilderment accompanied by a spark of joy and relief in his eyes. He managed a soft “Why…?” before his face scrunched up in anguish and a raw scream assaulted Imai’s ears.
Unsure of what to do, Imai could only hold on. Feeling himself sliding forward and Atsushi slipping out of his grip, Imai dug his heels into the sand, doing all he could to keep them as far away from the water as he could.
“Hisashi, let me go. Then run,” Atsushi ordered, his voice strained as he forced the words out. “Please, I can’t lose you to them,” he pleaded, twisting his arm out of Imai’s grasp.
Imai held on tighter. “Do you think I’d let… them, whatever those things are, take you?!” he snapped back, angry and distressed as Atsushi slowly but surely slipped out his grip.
Atsushi screamed again, his voice breaking as the claws seemed to dig in more while the sea continued pulling Atsushi away from Imai. Taking in a deep breath, Atsushi spoke again. “There’s nothing you can do. Not now, not like this,” he panted, struggling with his composure as he tried to convince Imai to give up.
Imai tightened his grip around Atsushi’s wrist, desperately holding on but Atsushi didn’t reciprocate. His open hand continued slipping away despite Imai’s best efforts. Desperate and helpless, Imai shook his head, his utterances of “no” growing increasingly louder and more distraught.
Tears began rolling down Imai’s cheeks as the reality of how futile his efforts were finally dawned on him while he defiantly clenched Atsushi’s fingers in his hands, still refusing to give up. Atsushi gave him a morose smile, already accepting what was coming as they watched each other, Imai's hopeless cries growing with the widening distance between them. His vision misty from the tears welling up in his eyes, Imai barely caught Atsushi mouthing an almost inaudible ‘I love you’ to him before the touch of his fingers disappeared from his grasp. The sudden loss of his connection to Atsushi shocked Imai into silence as he watched the waves swallow Atsushi, taking him away.
Imai collapsed on the sand, chest heaving as he sobbed and stared at the retreating waves. Struggling to digest what just happened, Imai buried his tear-stained face in his hands as he knelt on the beach, motionless. He barely noticed the deafening silence surrounding him. No birds called, not even the wind blew. A strange rumbling did, however, rouse Imai from his grief when it made the ground shake. Feeling drained for the second time in one day, Imai reluctantly looked up to see what made the noise.
The rumbling came from a wall of water, a wave, bigger than the previous one, rushing towards the shore, towards Imai. His face contorted into a snarl as he glared, his vexation at his lack of ability to do anything turning into anger. Imai stood up, compelled by the impulse to run headlong into the water.
A chicken clucked. Imai snapped his head towards the noise, eyes still burning with fury. The chicken that was supposed to be in the house was somehow now on the beach, pecking at the sand near Imai.
The rumbling from the sea grew louder. Imai looked at the sea, then at the chicken, and then back at the sea again.
With a growl of frustration, Imai picked the chicken up and ran up the ramp that led to the walkway to the house. Reaching the entrance of the house, Imai threw the chicken into the house and as it landed in flurry of feathers and a startled squawk, Imai cast another glance back at the beach, just in time to see the waves hit the shore violently.
As it pulled back, deep gashes were left in the sand where Imai once stood, making a chill run down his spine.
It looks like the sea was not so kind after all.
The boat is somehow still intact. I retrieved the chest from it. Didn’t think I’d be adding any more entries but here we are.
Haven’t seen Atsushi
I don’t know what to do.
What should I do?
What can I do?
I’m going into the cave.
The sun shone bright in the clear blue sky. All traces of stormy weather have dissipated. The sea was calm again, waves lazily lapping the shore as the water sparkled under the dazzling sunlight. As Imai stood on the walkway outside the house, the fresh, gentle sea breeze carried the salty scent of the sea to him, ruffling his hair.
Despite the pleasant weather, Imai was feeling none of it. Sleep has eluded him over the past few days but if he was tired, he couldn’t feel it either. He looked down at the cloth bag at his hip, something he previously found in one of the other houses, and wondered if he was bringing too many things with him.
Candles, flint, the dagger, his journal, writing materials, earplugs fashioned out of corks, a flask of water, a few eggs, a box with some of the dried fish and seaweed he prepared, a bottle of rum, and the compass. Was there anything he forgot?
Imai glanced at the chicken in the house. He thought of bringing it with him but there probably wouldn’t be anything for it to eat in the cave. Imai doubted that there would anything for it at the other end of the cave either. But… Atsushi did like interacting with the chicken……
Sighing, Imai went back into the house, trying to look for something to transport the chicken in. He eventually found a small crate with a leather shoulder strap in a corner of the house. Lining it with fabric from a threadbare set of robes that was left lying around, Imai tried to make the box a little more comfortable before he put the chicken in. Gently lowering the bird into the box, Imai was glad to find that it fit just right and the chicken nestled in, clucking happily.
That done, Imai slung the strap of the chicken crate across his body, setting it on his other hip. With two loads on either side of his body now, Imai really did feel like he was bringing too much with him as he walked out of the house. He didn’t even consider bringing half of what he did when attempting to sail away, he thought, scoffing at himself.
The trek across the shore was easy enough. Maybe just slightly uncomfortable because of the sand that somehow got into Imai’s boots, but it was fine. Since he was going ‘spelunking’, he traded his usual sandals for his old, worn out boots, lest his sandals tripped him up or made him slip in the cave. He had no idea what the terrain inside was like, after all.
Despite carrying more things with him this time around, Imai found it easier to pick his way past the cave’s rocky entrance compared to his first two attempts. He took it as proof that wearing boots was a wise idea. He did, however, find that carrying the chicken was a bit of a hindrance with slightly narrower passages. A few adjustments got them through those hurdles though, and Imai arrived at the clearing.
Removing the chicken crate from his person, Imai put it down on the sandy floor and gave it a long look. He should probably leave it here and scout out the route first before coming back for it later. If those… things only dwelled in darkness, the chicken would be safer out here as well, where light did hit.
With that settled, Imai adjusted his bag strap and tugged at the opening of his robes in his front. He wrinkled his nose in displeasure. The humidity was starting to stick to his skin and that was souring his mood. Not that he was feeling chirpy to begin with.
As Imai nonchalantly swept his eyes across the damp space, something on the table-like structure caught his eye. It was a hand lamp.
Imai frowned. That was new. He didn’t remember seeing it the last time he came in here. It was… convenient, though. He was just wondering about how he was supposed to hold the candle without burning himself too.
Taking a candle out from his bag, Imai walked over and put it into the lamp. He tore a strip of paper out from a page of his journal and laid it on the table. Next, he unsheathed the dagger and took out the flint. Silently hoping that the dagger was made out of steel, Imai struck it with the flint over the strip of paper. Sure enough, sparks flew and after a couple more tries, the sparks finally lit a small flame on one end of the paper.
Hissing quietly in triumph, Imai carefully moved the flame to the wick of the candle, guarding it from stray breezes as he did. Holding still for a moment, Imai hovered the flame near the wick, waiting patiently even as the fire steadily ate up the paper. Just before the flame licked Imai’s fingers, it finally caught onto the wick and glowed a warm, steady light. Waving the burnt paper vigorously, Imai put out the fire and snapped the lid of the lamp shut.
Imai dug into the bag again, rummaging around until he found what he was looking for. Two corks from the empty bottles of rum that he had shaped into earplugs that fit his ears. Right after he made the decision to enter the cave, Atsushi’s instructions for navigating it kept running through Imai’s mind as he made his preparations.
Keep going north, make sure he can’t hear anything, and stay away from all sources of water in the cave.
Although Imai now understood the rationale for avoiding water, he still could not figure out why he had to block out all sound from his ears. Atsushi has always had good reasons for his warnings though, regardless of whether he was willing to explain them or not. Imai was better off following them accordingly.
Pushing the ear plugs in, they fit snugly into his ears, as they should. He made sure of it, after all. The distant sound of the waves hitting the rocks and of the wind blowing through the cave faded away, leaving Imai with the steady beating of his heart breaking the silence that he created. Swallowing, Imai moved his jaw, trying to see if the ear plugs would be easily dislodged. They stayed put.
Satisfied, Imai adjusted the bag strap on his shoulder again and picked up the lamp in one hand while he held the compass in the other. With one last backward glance at the chicken, which stayed cushy in its crate, Imai trudged down the knoll and into the darkness.
Descending the path, the light from the lamp illuminated Imai’s way, helping him navigate through the narrowing passageway. The air grew heavy with moisture, making it difficult to breath, exactly like what Imai experienced the last time. However, with light leading his way, Imai found it easier to stay calm, preventing himself from panicking again.
As Imai continued on, the path eventually widened into a cavern. The orange glow from the lamp was enough to light up the whole place, casting shadows with the stalagmites and stalactites that jutted out from the cave floor and ceiling. There were a number of tunnels that led away from this cavern, giving Imai the first set of choices he had to pick from.
Bringing the compass into the light, Imai watched the needle carefully, taking small steps as he turned towards the north. Finding his direction, Imai looked up and straight ahead was the gaping darkness of the rightmost tunnel.
Before he started towards it, Imai looked around, trying to see if there was any way for him to mark where he came from. His eyes fixed on the slim stalagmite closest to him, on his right. Setting the compass and the lamp down at his feet, Imai took the dagger out from his bag and brought the hilt down on the rock a few times until he finally broke a chunk the length of his palm off the tip. That should do it. Placing the dagger and the stalagmite fragment into the bag, Imai picked the lamp and compass back up and continued on his way.
Imai forged forward, single mindedly making his way through the cave system, marking his way as he went. He occasionally broke more stalagmites on the way, but most times, he opted to scratch markings on the walls using the fragment he carried with him instead.
Travelling deeper, Imai noticed that his journey did not have many ascents and descents, a good sign, considering how he should neither be headed towards higher ground nor underground. What did concern him though was the increasing number of puddles and pools he noticed along his way.
All Imai could hear in his self-induced silence was Atsushi’s warning regarding the water as he passed them, keeping a wary eye on them. Some were perfectly still, looking almost like glass surfaces, some had ripples that came out of nowhere, while others contained those blinking lights he saw in the sea all those nights ago.
Imai grew increasingly unnerved and it did not help that the candle was beginning to burn low. He would have to change it soon. Otherwise he would find himself in complete darkness and who knows what will happen then.
Quickly scratching a cross on the wall, Imai checked the compass again to confirm that he was going in the right direction before he crossed this latest cavern, the smallest so far, towards the north-most path. Cautiously picking his way past the puddles of water, Imai came to the opening of the path and paused. He felt a faint breeze on his skin, sticky with perspiration, a respite from the stale air he has been moving around in. He must be near the exit.
As his heartbeat sped up with delight at the thought of finally reaching the end of his journey, Imai’s footsteps quickened as well, making his way up the slightly inclined path with large strides. The stone floor slowly transitioned to sandier ground and at last, the light at the end of the tunnel was in sight. Elated, Imai almost ran up the rest of the way, finally exiting the cave to emerge at the bank on the other side of the island.
Imai’s joy was however slightly dampened by the sight of the setting sun. Has he really been in there for such an extended period of time? Even with the route marked out now, it might take too long for him to go back for the chicken now. A small frown appeared on his face, uncomfortable at the thought of leaving it to its own defences overnight.
Clicking his tongue, Imai looked down at the lamp and noticed that it was still lit, though not for long from the look of it. Intending to make use of the flame before it goes out, Imai moved quickly, putting his bag and lamp down as he withdrew the dagger again.
Stuffing the sheathed dagger down the side of his boot, Imai strode briskly to the wrecked boats that he previously saw on the beach. The weather has worn the wood down and dried it out, making it easy for Imai to pry at and break off a few planks with the dagger.
Once Imai has gathered a pile of broken boat parts, he headed back to his lamp, bringing it with him to the pile. Using his body to block the wind, Imai carefully removed the short candle from the lamp, mindful of the likelihood of burning himself. Putting the candle in the center of the pile, under all the wood, Imai fed the flame smaller shards of wood, making it grow. It didn’t take long for the rest of the wood to catch fire, and soon, Imai had a sizeable bonfire going.
With the fading light of day, Imai took in his first proper look at his new surroundings.
There was not much on this of the island aside from the sandy bank, the barely-boats, and the lagoon. Atsushi was right about how barren this place is. Looking skyward, Imai’s eyes followed the ceiling above him that stretched a fair distance over the water, or perhaps it was just high tide that made it look like it provided shelter to sea. Like the knoll at the other end of the cave, there was a hole in the ceiling, fixing a patch of blue sky in the middle of all that grey rock.
Bringing his bag with him back towards the fire, Imai unceremoniously dropped down on the sand, pulled his boots off, and lay down, upset. He had hoped to find Atsushi here, or maybe even somewhere along the way, but no. Not even the slightest hint of where he is could be found.
Imai’s stomach growled but he did not want to move. He couldn't be bothered to get the food out of his bag. His body felt too heavy too move. Perhaps the sheer disappointment had finally drained all his remaining energy away. Or perhaps it was exhaustion finally catching up to him.
Imai had thought that he would’ve fallen asleep with the weariness that plagued him but he lay awake, watching the sky grow darker. The sea beyond the rocks that separated the lagoon from open water was soon plunged into darkness. The stars gradually appeared, dotting the sky with an infinite number of lights as they accompanied the waxing moon in the night sky.
Noticing the firewood burning out, Imai finally moved, albeit reluctantly, to get more kindling for the fire. As he bashed at the boat, Imai had the sudden thought to look into the water. Wasn’t Atsushi some kind of aquatic creature? He might be dwelling in there… right?
Cold wetness on his bare feet snapped Imai out of his thoughts as he glanced down in surprise. When did he walk into the water? Turning back to the derelict boats in confusion, Imai saw that he had abandoned the wood and his dagger in the sand.
Imai looked towards the dark sea again as he felt another incoming wave gently wash over his toes. Carefully, he took one step forward, then another, and another, and another until he found himself waist deep in water. Stopping, Imai grimaced at himself. What was he even going to do? Swim? Try and drown?
Groaning, Imai turned on his heels and returned to shore soaked to the bone. He retrieved his dagger and the wood, bringing them back to the campfire before lying back down in the sand again, even more anguished than before with his inability to do much. With the way he subconsciously walked into the water, it was clear that he was incapable of thinking straight now.
Imai turned away from the fire, lying curled up on his side as he let the chill that he felt and the hunger in his stomach add to his misery. Loneliness gnawed at his chest as he stared blankly at the wall of the cave, mumbling to himself, “Atsushi, where are you?”
Imai felt something prod his cheek.
There was the sound of a smack. “Stop doing that!” someone hissed quietly.
Something, probably fingers, brushed over his lips as an unfamiliar voice said, “He’s got these cute lips-”
There was another smack. “I said stop touching him!”
The smell of fish roasting reached Imai’s nose and he felt his stomach rumble as an unrestrained laugh rang out. “Just be glad I haven’t started picking his flesh off his bones,” said the unfamiliar voice, footsteps disturbing the sand as he drew away.
Imai felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand at those words but then came the retort, “Don’t you dare!”. Imai hadn’t noticed it earlier but he was being held by someone whose embrace grew tighter with the comeback.
“Atsushi?” Imai mumbled, finally willing himself to crack his reluctant eyes open. He wanted to let sleep reclaim him but he had to know. “Atsushi, is that you?” he croaked, his parched throat making it difficult to speak.
Before Imai was campfire, still going strong. A couple of fish skewered on sticks were, as he thought, roasting near the fire. He could feel someone shifting as he tried to sit up. His surroundings were still dark, indicating that it was night. How long has he been asleep for? Did he even sleep much?
Behind Imai, someone moved away, separating themself from him. “Atsushi?” Imai called again, turning around. He squinted, trying to see in the gloom.
“Eat first,” came Atsushi’s voice from the forlorn looking figure that now sat a short distance away from Imai. Atsushi didn’t look at Imai, instead staring at the ground with his hair blocking his face from Imai’s line of sight. In the dim light, Imai wasn’t sure, but it seemed like there were small rips and tears in Atsushi’s robes, which somehow appeared duller than its usual iridescence as well.
His hunger forgotten, Imai stood up and reached for Atsushi but the world tilted around him, shifting to the side as soon as he got up. Blinking in surprise, Imai watched Atsushi rush to him, wrapping his arms around him again. Atsushi’s long hair fell over his face, covering half of it as he looked down at Imai with his large dark eyes, wide with worry. Caressing Imai’s face, he whispered softly, “What happened to you? Why are you so weak?”
An inexplicable joy flooded Imai’s senses and his shoulders shook as a quiet laughter rocked his body. Silently reaching up, Imai brushed his fingers against Atsushi’s skin with a grin on his face. “You’re here,” he muttered, his fingers tracing Atsushi’s jaw, brushing over his lips, which had a cut on one side. Imai made a mental note to ask him about that as he added, “You’re real.”
“What is he, stupid?” came a voice, echoing throughout the cave from one side.
Startled, Imai wanted to turn towards the voice but Atsushi stopped him. “Ignore him,” he said firmly. There was a distant splash right after Atsushi said that. “You need to eat first,” Atsushi reminded, helping Imai sit up. Putting a stick in Imai’s hand, Atsushi said, “Eat.”
Although his stomach felt like it was about to swallow itself whole, Imai resisted from stuffing the fish into his face, instead picking at it carefully as he put the crispy skin and fresh white flakes into his mouth. He could not help but smile as he ate, feeling content for the first time in days.
“How’s it?” Atsushi asked, his voice low as he watched Imai, expression unreadable in the shadows.
“Might be the hunger talking but, probably the best fish ever,” Imai said as he chewed.
Bringing a hand over his mouth, Atsushi chuckled. “It’s just fish.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Imai said, picking at the bones of his fish.
Atsushi passed him the other fish on the stick. “There’s more.”
“Thanks,” Imai muttered.
“When did you last eat, though?” Atsushi asked, pulling his legs to him and hugging his knees.
“Hm…” Imai looked up and out of the hole in the ceiling, seeing the stars in the sky. “Depends on how long I’ve been asleep for, I guess.”
“I sensed you in the water here yesterday evening,” Atsushi informed in matter-of-fact tone.
Imai subtly raised a brow, slightly perturbed. He hasn’t actually given much thought to Atsushi’s… non-humanness as of yet but it felt like Atsushi was, likewise, testing the waters with Imai with such a statement.
Choosing to set that aside for later, Imai tucked his inquiries away and responded to Atsushi. “Well, I didn’t really eat yesterday… I think. Or even during the past few days, actually.”
Atsushi cocked his head to one side. “You… why?”
“Lack of appetite, I guess,” Imai replied apathetically. “Couldn’t really sleep either.”
Imai could feel Atsushi’s disquiet, that he had questions to ask despite watching Imai in silence. Picking at the bones of the second fish, Imai felt as if he had eaten too quickly. Now he had one less thing to occupy himself with, to distract himself from the ball of uneasiness that had knotted up in his gut. Why was he even feeling like this?
Trying to think of something to occupy the silence that stretched between them, Imai suddenly heard himself ask, “There was someone else here, wasn’t there? I thought you said we were alone here.”
“Ah… he…” Atsushi paused, thinking about his answer. “He’s a… traveller? I guess? He shows up here once awhile.”
“I prefer the word ‘vagabond’,” the same voice called from the sea as another splash of water was heard. “There’s a special ring to it, don’t you think?”
Imai looked to the sea and saw a dark silhouette against the crescent moon walking out of the water. As he came closer, the light from the campfire brought attention to his sharp cheekbones and defined jawline, his long hair neatly tied back in a low ponytail, and his robes, cut in a similar fashion to Atsushi’s, but instead black and shimmering like oil on water.
The man approached Imai and extended a hand to him. “I don’t think we’ve met,” he said with a debonair smile. There was, however, a strange sense of darkness in his expression.
“Don’t give him your name,” Atsushi warned, his eyes darting between Imai and the man.
“I promise I won’t eat him,” the man said, his smile widening. “It seems like he’s all skin and bones, after all.”
“ Excuse me?” Imai huffed.
“No offence,” the man said with a laugh.
Imai shot Atsushi an indignant look. Atsushi simply shook his head and repeated, “Just don’t tell him your name.”
“Fine,” Imai muttered. Clasping hands with the man, he simply said, “Pleased to meet you.”
The man chuckled again. “Interesting that you’d give him your name but not me,” he said, gesturing to Atsushi.
“He’s never spoken of eating me, for one,” Imai muttered.
“Yes… strange that he hasn’t,” the man mused.
“ I think it’s stranger that you do,” Imai retorted.
“Oh, but it isn’t,” the man smirked. “Your kind are a staple in our diets.”
“Oh, yes,” the man nodded sagely. “Just ask him,” he added, flicking a slender finger in Atsushi’s direction.
Imai turned to Atsushi, apprehensive of his answer but Atsushi simply shrugged as he said, “I’ve never eaten a single human and I’m perfectly fine, aren’t I?”
“Fine?” the man echoed. “You call this fine?” he said condescendingly. “If you ate what you were supposed to, you would’ve been strong enough to deal with those pests. There would’ve been no way that you’d be in this situation right now,” the man continued, chastising Atsushi. “Heck, you would’ve gotten out of this cesspool years ago.”
Atsushi remained silent, eyes sullenly fixated on his feet. Imai suddenly didn’t feel all that comfortable with where he was.
Eventually, Atsushi muttered, “I already told you, I can’t.”
The man scoffed again. “What’s the point of collecting names if you aren’t going to use them for their intended purpose then?”
“What’s with the names?” Imai piped in. “What so special about that?”
A smirk appeared on the man’s face. “There’s a lot he hasn’t told you, isn’t there?” he surmised, looking at Imai’s clueless face. Turning to Atsushi, he tutted and said, “And you said he knows.”
“Knows… what?” Imai asked, growing wary.
The man squat down, bringing himself level with Imai. “I’m sure you’ve heard of creatures who lure seafarers to their deaths in open waters?” he began.
Imai nodded stiffly, refusing to be intimidated as he stared back with a steely expression.
“That’s what we are,” the man said, gesturing to himself and Atsushi.
“That’s enough,” Atsushi hissed.
Paying no heed to him, the man continued, “Do you perhaps have an idea of how we lure our prey,” he pointed a delicate finger at Imai, “to their deaths?”
Swallowing, Imai answered, “Voices.”
The man smiled. “Exactly,” he affirmed.
“I said, that’s enough,” Atsushi stressed.
“Let him finish,” Imai muttered, glancing at Atsushi who had a pained expression on his face.
“It works even if we don’t know your name,” the man went on. “But if we did, it would make things. That. Much. Easier.”
“Atsushi…?” Imai slowly looked towards him. Now Atsushi wouldn’t meet his eyes. “Did…?”
“It was never intentional…” Atsushi said to himself, his voice barely audible.
“Think of the times he’s used you name,” the man cut in. “Noticed anything odd?”
“Atsushi,” Imai called again, mentally urging him to look up. “Tell me he’s making this up. None of this is real, is it? It’s just-”
“It’s…” Atsushi spoke and Imai stopped, unwittingly holding his breath in apprehension. Atsushi finally looked at him, his one visible eye shining with unshed tears.
Just as Imai shifted, reaching towards Atsushi, he shot up and bolted away, making a beeline for the sea. Without even a backward glance, Atsushi dove in, disappearing into the dark waters. Imai stared after him, his mind and body frozen in bewilderment by Atsushi’s reaction and what it could mean.
“He’s capable of so much more,” the man continued, seemingly unfazed. “And yet all he did was make you fall hopelessly in love with him.” Strolling past Imai, the man casually walked towards the sea. Before he slipped in after Atsushi, he looked over his shoulder, at Imai. “Are your feelings of your own volition?” he asked, as if it was an afterthought. When no response came from Imai, the man huffed and entered the water, disappearing without a sound, leaving Imai alone.
Chewing on a piece of dried fish, Imai repacked his bag, leaving the bottle of rum and the rest of the food out of the bag. Last night, after Imai was left to his own devices, he found himself wide awake again, unable to sleep. Try as he might, his mind refused to shut down even though there was nothing to do and no one to bother him. In the end, he gave up, deciding to rearrange his things as he waited for daybreak to come. Once it was time, he could then try and go back for the chicken, if it was still there, and maybe look for fresh water as well. Even if he could drink, he couldn’t exactly live off one mere bottle of rum, after all.
Imai had built up a sizeable pile of kindling during his sleepless hours as well. Looking at the fire, Imai wasn’t confident that it would last until he made it back. Chucking a piece of wood into the blaze, Imai shrugged to himself. At least he had the means to start a fire if he needed to. Looking up, Imai noticed that there were fewer stars in the sky now, a sign that dawn was breaking. That was his signal.
Slinging his bag across his body, Imai fitted the ear plugs back into his ears. Knowing what he did about voices now, Imai was glad that he made the choice to heed Atsushi’s words. He winced slightly at the thought of Atsushi, unsure of what to think of him now. How much of his thoughts were his own and how much were from Atsushi’s persuasions? Imai clicked his tongue and huffed, frustrated. He could deal with that later. For now, he needed to focus on getting through the cave again. Lamp in one hand and compass in the other, Imai descended the slope, reentering the cave.
As Imai navigated from one cavern to the next, he was glad to find that his waymarks were still there. But instead of blindly following his own markings, Imai consulted his compass as he went, making sure that his efforts have not been tampered with. Eventually, Imai made it back to the knoll on the other side of the island safe and sound.
Wiping the sweat from his brow, Imai eased the ear plugs out and dropped them in the bag. The chicken was, thankfully, still here. It was now out of the box and pecking on the ground, as if oblivious to Imai. At least it was still alive and in one piece. Imai was about to put it back into the box, in which an egg was laid, when he suddenly remembered one other thing he had to deal with. Fresh water.
Clicking his tongue, Imai frowned and ran a hand through his hair, now long and unruly. He should probably cut most of it off when he can. Quickly turning his thoughts back to the issue of fresh water, Imai considered testing one of the pools of water in the cave to see if it was fresh or saltwater. But considering how Atsushi got dragged into the sea the last time… Imai shook his head. If whatever was in the caves grabbed hold of him and dragged him in, not even Atsushi could save him… if he even would, at this point. Imai smacked his forehead with the heel of his palm repeatedly, growling in annoyance as he did. He had bigger things to worry about.
Imai glanced up at the sky, out of the opening in the ceiling. The sun has not yet reached its highest point. Perhaps there would be time for him to head back into the house, fill the empty rum bottles with water, and still make it back to the lagoon by nightfall. Imai tapped his foot a few times, considering the idea, and quickly made his decision. There was no time to lose after all.
Leaving the chicken behind for the second time, Imai hurried out of the cave and ran across the beach, heading straight back to the house. He ran up the ramp and barged into the house, perspiration running down his chest as he grabbed three empty bottles from their crate. After filling up the bottles and slotting them into his bag, Imai paused and stared at the empty bath area, tempted to steal some time to wash himself. But once he goes back into the cave, it would all be for naught.
Closing his eyes, Imai scrunched up his face and reluctantly left the area, picking up a fresh set of clothes as he did. At least the robes can cushion the bottles from hitting against each other too hard. As Imai was about to leave the house, he spotted the pocket watch gleaming from inside the open chest. He made a short laugh when he saw it. He completely forgot that it existed. Swiping it up in his palm, Imai deposited it into the bag as well, hearing it clack against the bottles as he walked.
With his heavy burden, Imai returned to the cave, moving with long strides in a bid to make haste. A question suddenly invaded Imai’s thoughts. What was he even rushing for? He stopped. Imai’s eyes scrutinised his faded black boots as he stood at the entrance of the cave. There was no reason for him to go through all this trouble, trekking to and fro between both sides of the island like this. Not when Atsushi…
Imai dug his nails into his fists and took a step towards the cave. Later. He could deal with this later.
Approaching the exit to the lagoon, Imai felt nothing but relief as the muscles in his shoulders burned. Three full glass bottles of water and a chicken in a box turned out to be a lot to carry for this trip. Gritting his teeth, Imai willed his body up the slope. Once he stepped out into open air, Imai immediately shed his baggage, abruptly dropping the bottles and the chicken in the sand. The chicken hopped out of the crate, clucking indignantly at Imai’s rough handling.
Imai ignored the chicken, intending to restart the campfire with the remaining candle in the lamp but he noticed someone seated near it, tending to the fire. Imai felt his hopes raise for a moment, but it immediately sank when he realised the darkness of the figure’s silhouette was not because of the shadows cast by the fire.
“Oh~ you’re back,” the figure hummed. “I thought you left for good.”
Dragging the crate and the bottles with him, Imai simply sighed. He didn’t really want to deal with that man now. “What do you want?” he muttered, drawing close to the bonfire.
“Then again, you did leave behind quite a few things,” the man went on, ignoring Imai’s question. He waved something in his hand, Imai’s journal. “Like thi-”
“Don’t touch that,” Imai growled, snatching it out of his hands.
“I haven’t read it,” the man reassured, shrugging nonchalantly.
Frowning disapprovingly, Imai glared at the man as he switched the book for a bottle of water from his bag. Popping the bottle open, Imai took a long drink then snapped again, “What do you want?”
The man ignored him again. His eyes following the chicken, he asked, “Where’d the chicken come from?”
Imai pursed his lips and folded his arms. Fine, if he was going to be ignored then so be it. He pulled his boots off, turned, and walked away, sauntering off towards the rock formations to see if it was shallow enough to pick shellfish from.
“Does it have a name?” the man’s voice echoed from behind.
Persisting with his disregard, Imai picked his way around the rocks. Although the water was calm and supposedly not deep enough for boats, even one as small as the one they had, it was by no means shallow. Imai stepped on something slippery, probably algae, and lost his footing. Panic gripped him as he felt himself fall towards the water and come to a sudden stop as he slapped a palm on a nearby rock. Taking in deep breaths, Imai swallowed. Slowly adjusting his position, Imai pushed himself back towards relative safety and made himself take a break. He began to wonder if he was out of his mind for messing around like this near water after almost drowning.
A voice piped up. “So eager for a dip?”
Imai snapped towards the voice… and curled his lips in disappointment.
The man laughed. “Am I that disdainful to you?”
Imai sat down on the rock he was on, letting his toes dip into the cool water. Staring at his feet, he waved a hand, dismissing the man’s notions. “You’re not the person I want to talk to right now.”
The man huffed. “Okay, fine,” he said. Imai suddenly felt a hand grip the back collar of his robes. “Go talk to him then,” the man said, lifting Imai and effortlessly throwing him into the water.
Imai barely had time to curse before he found himself submerged in water and losing air again. He found the feeling familiar, the panic, the strain to breathe, the struggling. He felt the urge to roll his eyes at himself. This wasn’t something to get used to.
Sinking like a rock, Imai couldn’t help but feel anger at literally being dumped into this situation. Flipping middle fingers to the surface, Imai screamed his curses. Not that any sound came out with the air that he just lost from doing it though. Struggling to stay conscious, Imai felt his body shut down. His vision steadily grew darker as something grabbed hold of him, hauling him up. Feeling the shift in direction, a burst of energy shot through Imai again. His limbs flailed with renewed vigour as his head broke the surface of the water.
Coughing and hacking, Imai found himself on his back, an arm wrapped around him, as he was dragged backwards. Imai twisted, trying to turn but the hold on him tightened, and he was chastised by a firm utterance of “stay still”. Atsushi was not happy.
Imai obediently stopped moving, trying to relax even as his heart still pounded rapidly and he continued to breathe hard. Watching the rapidly darkening sky, Imai leaned his head back onto Atsushi with a groan, putting a hand on his scaled arm just to have something to hold on to.
It felt like an eternity before Imai finally felt solid ground under his feet. Overwhelmed with relief, Imai found himself on all fours, his fingers digging into the sand as he rid his body of the harrowing sensations of being thrown around by endless water. That was not the bath he expected to take.
Imai heard splashes and rustles behind him and before he could get to his feet, he felt himself being lifted. He began to twist again, trying to free himself. “I can walk,” he muttered hoarsely.
“Just stay still,” Atsushi muttered, a frown on his face as he cradled Imai in his arms.
“Ah, you’re supposed to stay in the water.” Imai glared at the owner of the voice, the man who threw him into the sea. The man didn’t seem to notice Imai’s hostility. “How are you supposed to heal quickly at this rate?” he went on, addressing Atsushi.
“If you didn’t touch him, just as I asked,” Atsushi spat, “I wouldn’t be out here now, would I?”
“How was I supposed to know a seafaring man couldn’t swim?” the man retorted with a laugh. “Just the concept of it is hilarious.”
“Well fuck you too,” Imai muttered, indignant.
The man continued to laugh. “Such an easy prey, you are,” he remarked. As he smiled, Imai thought he saw a flicker of malice in his eyes. Imai wouldn’t be surprised if he was right.
Atsushi shifted Imai away from the man, side eyeing him with distrust as he did. In Atsushi’s arms, Imai finally caught a glimpse of the half Atsushi’s face that Atsushi has stubbornly kept under his curtain of hair. Just as Imai was about to reach over, he felt himself fall and hit the sand as Atsushi suddenly dropped him to the ground. Imai found himself next to the bonfire, the heat from it battling against the chill from his drenched clothes.
Kneeling by Imai with his legs to his side, Atsushi began undoing Imai’s waist belt. Imai grabbed Atsushi’s hands, startled. “What are you doing?”
“You… need to get dry…?” Atsushi stared blankly at Imai, perplexed by his unease. “I’ve always- Oh.” Remembering the events of last night, realisation suddenly struck Atsushi. His fingers jerked away as he shrunk back, looking down with his shoulders slumping dejectedly. “I suppose… you don’t…”
“Can I eat him now?”
“Nooo,” Atsushi moaned in irritation. “No one’s eating anyone,” he reiterated. Turning to the man, who sat a short distance away, watching them, he asked, “And why are you still here?”
“You’re always begging me to stay longer,” the man said, flashing a radiant smile. “Aren’t you glad I’m here for more than just a couple of days now?”
“You’ve always got some place else to be, something else to attend to. Not this time?” Atsushi countered.
“Sure I do,” the man acknowledged. “But my curiosity about the man who got you in so much trouble is far too strong to ignore.”
“I got you in trouble?” Imai cut in, questioning Atsushi. “What is he talking about?”
“Every. Single. Injury you see on his body. It’s all thanks to you,” the man said, watching Imai intently. “Just to keep you away from those beasts.”
“Enough, I’ll tell him myself when I want to,” Atsushi said suddenly, attempting to end the conversation.
“Knowing you, that’ll never happen,” the man said dismissively. “You’ll just pretend nothing happened, probably ignore his inquiries.”
“Atsushi, I’m not worth it,” Imai muttered as the information slowly sank in.
“That’s not for you to say,” Atsushi replied, using Imai’s own words against him as he threw him a defiant glance.
Imai groaned and put his head in his hands. He could just tell this was going to be another one of those things that Atsushi would refuse to budge on.
“I don’t know how you could believe that those savages would really let him go in ‘exchange’ for you,” the man said, stretching his legs out as he lounged on the sand. “There’s nothing to exchange, not when they’ve already kept you here for so long.”
“Look how enraged you’ve made them.” The man gestured to Atsushi with a hand. “After letting them have their way with all the previous castaways they’ve obviously come to think that you have to hand him over.”
Atsushi’s face, hidden by shadows, was unreadable. “… I don’t need you to remind me that.”
“Why are they keeping you here?” Imai asked, frowning in confusion. Atsushi didn’t seem willing to answer, stubbornly avoiding Imai’s eyes, so he turned to the man, giving him an inquiring look.
“Honestly? No one knows,” the man answered with a wry smile. “Maybe as a pet, of sorts? He does have the pretty scales anyway. And those cave dwellers look repulsive after all,” he remarked, tossing his hair over his shoulder with a flick.
“So… they’re different from you?”
This time, Atsushi replied, “Something like cousins-”
The man scoffed. “‘Cousins’?” he repeated. “You’re being way too generous, Atsushi. Logic doesn’t even apply to them.”
“Except for the… what did you call him?”
“Island ‘overlord’,” the man chuckled as if amused by his choice of words. “Boy, that one’s a prick. Thinks he’s some big shot just because he can make a few waves with these shallow waters. It leaves him so worn out he can’t do anything for days though. The sea doesn’t like him, after all.”
“So, that’s the one responsible for washing me off the boat?” Imai asked. Atsushi nodded. “And dragging you off the beach?” Atsushi nodded again. “The deep lines in the beach after that?”
At this point, the man spoke. “Ah, that. It’s that incessant spear he picked up from goodness knows where.”
“He tried to spear you?” Atsushi asked, his voice dangerously low.
“I didn’t see a spear though-”
“He hides in the water,” the man explained. “Otherwise there’s no shield against the light for him.”
“How do you know all of this?” Imai asked, still suspicious of the man.
“Some things I gleaned from visiting over the years, other things the sea shared with me,” he replied.
“You keep talking about the sea like it’s a person-”
“Oh, but she’s so much more than that,” the man said wistfully. “She sings, she sighs, she gossips, she has her whims… It’s through her murmurings that I found this drab little place after all. ‘Where her lost child lies captive’, as she put it.”
“Why doesn’t she just… take him away then?” Imai asked.
“Too shallow,” the man answered simply. “The deeper the depth, the more freedom she has to exert her will. Land gets in the way. That and the tyrant.”
“Doesn’t that mean that there’s a better chance of leaving during high tide? At night?” Imai concluded.
“But it’s night,” Atsushi emphasised. “Moonlight doesn’t hinder them as much as sunlight does.”
Imai folded his arms and pursed his lips, racking his brains with a frown. After a moment, he threw his hands in the air and lay back, falling into the sand. “You know what? I give up. I’ll just stay here.”
“You can’t!” Atsushi flared.
“He might eat you,” the man prompted, a smile in his voice.
“Nah, I doubt it,” Imai shrugged, watching the stars appear in the sky. “Well, even if he does, I don’t really…” He shrugged again.
The man chuckled, shifting the sand as he moved. “How sure are you that you’re not being compelled to say so?”
“What am I supposed to feel if I’m being, as you say, compelled?” Imai asked.
“Supposedly,” the man began, “you’d feel good. Some describe it as a ‘floaty’ sensation. You’d be susceptible to suggestions. Maybe a little disoriented, but calm. Befuddled, if you will-”
“Do I sound fucking befuddled to you?” Imai snapped.
The man laughed, thoroughly amused. “Well, you certainly have him wrapped around your little finger, Atsushi.”
“As if,” Atsushi scoffed. “If I did, he’d be somewhere out at sea by now.”
“Or dead,” Imai added.
“Mmh… or dead,” Atsushi reluctantly agreed.
“Well.” The man stood up. “I guess there’s nothing else for me here,” he declared, dusting his inky black robes off. “No free meal, no Atsushi to entertain me.” He turned sharply to Imai and narrowed his eyes. “Not with you around.”
“What?” Imai stared back blankly, still lying in the sand.
The man turned away spitefully and went on as he walked. “No Atsushi crying for me to stay…”
Imai sat up. “What’s he talking about?”
Atsushi shrugged, pouting as he petulantly feigned innocence.
“Next time I see you, it’d better be somewhere other than this dump,” the man called to Atsushi. “I’ll await news of your liberation, Acchan!” He winked.
“Acchan’?” Imai stared at Atsushi, who shrugged again, finding a particularly interesting spot on the cave wall to look at.
There was a quiet splash, the wave of a black tail gleaming in the moonlight, and he was gone.
“‘Acchan’?!” Imai repeated again.
“… Yes?” Atsushi finally turned to him, his expression open and guileless while still half hidden under his hair.
“Yees?” Atsushi hummed, leaning in.
Imai began to speak, but instead of getting to express his displeasure at the visitor’s familiarity with Atsushi, he was attacked with a bout of sneezes as a breeze blew in from the sea, chilling him to the bone. As it subsided, Imai remained still, anticipating more. The lethargy that came over him was overwhelming and he suddenly felt the effects of a sleepless night drop on him at the same time, making his head feel like a dead weight.
Sitting motionless with his head in his hands again, Imai felt his cold, damp clothes leave his body, exposing him to the full effects of the wind for a moment before dry robes were thrown on him. Mumbling a barely audible word of thanks, Imai sluggishly put his clothes on properly, feeling relief from the warmth that the fabric naturally brought by blocking out the wind.
Twisting around, Imai looked for Atsushi and found him propping up wooden poles and draping Imai’s wet clothes over them in an attempt to dry them between the chilly breeze and the toasty fire. Imai had expected Atsushi to return to the sea after that, but he made a U-turn and came back to Imai, settling down next to him. Lying down, Atsushi propped his head up on an arm and gazed at him with one eye, saying nothing.
“What?” Imai jerked his head at Atsushi, sniffing as he did.
“Feeling better?” he asked.
Imai pointed at his nose and sniffed. “Not really.”
Atsushi chuckled and opened his arm towards Imai, inviting, hopeful.
“Aren’t you supposed to be resting in the sea or something?”
“There’s always tomorrow,” Atsushi said, arm still outstretched.
Imai huffed, laughing slightly at Atsushi’s insistence. Resisting the urge to dive straight into Atsushi’s embrace, Imai chose to bide his time, reaching a hand towards the side of Atsushi’s face that he has been keeping concealed.
When he realised Imai’s intentions, Atsushi looked alarmed for a moment, instinctively flinching as Imai’s fingers brushed his hair away. Imai’s heart lurched at the sight of Atsushi’s fading bruises and scratch marks. Needless to say, they must have been much worse days ago. But… Imai sighed, his expression turning blue.
Atsushi simply smiled, crinkling his eyes at Imai as he let Imai caress him. Putting a hand over Imai’s, Atsushi held his hand and rolled onto his back, his hair splaying out behind him. He reached out towards Imai with his other arm again, inviting him.
This time, Imai followed his desires and lay by Atsushi in his arms, warm contentment flooding his heart. With Atsushi in close proximity now, Imai could finally see and feel for himself the marks left behind by Atsushi’s now closed but still healing wounds. Atsushi nuzzled against Imai, beaming as he held Imai tight. If he felt any discomfort from his injuries, he didn’t show it.
“I missed this.” A small smile on his lips, the words flowed out from Imai unhindered.
At his words, Atsushi pulled away slightly and looked at Imai, worry in his eyes. “You don’t mind…” He gestured at himself. “... this?”
“What does it matter?” Imai leaned over, pressing his forehead to Atsushi’s as he closed his eyes. “As long as you don’t eat me,” he added belatedly.
“What kind… of eat?” Imai’s eyes shot open to see Atsushi’s lips twitch into a suggestive smile as a playful twinkle shone in his eyes.
Imai smirked back. “Well…” The next thing Imai knew was his head hitting the sand. He blinked in surprise. Atsushi was laughing. His eyelids threatened to remain close when he blinked again. He had just fallen asleep.
Atsushi cuddled Imai in his arms, still laughing as he said, “You didn’t sleep again last night, did you?”
“I didn’t slee…” Imai slurred, struggling to stay awake. His mind was about to shut off any time now.
“Maybe another time then,” Atsushi chuckled, kissing Imai on his forehead. “Just sleep.”
“No, I can… still…” Try as he might, Imai felt himself lose the battle to sleep. He felt far too comfortable where he was with Atsushi.
His consciousness drifting out of reach, the sound of the waves reverberating in the cave, the soft crackling from the wood in the fire, the hum of the wind, it all faded away until the last thing Imai heard was Atsushi’s voice whispering “goodnight”.
I thought I would continue writing updates in here while on the other end of the island but it looks like it never happened.
Anyway, we’re finally back in the house. Atsushi’s perfectly fine now. I’ll write a quick recap about what happened.
35 - Went through the cave, fell asleep on the other side
36 - Slept through the whole day. Atsushi re-appeared. Some weird visitor was around too (still don’t know his name)
37 - Came back to the house, grabbed stuff, brought the chicken to the lagoon (?). The visitor left. Got Atsushi back
38 - Atsushi started making me learn how to swim. Also learnt that the chicken responds very well to him and that he named it
Bonee Bonnee Bonny Bonnie
39 - Got better at swimming. Spent most of the day lounging in shallow waters with Atsushi. Drank that bottle of rum
That said, Atsushi made me swim back with him. I don’t know why he’d think that 2 days of flailing around in the water was enough to qualify me for swimming halfway around the island but that’s that. I kinda gave up somewhere along the way and let him pull me along.
I’m here. Alive. In one piece. But tired as fuck.
Spent the day cleaning up and getting things back to normal. We’ve been away for quite awhile after all.
The stew… that went bad. As expected. Atsushi wasn’t too happy about that. He was apparently looking forward to it. Well I just have to start up a new pot from scratch again. Anyway, we had crabs instead. It looks like Atsushi really likes eggs mixed into his crab roe.
On the whole, Atsushi seems happier, more carefree, than before. Before, as in, prior to me finding out that he wasn’t we weren’t exactly the same. Anatomically.
Come to think of it, I’ve yet to ask him about that.
“Hm?” Atsushi looked down at Imai who lay in his lap, gazing at the sea with sleepily. “What is it?” he asked, running his fingers through Imai’s hair.
“I’ve been thinking…” Imai muttered then paused, his words hanging.
Atsushi waited for a moment then asked, “About?”
Imai hummed and shifted in Atsushi’s lap, perturbed by something. “I was wondering…” He paused again. His curiosity has been eating at him but… “Maybe I should cut my hair. What do you think?”
Atsushi made a surprised noise. He certainly wasn’t expecting that question. “That’s… Uhm, I suppose it’s up to you but… Why would you want to?”
“It’s such a mess,” Imai griped, running a hand through his hair as he spoke. “It gets tangled up and all that nonsense,” he added, tugging at a knot that his fingers got stuck on.
Clicking his tongue, Atsushi replaced Imai’s fingers with his own. “Don’t pull at it like that. You’ll damage your hair,” he reprimanded. Patiently, with nimble fingers, Atsushi worked the tangle away and brushed Imai’s hair with his fingers. “There, done.”
“So troublesome,” Imai grumbled.
“You can leave it to me,” Atsushi said, a smile in his voice.
“I would’ve cut that off if you weren’t here to fix it,” Imai said, putting his hand over Atsushi’s as he turned to look up at him. There was a pout on Atsushi’s face, clearly disagreeing with Imai’s methods.
Imai’s lips twitched into a lopsided smile. “It’ll grow back anyway,” he said, reaching his index finger up and poking Atsushi’s lips.
Atsushi nipped Imai’s finger, reluctantly smiling when Imai pulled away in response. “I guess you’re right,” he sighed. “But that’s not all you’re wondering about, is it?” Atsushi asked with a knowing smile.
“Huh?” Imai raised his brows, surprised. “Who said so?” he retorted, shifting to his side again as he looked away.
Imai could feel Atsushi bend over him as he chuckled. His breath against Imai’s ear as Atsushi’s hair fell over his shoulder, Atsushi whispered, “Why won’t you look at me then?”
Looking out of the corner of his eyes, Imai made eye contact with Atsushi and his teasing smile. “Who said I won’t?” he muttered, making sure to keep his tone level despite feeling his heart beat faster.
Atsushi chuckled again, his smile growing wider and his eyes crinkling. “You’re curious, aren’t you?”
“What?” It suddenly felt warmer to Imai. It’s probably because of Atsushi’s body heat. Right?
“I know you’ve been staring,” Atsushi breathed.
“Isn’t that the usual?” Imai deflected. For some reason, he was breaking out in perspiration.
“Where your eyes linger, however…” Atsushi trailed, his voice low as he nuzzled against Imai with a smile. Imai felt Atsushi’s hand on his rear, moving in slow circular motions before sliding over his thigh to grab at his crotch.
Grunting, Imai jerked at the sudden grab.
“It’s been awhile…” Atsushi purred.
“If you wish,” Atsushi grinned. Urging a reluctant Imai out of his lap, Atsushi took him by the hand and led him into the house.
Collapsing onto the bedding, Atsushi pulled Imai down as they clung to each other in a tangle of arms and legs. Imai snickered. “So eager?”
“It’s been quite awhile,” Atsushi emphasised, a suggestive gleam in his eye as he wrapped his legs tighter around Imai.
Imai was about to put a hand on Atsushi’s thigh when he paused, unsure whether Atsushi preferred to keep to his ‘no touching’ rule. Atsushi smiled and pressed Imai’s hand to his leg. “You know” was all the explanation he offered to Imai.
Sliding his hand under Atsushi’s robes, Imai felt Atsushi’s smooth, but intermittently ridged skin against his palm, transitioning to softer skin, now similar to his own, as he approached Atsushi’s inner thigh. A quiet, restrained moan escaped Atsushi’s lips as Imai stroked Atsushi’s inner thighs.
“Is that all it takes to get you this turned on?” Imai chuckled, taking in Atsushi’s flushed face and shallow breathing.
“It’s not-!” Atsushi gasped, moaning as Imai lifted his legs and began pecking slow kisses on his skin.
Imai heard his name being called, drawn out in a long moan. He chuckled again, short warm breaths against Atsushi’s skin. He hasn’t even arrived at the main event.
Pulling at the belt around Atsushi’s waist, Imai freed Atsushi from his robes, finally getting a full view of his body as he rose up on his knees. It was no wonder that Atsushi seemed familiar with Imai’s body.
The only difference between their bodies was the translucent opalescence on parts of Atsushi’s skin, namely the ridged areas. Even if that was all the difference there was, Imai could see how it would’ve given away the fact that they weren’t exactly the same.
Atsushi appeared flushed, dazed, and probably embarrassed as well as Imai’s eyes roamed his body. A hand over his face, Atsushi gave Imai a sloppy kick on his shin as he muttered, “Stop staring at me like that.”
“Fine by me,” Imai acceded, smoothing a hand over Atsushi’s torso as he sank down again.
Imai felt Atsushi’s hand close over his as he moved but he slipped out from under his weak grasp, choosing to caress Atsushi’s hips instead. Atsushi made a soft whine at the loss but his noises quickly turned into a surprised moan as Imai licked Atsushi’s engorged erection from base to tip. Using his tongue, Imai pushed Atsushi’s foreskin down, licking his erection as he put Atsushi into his mouth. Holding Atsushi by his thighs, Imai sucked hard, evoking Atsushi’s desperate cries for more.
Pausing, Imai muttered, “Aren’t you a slave driver.”
Atsushi looked down towards Imai, abashed. Biting his lower lip, he mumbled, “… Please?”
“So polite,” Imai smirked. Curling his fingers around Atsushi’s erection, Imai sat up and said, “Do me a favour?”
Making a questioning noise, Atsushi twisted his body languidly, arching his back and rubbing his legs against Imai’s torso. Imai stretched his other hand out towards Atsushi, gently holding his chin in his fingers. Pivoting about his thumb, Imai pressed his index and middle fingers to Atsushi’s lips and said, “Suck.”
On Imai’s command, Atsushi parted his lips and welcomed Imai’s intruding fingers with his tongue. Making sensual eyes at Imai, Atsushi kept Imai’s fingers in his mouth, letting him draw them in and out but never leaving completely. Imai continued to stroke Atsushi’s erection, smirking as he watched Atsushi react ever so slightly each time he applied a little more pressure than usual. Twisting his fingers in Atsushi’s mouth, Imai casually brushed the roof of Atsushi’s mouth, the sensation making Atsushi’s breath hitch and his lips part a little more.
Imai withdrew his fingers and Atsushi made another noise as his brows furrowed, this time slightly frustrated. Holding up his saliva-slicked fingers, Imai made sure Atsushi was watching as he brought them low, towards Atsushi’s groin.
Closing his grip on the sheets under him, Atsushi braced himself as he felt Imai’s cold fingers prod at his entrance. Imai pushed one finger in, eliciting a low moan from Atsushi which grew a little louder as he thrusted. As much as he enjoyed having Atsushi at his mercy, Imai was starting to feel impatient. Like Atsushi said, it has been awhile
Without as much of a pause, Imai pushed a second finger in, stretching Atsushi even more as his moans escalated again. Imai leaned in close to Atsushi, grinding his neglected erection against Atsushi as he laid a trail of kisses on him. Feeling Imai’s erection press against him seemed to turn Atsushi on even more and he began whining for Imai, jerking his hips and pushing his erection harder into Imai’s palm.
Done with teasing, Imai pulled his fingers out of Atsushi. Tugging at his own belt, Imai’s robes finally came undone, much to Atsushi’s obvious delight. Imai removed his underwear and stroked himself a few times as he adjusted his position. Eager and wanting, Atsushi readily lifted his pelvis towards Imai who pushed his tip against Atsushi’s entrance. Already loosened, Imai slid in easily, groaning as Atsushi tightened around him once in.
Thrusting as he stroked Atsushi’s erection Imai finally felt the beginnings of satisfaction as pleasure began building in him, intensified by Atsushi digging his fingers into Imai’s free arm and having Atsushi’s legs clamp his torso, rubbing against him. Leaning in again, Imai kissed Atsushi’s neck and chest, leaving marks this time as he listened to Atsushi’s moans and cries melt into incoherence.
Recalling their last time together, Imai noticed that he didn’t half as dazed as he did. Gently licking Atsushi’s nipple as he smirked, Imai supposed that might’ve been from Atsushi’s influence. Atsushi squirmed under him, tightening his grip in response to Imai’s teasing. Imai’s smirk grew wider. At least this time, it was Atsushi who was too affected to do anything.
Turning his attention back to pampering Atsushi on his own terms, Imai slowly eased his free arm out of Atsushi’s claw-like grip to snake under his body, holding Atsushi in an embrace. Atsushi promptly hugged Imai back in return, pulling him down to feel his skin against his body. Greeting Imai with lusty eyes and parted lips, Atsushi drew Imai into a kiss, whimpering quietly as Imai sped up.
Imai felt Atsushi twitch in his palm, suddenly throwing his head back and arching his back with an unrestrained cry as he ejaculated, cum mixing with the sweat between their bodies. Shifting to bite on Atsushi’s neck, Imai continued pounding into Atsushi, unrelenting as Atsushi breathed heavily. Rising, Imai made eye contact with Atsushi out of the corner of his eye and smirked. Seeing the carnal look in Imai’s eye gave Atsushi another jolt of heat in his crotch, arousing him again. Imai grinned as he watched Atsushi’s eyes grow unfocused, losing himself to the stimulation again.
Nuzzling against Atsushi, Imai brought his hand, sticky with Atsushi’s cum, up to Atsushi’s chest, teasing his stiff nipples with his fingers. Atsushi responded receptively, a mellow smile on his face as he moaned and sighed softly in bliss. The sight of Atsushi like this tipped Imai towards the edge and he thrust deeper, bringing out an ecstatic moan from Atsushi. His own pleasure growing with Atsushi’s, Imai felt his insides tighten and Atsushi cried out as Imai withdrew himself, ejaculating onto Atsushi’s stomach.
Leaning back, Imai settled on his calves, kneeling, as his euphoria receded and watched Atsushi calm down, his breathing slowing. Lying flat on the bed, Atsushi raised an arm, waving it at Imai as he lazily beckoned the man. Sighing, Imai crawled over and rolled down, settling next to Atsushi.
Atsushi arched his neck up and looked at his body. “What a mess.”
“Hn.” Imai grunted.
“Satisfied your curiosity?” Atsushi asked, turning to Imai.
He shrugged. “Hn.”
“Sort of,” Imai acknowledged.
“Are you being serious now?” Imai sat up and looked at Atsushi, incredulous.
“Um…” Atsushi appeared to think for a moment. “May… be?”
"Fine,” Atsushi muttered, getting up. His robes swishing as he turned to Imai, Atsushi tapped Imai on the nose as he added, “There’s always tomorrow anyway.”
Imai frowned, feeling coldness on his nose. “What is that?” he grimaced, wiping with his sleeve.
Atsushi grinned at pointed at the mess on his stomach.
Imai closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, exasperated. “Atsushi…”
Still seated on the floor, Imai looked up at Atsushi who seemed to glow with some kind of mirth as he looked back at Imai. It was infectious. Imai couldn’t help but chuckle as he mumbled, “What am I supposed to do about you?”
Atsushi reached down, tracing his fingers along Imai’s jaw as he gave him a peck on his temple. “You’ll figure it out,” he whispered, pulling away and leaving Imai chuckling to himself.
Atsushi insisted on keeping up with the swimming. I honestly don’t like being in the water all that much but as long as he’s around, it’s fine, I guess. He likes being in water after all. And it’s quite a sight too, watching him swim. I spent most of the time just floating around anyway.
I also asked Atsushi about the currents that run by the island, if there was one that he knew of that leads straight back home. I might have an idea.
Seems like it was Atsushi’s ploy all along to get me accustomed to being in the water. There were apparently quite a few nooks and crannies around the island to visit, all quite abundant with edible things. The rock pools near the house didn’t even have half as much. I suppose these places are where Atsushi used to disappear to back then.
And there was one after all. A direct current. We obviously can’t reach it though. It’s further out to sea, past the shallows. I wonder if there’s a way to get a message out.
Traced the map out along with the marker of where we are at and the scale. I suppose that should be enough for someone to figure out our location. Added a quick message for help for good measure. Just in case whoever finds this doesn’t understand what it's for.
We’re going to put it in one of the empty rum bottles and Atsushi will try and throw it out to sea. Hopefully, this will work. If someone comes to our aid, it might be easier to leave than if we kept trying on our own.
The weather was, as usual, mild. The sun was bright and warm, while a gentle breeze came in from the sea. Imai stood on the shore, robes flapping in the wind as he watched the pale silhouette of Atsushi swimming away. Folding his arms, he squinted against the glare of the sun reflecting off the sea, apprehensive.
Even if Atsushi had volunteered for this, Imai wasn’t comfortable with it. Knowing how things were, Atsushi was essentially putting himself in danger by venturing so close to the edge. If anything happened to him while attempting this, Imai wouldn’t be able to forgive himself for putting this idea in Atsushi’s head. But, as always, once Atsushi made up his mind to do something, Imai couldn’t stop him nor change his mind.
Imai clicked his tongue. His nerves were getting to him. Its times like these when he’d think of opium. One good dose would easily settle his nerves. If only it wasn’t so damned addictive. He grimaced. Why was he suddenly thinking of it now though?
Grinding his teeth, Imai’s jaw tensed as Atsushi flung the bottle. He watched their message in the bottle glint against the sunlight and fly out past the big waves, falling into the sea with a small splash. Atsushi watched the bottle float away before turning back to Imai and thrusting a thumbs up in the air. Despite his worry, Imai felt a smile break out on his face as he returned Atsushi’s gesture. Now all they could do was hope and wait.
Next to him, the chicken clucked, as if sensing Imai’s satisfaction. Imai cast a sidelong glance at it. The chicken, or Bonnie, apparently, was more like a house pet now, living indoors instead of out in the back like it used to. A few days ago, Imai made the mistake of wondering aloud whether the other inhabitants of the island would eat chicken, making Atsushi horrified enough to enforce the existing arrangements. Thanks to that, Bonnie would follow Atsushi around now, making him even more attached to it. Imai sighed to himself as Atsushi approached them. There was no way he was going to get a chance to eat chicken now.
“And here I was, thinking of fattening y-”
“Bonnie~!” Atsushi burst out of the water.
“The chicken’s the first one you greet?” Imai muttered to himself.
“I’m an afterthought?” Imai continued his monologue as he watched Bonnie approach Atsushi, letting him hug it. His arms still folded, Imai spoke up, saying, “I assume it went well?”
With the lower half of his body still in the water, Atsushi held Bonnie in his arms, cuddling it. Looking up at Imai as he scratched the top of its tiny head with a finger, he nodded. “I guess it's just a matter of time now,” he said. “And whether anyone wants to respond to it.”
“Hm, I suppose,” Imai agreed.
Putting the chicken down on the sand, Atsushi said to it, “Go home.”
With a brow raised in amusement, Imai watched as the chicken made its way down the beach, up the ramp to their dwelling, and into the house all on its own. “Did you use that… voice thing on it?” Imai asked, his eyes fixed on the entrance to the house as he waited to see if Bonnie would come out again.
“Nope,” Atsushi replied. “I’m telling you she understands.”
“Hm, sceptical,” Imai muttered, turning back to Atsushi who was still seated in the water. “Aren’t you getting out?”
“There's nothing else to do today, right?” Atsushi asked, an expectant smile on his face.
Tucking his lips to one side and with slightly narrowed eyes, Imai scratched his chin and looked up at the sky, thinking. “Hm… I suppose not,” he said. Looking at Atsushi again, he remarked, “You’ve got something in mind.”
Atsushi’s smile widened.
“It involves swimming,” Imai guessed, making a rather displeased face.
Atsushi stretched his arms out towards Imai. “You can just hold on to me,” he suggested.
“Where are intending to take me this time?” Imai asked, reluctantly undoing his waist belt.
“Somewhere private,” Atsushi grinned.
“The house is private,” Imai retorted.
“That’s indoors,” Atsushi corrected.
“How can anywhere outdoors be private?” Imai questioned. Stripped to his underwear, Imai stood under the walkway outside the house and tossed his robes up before walking back towards Atsushi and wading into the cool water.
Atsushi giggled as Imai shuddered. “I’ll show you,” he said, circling Imai effortlessly. “The water’s slightly warmer there too,” Atsushi added.
“Isn’t that weird though?” Imai asked. He was now waist deep in the sea. There was still some distance to walk.
“There’s some kind of undersea vent that warms up that area,” Atsushi explained, his fins flicking against Imai’s legs.
“Huh.” Imai dug his toes into the sand. The water came up to his chest now. As Atsushi continued circling him, he brushed his tail against Imai’s crotch. Imai splashed water at Atsushi and frowned. “Oy!”
Laughing, Atsushi wrapped his arms around Imai, guiding his body to float. Looking at Atsushi’s delighted demeanour, Imai couldn’t help but comment, “You sure are in good mood today though.”
“Is that a bad thing?” Atsushi asked, nuzzling against him.
Unable to resist smiling back at Atsushi, Imai huffed, “I guess not.”
Atsushi hummed, satisfied. Turning around, he let Imai cling onto his back. “Let me know when you’re ready to dive.”
“Dive!?” Imai exclaimed. “We’re diving!?”
“Ah, don’t get agitated,” Atsushi coaxed, squeezing Imai’s hand. “It’ll be easier for you when you’re relaxed.”
“Why didn’t you say so earlier?!”
“I’ll be the one doing all the work anyway,” Atsushi said. “You’ll just have to hold your breath and hold on to me.”
“What if I run out of air?”
“Give me a squeeze and I’ll give you air,” Atsushi assured. Looking over his shoulder at Imai, he winked and added, “mouth-to-mouth.”
Imai made an anguished noise.
“Don’t worry, I won’t let anything happen to you,” Atsushi said, giving Imai a kiss on his hand. “Just relax.”
“Fine, fine.” Huffing, Imai put his forehead against Atsushi’s shoulder. “You could’ve said something earlier.”
“And you would’ve said no.” Although his expression was out of sight, Imai could hear Atsushi’s smile in his voice.
“... You’re right,” Imai reluctantly agreed, a wry smile on his face as he stroked Atsushi under his chin.
Atsushi chuckled. “Just let me know when you’re ready.”
After a few seconds of deep inhaling and exhaling, Imai took one huge gulp of air and gave Atsushi a squeeze on his shoulder. “Don’t let me go,” Atsushi said, and he took them underwater.
Imai closed his eyes, not wanting to feel the sting in them as he focused on gradually letting his air out. Feeling the water rush past him, Imai guessed that Atsushi was moving faster than usual, making haste. A small smile tugged at his lips. Knowing how much Atsushi liked his languid frolicking, he was probably rushing for Imai. It was not without good reason though. Imai was still not used to holding his breath for extended periods of time and he was starting to feel his lungs burn.
In the water, Imai could feel his heart thumping in his chest, speeding up as he fought his instinctive desire to breathe. Forcing himself to relax again, Imai let out a few bubbles of air, relieving himself from some of the strain in his lungs. He could hold out a little longer. But he hoped that they were close.
As if sensing Imai’s discomfort, Atsushi brushed his hand across Imai’s forearm. Imai didn’t know how, but he thought he heard Atsushi say, “Almost there.”
Feeling the water turn warm, Imai gathered that they must be close to wherever Atsushi was taking them to. Cracking his eyes open, Imai tried to see with his blurry underwater vision but it was too cloudy. Imai peered up. He could see the rays of sunlight filtering down through the water. They couldn’t be too far down but the surface seemed so distant from this angle. Atsushi swerved, turning towards what Imai now realised was the cliffs on one side of the island. They were approaching the wall but Atsushi wasn’t slowing down. What was he doing?
Just as they were about to hit the wall, Imai tightened his grasp and screwed his eyes shut, expecting an impact. Instead, Atsushi rolled around, swimming upside down as he suddenly propelled himself upwards. Imai found his head breaching the surface and he breathed in deep, gasping loudly.
Atsushi’s hands cupped his face. “Are you alright!?” he asked, anxious.
“I… thought… we were going to crash,” Imai panted, wiping the water from his eyes.
“Ah, that’s all?” Atsushi blurted. He laughed in relief, hugging Imai. “I thought you were out of air and I wanted to push for it since we were so close…”
“Oh, we’re here?” Imai muttered. With his hands on Atsushi’s shoulders, Imai gave his new surroundings a good look.
They were in some kind of cavern, illuminated by glowing blue things growing on the rock walls. Perhaps they were some kind of moss? The space was small, confined, but not cramped, and there weren’t any stalactites hanging down from the ceiling, which went up high enough for it to not feel stifling. The warm water filled the space from one wall to a ledge that Atsushi just deposited Imai on. This ledge still kept Imai in the water, submerged up to his chest when seated, and it was more like a step that led to the elevated ground behind him.
Turning around, Imai tried to see where the raised floor went. It was a dead end but… Eyes wide with surprise, Imai stared at the extensive collection of artefacts arranged in the space behind him. However, what bothered him more was the human skulls that appeared to have what looked like gold or silver teeth still in them.
“I have to keep myself occupied with something, after all,” Atsushi said nonchalantly, only noticing Imai’s surprise with the number of things in the cavern. Still in the water, he rested his head in his arms as he leaned against the ledge, looking over at Imai.
“… You’re not going to eat me, are you?” Imai mumbled, staring intently at the skulls.
Atsushi’s expression darkened, offended. “What kind of a question is that?” he said, his voice low as he slapped Imai on his chest with a loud smack that echoed in the small space.
Imai hissed, bending over slightly as he rubbed at his breastbone. “Where’d the skulls come from then?” Imai retorted. “I thought you said you’ve never eaten-”
“And that’s the truth!” Atsushi replied sharply, raising his voice. Seeing Imai startle from his sudden aggression, Atsushi quickly withdrew, turning meek as he said, “I just… happened to notice the shine in those remains and found it odd so I went to investigate…”
“And you started picking them up,” Imai finished flatly.
“I really didn’t think much about it…” Atsushi muttered, whining. “I just… like…”
“Shiny things?” Imai ended. “So are you getting close to me just for this?” he asked, curling his upper lip to reveal the glint of a gold tooth.
Atsushi widened his eyes in surprise, moving closer. Imai couldn’t retreat fast enough and found Atsushi’s fingers prodding around in his mouth. “I’ve never even noticed it before,” he muttered, peering curiously.
Taking Atsushi’s hands away, Imai leaned back and replied, “Well, I don’t bare my teeth, do I?”
“But why would you have something like that?” Atsushi asked, genuine curiosity on his face.
“I broke a tooth by accident and that was the only replacement they had, alright?” Imai said, slightly annoyed but still willing to satisfy Atsushi’s inquisitive nature. “It’s not like I did this to myself on purpose.”
“Ah… I thought people did it for the aesthetic…”
“I don’t know about those people,” Imai gestured towards the skulls, “but not me.”
Atsushi hummed as he continued to gaze at Imai intently, thoughtful.
Imai glanced at Atsushi out of the corner of his eye. “What?”
Atsushi hummed again, reaching his fingers towards Imai’s jaw. “Is this,” he brushed his fingers over Imai’s cheek under which the gold tooth was supposedly embedded, “related to… this?” Atsushi asked as his other hand slid over Imai’s right wrist.
Despite managing to keep a straight face, Imai found himself clearing his throat and instinctively twitching his fingers when he felt Atsushi touch his wrist. Instead of moving away though, Imai steeled himself and took Atsushi’s hand in his with a disgruntled expression on his face. “I suppose so,” he muttered, humourless.
Imai felt Atsushi move closer, resting his head on Imai’s shoulder as he gazed up at him as if waiting patiently. Looking down slowly, Imai gave him an inquiring look, jerking his head as he did but Atsushi simply wriggled his brows and returned his own inquiring look, entwining his fingers with Imai’s. Huffing, Imai looked away. As miffed as he was, he couldn’t resist the small smile that came to his face because of Atsushi’s affection.
“So…?” Atsushi nudged. “How did you lose the tooth?”
With a sigh, Imai scratched his face as he felt himself give in to Atsushi. “I got into a fight,” he mumbled vaguely.
“Oh? Romantic rivalry?” Atsushi asked, teasing.
“If only it was that simple,” Imai scoffed, rolling his eyes.
Atsushi remained silent, waiting.
Swallowing, Imai began, “So… I said that I travelled around for the family business right? Buying and selling things?”
“Well… Sometimes I travel by land and other times I travel by sea for these things, depending on where the destination was,” Imai continued, “and it was on one of those trips when we had a high-ranking official with us on board.”
“Official?” Atsushi interjected.
“Uh… Someone with political power…?” Imai said. He was trying to look for a way to explain the term to Atsushi but from the look on his face, it seems like Imai’s choice of words didn’t work. “Um…” Imai racked his brains, struggling to come up with another explanation. “Just take him as someone who has a lot of influence over people.”
Atsushi cocked his head to the side. “He has the same ability as I do?”
“Not… exactly… Ah, he’s more like that entity that’s in charge of all those other inhabitants on this island, like-”
“A figure of authority?” Atsushi suggested.
Imai snapped his fingers. “Exactly!” he concurred. “Anyway, as I was saying… so, there was that kind of a person around.”
“I suppose he’s the cause,” Atsushi gathered.
“Wait, I’m getting there,” Imai muttered.
“Oh.” Atsushi fell silent.
“So, we’re at sea and there’s a person of authority around who, I suppose, everyone trusts blindly. And the problem was that… I was in the cargo hold double checking my wares when I found… people… in cages.” Imai paused, remembering the dread that chilled him to the core on that day. “I spoke to them and they said it was this official who put them there-”
“What?” Atsushi cut in again. “Was he eating them?”
Imai shook his head, disgusted. “No!”
“Oh, right,” Atsushi muttered. “Then again the idea of eating our co-inhabitants is rather weird…”
“And it’s frowned upon in our society,” Imai added, giving Atsushi a pointed look.
“Why are you looking at me like that? I’m not the one eating people!” Atsushi exclaimed defensively.
“Huh, true,” Imai muttered. “Sorry,” he said, kneading the back of Atsushi’s neck.
Atsushi huffed indignantly, resting against Imai’s shoulder again..
“Anyway,” Imai went on, “another thing that was frowned upon was caging people and forcibly taking them away from their homes. So I was young and stupid, and hot-headed, and I immediately confronted that man about this.”
“You make it sound like it happened a long time ago,” Atsushi remarked quietly.
“It feels like a long time ago,” Imai said. “But I honestly don’t know how much time has actually passed since then…”
Growing sullen, Imai went quiet, staring blankly at the ripping water before him as the faces of his family members showed up in his mind. Over time, he found himself recalling fewer and fewer details, and it was no different this time. As he imagined the vague caricatures of his family reacting to the news that he was not going to come home, Imai felt that familiar painful squeeze on his heart that came from missing them.
But as much as he did miss them, Imai still felt like it might be easier on him to stay with Atsushi here, on this island, away from them. Away from the possible need to deal with the burden of having caused them pain and sorrow along with their disappointment and anger at him. And if he had Atsushi along with him…
Atsushi’s lustrous scales, now glowing blue from the illumination of their surroundings, came into Imai’s view and snapped him out of his thoughts. With his arms around Imai’s neck, Atsushi has moved himself to rest in Imai’s lap.
Nuzzling softly against Imai’s neck, Atsushi said, “You don’t have to entertain me if it pains you that much to talk about it.”
“It’s… not so much about that than…” Imai’s words trailed, giving way to another pause before he gathered himself again. “Anyway… I confronted him in front of the other passengers and crewmen. Got utterly thrashed by his guards and the crewmen because, of course, the captain was in on it too,” Imai added bitterly. With an apathetic eye roll at himself, he continued, “Like I said, young and stupid. So I thought I could be proven right since those people were right there in the cargo hold. But when we went back down, they were, of course, gone. At this point, I looked like a delusional fool ranting about absurdities to the rest of the passengers.”
Imai stopped, grinding his teeth together, jaw tense as the next part came to mind. Atsushi looked up at him, concerned until Imai coughed up a jaded laugh. “Why does this always happen to me?” he muttered.
“What?” Atsushi inquired.
“If I tell anyone back home about you without you there to prove it, I’ll be taken as a deranged drug addict again,” Imai spat.
Imai’s lips twitched into a grimace. Why did he have to mention that? He sighed. “Um… Heard of opium?”
Atsushi tapped his finger on his scales as he gave it a thought. “It sounds familiar… I think there was one guy who washed up here with a box of that. He was rather possessive about it but he died a couple of days later.”
“Huh, sounds about right.”
“You know, they didn’t even want to touch his body, let alone eat him,” Atsushi recalled. “It was very odd… Is it some kind of poison…?”
Imai squinted and furrowed his brows. “I… suppose. I mean it does seem like that,” he muttered. Was it really that toxic?
“I guess that explains it,” Atsushi said to himself. “Why would anyone consume poison though?”
“Because it makes them feel good.”
“Like what my voice does?”
“Hm… have you ever used the full effects on me?” Imai asked.
“No, no, I couldn’t. That would be… bad…”
“I can’t really make the comparison then,” Imai muttered thoughtfully. “But opium. It is addictive. And your body develops a tolerance for it. So the more times you use it, the more you’d want it, and as time goes on, the more you’ll need to achieve the same result as your first try.”
“… You are familiar with this.”
“Addicted, yes. At that point in time,” came Imai’s curt reply as he nodded stiffly. He chewed on the inside of his cheek as he waited to see if Atsushi would say anything.
Imai could feel Atsushi’s dark eyes boring into him. Or maybe it was his own discomfort exaggerating things. Regardless of what it was, broaching this subject had always made him feel uneasy.
“So… what happened after that?” Atsushi asked.
Imai glanced at him, trying to gauge Atsushi’s thoughts. Atsushi was playing with Imai’s hair, twirling it in his fingers as he met Imai’s eyes with a guileless expression. Imai felt his lips tug into the smallest hint of a smile before schooling his face again. The relief he felt at Atsushi’s unruffled demeanour was inexplicable. It made him feel that much more comfortable with Atsushi too.
“Well…” Imai subtly pressed his lips to Atsushi’s forehead, tightening his embrace just a little with his gratitude. Sighing, Imai continued, “Well, because of how much harm it can cause, opium was illegal, to begin with. I was first introduced to it when I just started travelling on my own. But that’s another story. Anyway, they somehow knew that I had a thing for it. So they blamed my ‘lies’ on the drug and prosecuted me for having it.”
“Your world sounds like a cruel place,” Atsushi scowled.
“It’s not all bad,” Imai disagreed, absentmindedly caressing Atsushi’s skin. “It’s just that… shit happens.”
Atsushi made a disgruntled noise. “If those people show up on the vessel that comes for us, I’ll drown all of them,” he declared.
“We’d end up as actual criminals then,” Imai muttered as he chuckled. He couldn’t deny that the thought of those men getting their dues was gratifying. “I’d turn into an actual pirate.”
“Deserving of your brand then, right?” Atsushi teased.
“That’s not a good thing,” Imai stressed. “Anyway, back to where I got cut off… what was it?”
“Uhm… they pros..tituted you… or something like that.”
Imai stiffened. “No.”
“What?” Atsushi stared at Imai, perplexed by his reaction.
“That’s not…” Imai was getting flustered.
“What? Prostituted?” Atsushi repeated.
“No! I wasn’t prostituted!” Imai hissed.
“Prosecuted!” Imai corrected. “It’s prosecuted!”
“Oh… so what’s ‘prostitute’?”
“Uh… Something… else…” Imai grimaced. Waving a hand, he quickly said, “Nevermind, forget it. Back to what I was saying, they prosecuted me and when they attempted to put this,” Imai flashed his right wrist, “on me the first time, I resisted and that’s how I got my tooth knocked out.”
“Is that when you got that gold replacement put in?” Atsushi asked.
“Nope, I was promptly cast out to sea on a sail-less dinghy with nothing but an oar.”
“What!?” Atsushi exclaimed.
“I’d bet the other passengers might’ve been suspicious of how quick they were to get rid of me,” Imai thought aloud. “The usual procedure would’ve been to take me back to port and put me on trial but… I suppose they were worried that the same would be done to them if they tried anything.”
Atsushi went silent, tracing his fingers over the Imai’s brand as unspoken thoughts ran through his head. Closing his hand over Imai’s, Atsushi eventually asked, “Did you get washed ashore here after that?”
“Nope,” Imai answered. “I was picked up by an actual pirate crew after a few days adrift.” At the mention of pirates, Atsushi’s eyes snapped to Imai. “I guess they’re not all bad,” Imai continued. “They did feed me, clothe me and help me recover after all. They gave me the tooth too. Then they let me stay on board with them… until that storm that threw us all around. I fell into the sea and then I arrived here,” he finished, meeting Atsushi’s eyes with a lopsided smile.
“How did you… survive without food or water?” Atsushi asked.
“Huh? Oh, while adrift?”
Imai laughed dryly. “Honestly, I don’t know because I felt like dying the whole time.”
“Withdrawals,” Imai answered without letting Atsushi finish his question. “That, and apparently my wrist got infected… I should’ve been dead a few times over now, come to think of it,” he chuckled.
“Don’t say that,” Atsushi chided, clutching Imai’s right hand to his chest. “I’m sure there’s a reason why those pirates kept you on board though. There must be something you have that convinced them to let you stay.”
“Well…” Imai cast his eyes to the sky, giving it a thought. “I can read and write? I did help the captain with a few letters… but I mostly cooked. I guess they liked my food.”
Atsushi nodded in agreement. “You cook well, for sure.”
“If you think what we have now is good, wait till we get back,” Imai said.
“You’ll cook even better dishes for me?” Atsushi asked, beaming.
“You’ll get to taste my mom’s cooking,” Imai corrected. “Then you’ll say mine’s terrible.”
“I find that hard to believe,” Atsushi scoffed.
Imai simply chuckled, leaning back against the ledge as Atsushi relaxed against him. “Come to think of it,” Imai prodded Atsushi. “You said this place is ‘private’?”
“Hm? Yes,” Atsushi nodded.
“But we’re in the water,” Imai pointed out. “Isn’t the water their terrain?”
“This area’s too warm for them,” Atsushi explained. “Too bad the water cools nearer to the surface. Otherwise, we could leave in this direction.”
“What a pity.”
“We need to leave before nightfall too,” Atsushi noted. “If they’re out for you they might surround us in the cooler waters, after all.”
“Ah,” Imai swallowed, his mouth suddenly turning dry. “Should we leave soon then?”
“We still have time,” Atsushi assured. Smiling at Imai, Atsushi put his arms around Imai’s neck and curled up to him, nuzzling against the crook of his neck. “Can we just stay like this a little longer?” he whispered.
A laugh in the form of a short huff came from Imai. “Of course,” he replied.
With a kiss to Atsushi’s forehead, Imai cradled Atsushi in his arms, relaxing as they settled into a comfortable silence.
Yawning, Imai buried his head in the pillow as he made himself comfortable in bed. They left the undersea cave shortly after Imai finished his long winded recounting, and after all that physical and mental strain, Imai mustered up just enough energy for a brief journal entry and now he was more than ready to fall asleep.
Lying face down, Imai peeked out from the side, casting a quick glance around the house. Atsushi was nowhere in sight. He sighed. Imai didn’t know if he could stay awake long enough to wait for Atsushi to come back from playing with the ch- Bonnie.
Just as Imai was drifting off, the floor vibrated underneath the bedding from quiet footsteps padding towards him. The covers flapped open, letting in a draft as Atsushi slipped in and snuggled up to Imai. Grunting, Imai shifted to accommodate Atsushi more comfortably as Atsushi wrapped his arms around him.
Imai turned his head to the right, watching Atsushi as he gathered his long hair up and swept it over his shoulder, out of the way. Lying down, he finally settled. Resting his head on the pillow, Atsushi took hold of Imai’s right hand, caressing the uneven skin of Imai’s brand. It suddenly occurred to Imai that Atsushi has been doing that as often as he could ever since Imai let him.
“You really like doing that, don’t you,” Imai remarked.
“Hm?” Atsushi sounded sleepy.
“Touching the scar,” Imai muttered, almost slurring.
“It’s the only part of your skin that’s bumpy like mine, after all,” Atsushi said, smiling sweetly.
Imai laughed softly, his pillow muffling the sound. “Just because it feels like your own skin…”
“But it’s on you.”
Snorting, Imai shifted his right hand to Atsushi’s cheek, brushing his fingers gently against his face. Glancing at his scar, another thought suddenly occurred to Imai. “Come to think of it… I wouldn’t have met you if not for this…”
“Would you call it a good thing then?” Atsushi asked.
“Hm well… It’s not all bad…” Imai mumbled, cycling through his memories again. “That’s despite almost dying several times I suppose,” he added.
“Huh.” Atsushi gave him a stony look, slowly inching away. “I guess I’m a bad omen then.”
“No no no,” Imai denied, catching Atsushi and pulling him back. “More like a silver lining in the clouds.”
Atsushi slowly turned his eyes to Imai’s and huffed, burying his face in Imai’s robes with a soft smile as he draped his arm over Imai’s back. Taking hold of Imai’s right wrist, Atsushi pressed his lips to the brand, planting a kiss on his skin. “A blessing in disguise then,” he said quietly, brushing his thumb over Imai’s wrist again.
“I suppose so,” Imai breathed, feeling sleepy and contented.
As he yawned and stretched, Imai couldn’t fathom why he felt so tired when it felt like they barely did anything today. Curling his arms around Imai, Atsushi held him close and nuzzled against him, stroking his hair languidly. It didn’t take long before Imai was coaxed to sleep and Atsushi soon followed after.
Spent the day fishing today. Since the boat was just sitting where it was, I paddled out and stopped somewhere in the middle, between the shore and the rough waters. Dropped a line and pretty much lazed around with Atsushi until something tugs at it.
Caught a few fish. Atsushi brought up a few shellfish from the seabed too. With everything we’ve been catching, the stew’s coming along nicely. Putting so much effort into it makes me want to bring it back with me if we ever get the chance to leave.
It feels like I spend most of my time sleeping or lazing around these days. But there isn’t much to do around here. We’ve got everything covered after all. I honestly don’t mind living out the rest of my days here. Things are good.
I usually write my entries before I sleep but I’m writing this in the morning today. Atsushi said he wanted to go back into that undersea cave and I’d probably be too tired to write when we get back.
He said he wanted to look for something important. Can’t figure what that might be. We’ll see.
“You’re like some kind of… hoarder or something,” Imai grumbled, shifting trinkets and knick knacks around. “And here I thought all you kept were the things up there in the other cave.”
“It’s not like this is your first time seeing this pile,” Atsushi said, making a small splash as he flicked his tail in the water. He leaned against the ledge, propping his chin up in his hand as he watched Imai search.
“Why aren’t you coming up to search for yourself?” Imai asked, opening a chest and sifting through the collection of precious stones.
“Because it’s too damp in here for my skin to dry,” Atsushi explained. “And moving around on land is a pain without legs.”
“Well, you don’t really have to walk,” Imai countered. “And you know what this ‘small box’ of yours looks like so wouldn’t it easier for you to look? You could just sit here.” Imai patted the ground next to him.
“If you insist…” Atsushi trailed. Without a sound, he disappeared underwater.
Imai looked up, perplexed by the silence. Eyes searching the water, he called, “Atsushi…?”
Just as Imai stood up, Atsushi burst out of the water, making Imai curse in surprise. Landing on his rear, Atsushi’s hard scales scraped harshly against the uneven rock surface as he slid to a halt next to Imai, who winced and gritted his teeth from the grating noise.
“At least warn me before you do that!” Imai hissed.
Atsushi grinned. “Well, you asked.”
“Doesn’t that hurt!?” Imai crouched down, making Atsushi turn over for him.
Imai took a proper look at Atsushi’s scales and frowned, clicking his tongue. Smoothing his palm over the scratches that defaced the once smooth scales, Imai chided, “You could’ve just let me carry you.”
“Can you?” Atsushi remarked snidely.
Gathering Atsushi up in his arms, Imai held him and stood up. “Y’think?” he shot back.
A sheepish smile appeared on Atsushi’s face. “Well…”
“Don’t underestimate me,” Imai remarked, getting down on one knee as he carefully set Atsushi back down on the ground. He felt Atsushi give him a quick peck on the cheek as he moved back to the spot where he was previously focused on.
Sitting cross legged, Imai looked at the extensive collection of random things again and sighed. Finding anything in such a pile was a daunting task. It also didn’t help that all Atsushi could tell him about what they were looking for was in a chest about the size of Bonnie that was dark brown in colour.
“Do you remember where you last put it?” Imai asked, scratching his chin as he scanned the mess.
The light tinkling melody of a music box played. Imai looked over at Atsushi, who was looking at the box fondly as it played. The song sounded familiar to him, but Imai couldn’t put a finger on what it was.
“I think it should be somewhere around here.” Atsushi gestured at the area before them. “I did open it not too long ago, after all.”
Imai hummed, focusing his scanning where Atsushi indicated. “You like that song?” he asked.
Atsushi nodded. “I don’t come by many of these though,” he lamented. “Are they rare?”
“Not really,” Imai replied after a moment’s thought. “But I guess not everyone keeps them,” he added. “It’s a… novelty, I suppose.”
“Novelty, huh,” Atsushi echoed, eyes fixated on the revolving cylinder and the vibrating prongs. As the song ended, Atsushi looked up at Imai. “Do you have any?”
Imai shook his head, watching Atsushi wind up the box again. “If you like, I could look for some when we get back,” he offered. As the music started playing again, recognition struck Imai. He chuckled. “Is that why you named the chicken Bonnie?”
“Ah, well…” Atsushi laughed to himself, abashed.
“ Oh bring back my Bonnie to me~ , huh,” Imai sang, making Atsushi even more flustered as his embarrassed laughter continued. “How’d you know the lyrics anyway?” he asked, smirking in amusement.
“This… There used to be a lid on it… with the words inscribed on it,” Atsushi said, trying to control his laughter as he spoke. “It came off a long time ago though.”
Imai hummed, turning his attention back to combing through Atsushi’s collection. “I’m surprised it still works,” he commented. “The dampness in here should’ve rusted it or something.”
“Hm. I’m just glad it didn’t,” Atsushi said. Setting the lid-less musical box aside, he began moving things aside, probably in an attempt to look for the chest he mentioned. “Keeping it here isn’t the best option but…”
“But?” Imai echoed as he inspected a gaudy, jewel-encrusted chalice in his hand with a sceptical eye.
“I used to leave more things in the other cave, up on land,” Atsushi said.
“Uh-huh?” Imai set the chalice aside, putting it together with the other beverage holders he had sorted out. If he was going to go through so many things, might as well make an attempt for some semblance of organisation.
“But newcomers to the island liked intruding,” Atsushi remarked. Imai gave him a sidelong glance and Atsushi smiled back sweetly. Imai glared back. “Well, you didn’t do what the others did,” Atsushi added.
“Stealing and breaking things.”
Imai frowned. “I don’t see a point in that.”
“That’s why I say that you’re different,” Atsushi reminded, poking Imai’s cheek as he spoke.
Choosing not to react, Imai let Atsushi continue prodding his face as he reached into the messy pile and pulled out a box. As the random trinkets tumbled and clattered noisily, filling the void left by the box, Imai took a closer look at it. “Hey Atsushi, is this dark brown to you? I can’t tell from the blue light in here,” he said, holding the chest up in the air as he looked at it from various angles.
Pushing himself up, Atsushi rocked his body and shifted closer to Imai. He lay himself over Imai’s legs and reached up for the chest. “Let me see.”
Imai handed the chest to Atsushi who took it and gave it a firm shake. They could hear things shifting inside the rather hefty thing.
Atsushi frowned as he chewed on his lower lip. “It might be but…”
“Hold it for a bit?” Atsushi passed the chest to Imai. With his hands free, Atsushi pushed himself up on his arms and maneuvered himself into the space between Imai’s legs. “There, better,” he muttered to himself.
Taking the chest back from Imai, Atsushi set it down on his tail, where his lap would supposedly be. His eyes took in the locking mechanism. Spotting two latches on each side, Atsushi flicked them open. He smiled. But there was still the middle lock, which had a keyhole. Sucking his lips, Atsushi hoped that he didn’t make use of that lock. He had no idea where the key was.
“Aren’t you going to open it?” Imai asked, leaning to the left, propped up by his arm.
“Ah, yes…” Fiercely hoping that it wasn’t locked, Atsushi tried lifting the lid… but it was stuck. Atsushi swallowed. He exchanged a look with Imai and tried to pry it open again. Perhaps it was being held together too tightly.
Watching Atsushi grit his teeth as he tried to pull the chest open, Imai furrowed his brows. “There’s still the lock in the centre there,” Imai pointed out.
Atsushi seemed to ignore him, willfully exerting his strength in his attempt to open the chest with brute force.
“Wouldn’t it be easier if you unlocked that with the key?” Imai asked.
Atsushi stubbornly shook his head. “It might just be stuck.”
“You don’t have the key, do you?” Imai asked, but Atsushi appeared to ignore him, focused on trying to pry the chest open. Imai sighed. “If we can’t find the key, there are ways to break the lock.”
“But I don’t want to damage it,” Atsushi whined, giving up and leaning against Imai. His chest heaved with a deep sigh.
Scrunching his face up as he sniffed, Imai tried to think of an alternative solution. “Or I could just continue sorting through these things and we’ll see if a key turns up?”
Atsushi put the box down on the ground with a clunk. “I don’t feel like it anymore,” he muttered, pouting.
“This was your idea though,” Imai reminded.
“I’d rather just relax in the water now,” Atsushi said petulantly.
“You can do that while I keep looking,” Imai suggested.
Giving Imai a pointed look, Atsushi said, “If I wanted to do that alone I would’ve just gone off on my own.”
“Fine, fine,” Imai conceded, feeling slightly exasperated with Atsushi’s capricious mood. “We’ll leave this for another day then.”
Shifting the box aside, Imai got to his feet and lifted Atsushi up in his arms. It wasn’t effortless for Imai, but like hell he would let Atsushi know. As he brought Atsushi to the water, Imai could feel Atsushi relax in his arms as he buried his face in his shoulder. Imai carefully stepped down onto the submerged ledge, leaning forward as he lowered Atsushi into the water.
Atsushi reluctantly separated himself from Imai, slipping into the water. Circling around once in the pool, Atsushi quickly came back to Imai once he was seated on the ledge, wrapping his arms around Imai again as he settled in Imai’s lap.
Sighing, Imai leaned back and stretched, closing his eyes as he made himself comfortable in the warm seawater. He could feel Atsushi running his fingers through his hair, his nails gently scratching Imai’s scalp as he nuzzled against Imai’s neck, warm breath ghosting over his skin where Atsushi’s lips brushed past.
“What are you doing?” Imai mumbled as Atsushi began nipping at his skin. He could feel his body starting to react to Atsushi’s advances.
Atsushi hummed, paying no heed to Imai’s question as he continued doing as he pleased. Sucking on Imai’s neck, Atsushi heard a breathless sigh as he slid a hand down Imai’s front, running his fingers over the curves of his slight body.
“Atsushi!” Imai growled, digging his fingers into Atsushi’s bicep as he felt Atsushi lick his neck.
Atsushi shifted in Imai’s lap, deliberately nudging Imai’s crotch with his body. A flash of heat rushed through Imai, making him tighten his grip on Atsushi for that brief moment when his mind went blank. With a hand kneading the nape of Imai’s neck, Atsushi brought his other hand back up, placing it on his cheek as he pulled Imai into a kiss.
Kissing Atsushi back, Imai sucked on Atsushi’s lips, salty from the sea water as Atsushi’s fingers crept along his jawline. Imai leaned into Atsushi, intending to deepen the kiss but Atsushi pulled away, giggling as he rolled off Imai’s lap and disappeared into the dark depths beneath them.
“Oy!” Imai called after him, his disgruntled voice echoing in the cavern. Staring at the spot where he last saw Atsushi, he yelled, “What’s the meaning of this?!”
Just then, Imai felt Atsushi brush by his legs, the long strands of his hair tickling his skin as Atsushi swam up between Imai’s legs. Peeking out of the water, Atsushi’s eyes crinkled in mirth as he flashed a grin at Imai. Before Imai could express his annoyance though, Atsushi sank back underwater. Putting his hands on Imai’s hips, Atsushi took hold of Imai and shifted him forward, pulling his underwear off as he did.
Underwater, Atsushi heard Imai’s muffled protests and felt the water churn from his kicks. Atsushi simply laughed to himself, grabbing Imai’s legs by his thighs. As Atsushi massaged his legs, Imai felt Atsushi at his groin, mouthing and nipping at the soft skin. Imai curled his fingers into Atsushi’s hair, torn between the urge to remove him from his thighs and the desire to encourage his mischief.
In Imai’s moment of hesitation, Atsushi took initiative, bringing his tongue from Imai’s thigh to his scrotum. That elicited a reaction from Imai, causing the water to gurgle around Atsushi from Imai’s kicks. As Atsushi delicately worked the sensitive area with his tongue and his lips, Imai jerked his hips and his fist tightened on Atsushi’s scalp, creating a pleasant tension that made Atsushi smile.
Atsushi removed a hand from Imai’s thigh and curled his arm around Imai’s waist, supporting his body as he moved, shifting even lower to push his tongue hard against Imai’s perineum. Imai sucked in his stomach, probably reacting to Atsushi’s tongue brushing over his entrance with a sharp gasp. Each flick and push by Atsushi brought heat to Imai’s core, intense and smouldering, making it feel like he was about to melt and mix into the warm sea water that surrounded him.
Not forgetting Imai’s erection, now hard and stiff as he could be, Atsushi closed his other hand around it, stroking Imai and thumbing his glans. As Imai’s legs rested on Atsushi’s shoulders, Atsushi could feel the man’s grip on his hair slacken, turning feeble as the sensations wrenched Imai’s control over his muscles away.
As another wave of pleasure racked through Imai’s body, Atsushi felt Imai’s erection twitch in his palm. Moving again, Atsushi brought his mouth towards Imai’s shaft and with one long lick, Atsushi went from Imai’s scrotum to the tip of his penis, replacing his hand. Licking along Imai’s girth, Atsushi put Imai into his mouth.
The smooth rock surface pressed into Imai’s shoulders as he arched his back from Atsushi’s sucking. He could feel his tip sliding across the roof of Atsushi’s mouth, hitting the back of his throat before Atsushi’s mouth closed around him as Atsushi pulled him out against whatever suction Atsushi made with his mouth. With nothing to grab under him, Imai reached for Atsushi and dug his fingers into Atsushi’s shoulder as his other hand held the back of Atsushi’s neck.
As he sucked, Atsushi felt Imai’s erection throb once, twice then ejaculate into his mouth while Imai’s grip on his body grew firmer in that moment. Sucking and swallowing, Atsushi could feel Imai’s body start to relax and as his erection faded, Atsushi finally removed Imai from his mouth. Peeking out of the water again, Atsushi looked up at Imai’s reproachful expression. Atsushi crinkled his eyes at him again, smiling. He could see Imai trying to hide the satisfaction from his face. Putting his hands on either side of Imai, Atsushi propelled himself out of the water and gave Imai a peck on his lips.
Imai narrowed his eyes at Atsushi. “What was that for?”
“Can’t I want you?” Atsushi asked, batting his eyes at Imai.
“And where’s my underwear?” Imai asked, seemingly unfazed.
At that question, Atsushi froze. His eyes darted left and right, looking around. Finding nothing, he stuck his head into the water, trying to look for the fabric but to no avail. Turning back to Imai, Atsushi found himself avoiding Imai’s chiding gaze. “Uh…”
Imai’s hand clasped Atsushi’s wrist, pulling him forward and before he knew it, Atsushi found himself lying in Imai’s lap, trapped in his hold. “You lost it,” Imai said flatly.
Arms pressed to his chest, Atsushi looked away again. “I could… look for it…” he muttered as he began wriggling out of Imai’s grip.
Imai held him tighter in response. “Forget it,” he said, smoothing his hand over Atsushi’s abdomen, where skin met scales.
As Imai’s hand travelled lower, rubbing his scales, Atsushi swallowed. Putting a hand on Imai’s forearm, he said, “Are you…?”
“Returning the favour?” Imai asked, letting his fingers wander along Atsushi’s lower abdomen, where his crotch would normally be in his other form.
Noticing a softer area in the middle, Imai pressed the tips of his fingers against it, finding a barely noticeable slit. He grinned as Atsushi gasped, surprised and slightly alarmed. “You thought I wouldn’t know?” Imai asked, bringing his face closer to Atsushi’s.
Stumbling over his words, Atsushi barely managed to speak before Imai pressed against his trembling lips, kissing him gently while his finger continued to trace along Atsushi’s genital slit. Having been taken by surprise, Atsushi found himself unable to resist, giving in to Imai’s tender kiss and careless stroking.
Feeling a bulge growing under Atsushi’s scales, Imai huffed, glad that his teasing worked. He was, in fact, worried that Atsushi might not be as sensitive as he usually was, but that was clearly no issue. Imai pushed his index finger into Atsushi’s slit, feeling the heat envelop his finger as Atsushi broke away from his kiss and cried out, startled.
Atsushi’s large eyes darted between Imai’s smirk and the finger in him, which pushed deeper, brushing against Atsushi’s hardening phallus. As Imai pushed his middle finger in as well, Atsushi thrashed in his embrace, creating a splash of water with his tail as he got turned on yet bewildered by the unusual sensation.
His breathing laboured, Atsushi clutched Imai, pressing to him as he tried to speak. “Hisashi, don’t push in- !!”
Atsushi’s words were cut off when Imai curled his fingers, positioning them on either side of his erection, which was meant to come out of his slit. Moving his fingers out of the way, Imai finally let Atsushi’s erection push out, sliding through between his middle and index finger. As his erection emerged from his body, Atsushi arched his back and twisted, making the water swirl with his moans from the pleasure and the relief. After all his moving, Atsushi leaned back, exposing his neck as he let his eyes dip underwater.
Stroking the underside of Atsushi’s erection with his palm, Imai bent over, bringing kisses to Atsushi’s neck and whatever skin remained out of the water. While he continued stroking Atsushi, Imai let his teeth graze over Atsushi’s skin, biting and scratching gently as he travelled to Atsushi’s collarbone and heaving chest.
Atsushi appeared to relax, his body going limp in Imai’s arms even as his breathing deepened. Imai didn’t have any intention to let Atsushi get too comfortable though. Propping a leg up on the ledge, Imai brought Atsushi’s torso closer to him, making Atsushi sit up.
Atsushi’s head lolled to the side, his glazed eyes making meeting the roguish look in Imai’s expression. As Atsushi brought a hand to Imai’s jaw, Imai wrapped his arm tighter around the small of Atsushi’s back, bringing him closer. Clarity returned to Atsushi’s eyes for a brief moment when Imai plunged his fingers into Atsushi’s sensitive flesh under his slit again. Imai, however didn’t get to see it as he sucked and teased Atsushi’s nipples, making Atsushi’s moans reverberate in the enclosed space.
Imai could feel Atsushi’s fingers curl and scratch at his neck as he squirmed in Imai’s arms each time he thrust his fingers into his slit. If the noises he made were anything to go by though, Atsushi wasn’t protesting.
Deftly, Imai twisted his wrist as he continued stroking Atsushi’s erection, bringing him to his high with escalating moans and flails. His chin resting on Atsushi’s chest, Imai looked up to watch the ecstasy on his dear partner’s face as he came, spilling warmth over his fist.
Atsushi was flushed with pleasure but now he was flushed with embarrassment, mortified by what just happened. The moment he felt Imai’s hold on him grow lax, Atsushi quickly twisted and wriggled out of his grasp, hightailing into the water.
Imai darted forward to chase after him, but in that split second, he forgot that there was nothing for him to step on under him. A jolting shock hit Imai as he felt himself fall and sink, breathing in water through his nose as he gasped in surprise. Before anything else could happen though, Atsushi was there to catch Imai, bringing him back up onto the ledge.
“Don’t be so reckless!” Atsushi snapped, anxiously wiping the water out of Imai’s eyes as he coughed.
Recovering, Imai grabbed Atsushi’s hands and snapped back, “Then don’t run from me!” His eyes still stung and his vision was still blurry, but when he felt Atsushi start to pull away again, Imai yanked back. “Don’t you dare,” he hissed. Bringing his hands together, Imai shifted his grip to hold both of Atsushi’s wrists in one hand, freeing his other hand to wipe his face with. “Seriously, what do you take me for?”
Finally getting the water out of his eyes, Imai looked for Atsushi and found him underwater, peering up at him with a diffident look on his face. Imai tugged again, drawing Atsushi back out of the water. Holding a hesitant Atsushi close, chest to chest, Imai frowned and said, “Just tell me if you don’t like it and I won’t do it again.”
“It’s not like that!” Atsushi denied, turning away as best he could.
“Then what is it?” Imai asked, trying to nudge Atsushi back to face him.
“I just… never intended for you to have to deal with… this,” Atsushi swished his tail by Imai’s legs as he muttered dejectedly.
“It’s not as if I don’t know what your natural form is,” Imai chided gently, stroking Atsushi’s cheek as he spoke. “Aren’t I still here? Holding you?”
Slowly turning, Atsushi’s apprehension gradually faded away when he met Imai’s earnest gaze. It was only then that Atsushi moved closer, putting his head on Imai’s shoulder as he wrapped his arms around Imai again. “Don’t let me go,” he whispered, pressing his face into Imai.
“Don’t think so little of me,” Imai retorted, affectionately running his fingers through Atsushi’s hair. “Besides,” he added, “I’d probably drown if I did.”
Immediately, Atsushi’s embrace stiffened. “I’ll never let that happen,” he said fiercely.
Imai chuckled, heartened by his words. Rubbing circles on Atsushi’s back, Imai casually kissed Atsushi on his head and muttered, “I love you.”
Atsushi nuzzled against the crook of Imai’s neck as a small smile broke out on his face. By the way Atsushi’s hands kneaded his back, Imai could tell Atsushi was pleased beyond words. It did, however, take awhile for Atsushi to settle down and return the words, “I love you too.”
Imai chuckled again, now grinning uncontrollably without anyone to witness it. Nuzzling back at Atsushi’s ear, Imai suddenly thought of something else. “There is one more thing though,” he mumbled.
“Can you find my underwear? I really don’t like the feeling of skinny dipping like this.”
Atsushi gave Imai a nip on his neck in response, startling Imai. With a giggle, Atsushi gave Imai a quick peck on his cheek before slowly easing out of his embrace. As he dove back underwater, Atsushi waved his tail in the air, playfully slapping Imai in the face with his tailfin before swimming away from Imai’s ire.
What do you know. Atsushi found the key and unlocked his chest on his own. He didn’t explicitly say so but he came back into the house with the music box in one hand and another smaller box in the other when I woke up this morning. Looks like he’s been going back down on his own without telling me. Well, as long as it’s settled and he’s happy with it, I suppose it’s fine.
He made me promise to keep it closed until I get back though, if ever. Really makes me wonder what’s inside.
Finally dr ankthe last botttle ofrum.
Cheeers to Atsuchi
Cheersto more fuckin
Cheers to Hisashi
When did I let Atsushi write in here again, and what the fuck did I write yesterday. Should’ve known better than to write anything when I’m intoxicated.
Anyway, a couple of coconuts washed up on shore this morning. The sweet juice and flesh was great against the hangover from last night’s drinking. Well, at least that’s something I probably won’t have to experience again in a long while. As expected, Atsushi liked the fruit a lot. He probably has a sweet tooth.
Imai took the robes off the drying posts, scrunching the fabric up in his fists to check that they were indeed dry before taking them indoors. Quickly bundling the clothes up in his arms, Imai began making his way back up the beach and the ramp. The tide was about to start rising after all.
Stepping into the house, Imai found Atsushi crouched down, cleaning up after the chicken, Bonnie again. “You know, if you just let it stay outside, you wouldn’t have to go through all this trouble,” Imai pointed out as he sat down some distance away, folding the clothes.
“But she ’s safer in here,” Atsushi whined. “And I don’t mind anyway,” he added, standing up.
Imai took his time now, pressing the fabric flat along its seams as he tried to fold the second set as neatly as he first. Despite Atsushi’s quiet footsteps, Imai could feel him approach from behind, dropping to his knees as he draped himself over Imai’s shoulders. Atsushi’s cold wet hand, still damp from washing whatever it was he used earlier, came up to Imai’s cheek, gently nudging him to face Atsushi, who greeted him with a kiss.
Turning back to his task at hand, Imai reached a hand behind, stroking Atsushi’s cheek as he nuzzled against him. With a contented sigh, Atsushi relaxed, leaning his weight on Imai as he watched him make the folds, waiting patiently. Imai could feel Atsushi fiddling with his hair, now cut to his shoulders and tied up in a mess. It was much worse when it was longer, the point that it got irreparably tangled. That was the only way he could convince Atsushi to cut it for him.
“Not going to play with Bonnie?” Imai asked, feeling a lock fall out of the hair tie and into his face.
“I shouldn’t bother her. It’s about time for her to sleep,” Atsushi replied, brushing the lock aside for Imai.
Imai scoffed. “Yet you bother me when I want to sleep.”
“You can’t compare things like that,” Atsushi said, lying down behind Imai. “And you don’t reject me either,” he added, his voice going low.
“That’s because you start sulking and making things difficult for me if I do,” Imai reminded. Done with folding the laundry, Imai crawled over to the drawers and put the clothes in.
Propping his head up with an elbow to the floor, Atsushi chuckled. “Too tired to get up now?”
“Wrong,” Imai replied. “My back is killing me. No thanks to you.”
Atsushi laughed and sat up. “Need me to work the kinks out for you?” he asked, reaching for Imai.
“No no,” Imai waved Atsushi away. “You’ll probably try and break my back or something.”
“But you know it works!” Atsushi argued.
Imai scowled at him, still keeping his distance.
Putting on his most amiable expression, Atsushi coaxed, “I promise I’ll be gentle.”
Scratching the back of his head, Imai clicked his tongue and sighed. “Even if I say no now, you’ll just force me to sit through it later, won’t you?”
Atsushi said nothing, simply flashing an innocent smile back at Imai.
Sighing again, Imai gave in, slowly edging back to Atsushi and prostrating himself on the parquet floor with a grunt.
As Atsushi began kneading the stiff muscles on his back, Imai cast his gaze out of the window, towards the rapidly darkening sky. He was starting to feel rather comfortable when Atsushi suddenly hit a particularly sore spot in his shoulder. Imai flinched involuntarily and Atsushi pulled his hands away for a moment, concerned.
“Did I hurt you?” Atsushi asked, his voice soft.
“No- Yes, but no, I mean, it did hurt. But in a good way,” Imai said.
“Basically, it would make me feel better if you pressed that spot more, with more force,” Imai explained.
“So… you want me to hurt you more.”
“Uh… In a way?”
Imai heard knuckles popping. “Well, don’t blame me then,” Atsushi said.
Before Imai could ask what he meant, Atsushi pushed a knuckle into his shoulder, causing an intense ache that made him groan and clench his fists. Atsushi snickered, seemingly amused by Imai’s reaction. As he switched from using one knuckle to all the knuckles on his closed fist, Atsushi went on rubbing against the knot on Imai’s shoulder while Imai moaned in pain.
“Getting off on this, Hisashi?” Atsushi teased.
“Oh, fuck you,” Imai retorted, shooting a glance back at Atsushi as tears pricked his eyes from the pain.
Upon noticing Imai’s glistening eyes though, guilt and alarm stabbed through Atsushi and he immediately swept Imai up in a hug. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry, I never meant to-”
“It’s fine,” Imai growled, his voice muffled against Atsushi’s chest. When Atsushi didn’t loosen his hold on him, Imai repeated, “It’s fine, I said.” Smacking Atsushi, Imai made Atsushi let him go and he sat up. “It’s just a natural reaction to the pain, alright?” Imai said, wiping his eyes irritably. “I’m not upset with you or anything.”
“But I…” Atsushi didn’t finish his sentence, instead pouncing on Imai and rubbing his face in Imai’s robes as he whined.
Imai toppled to the floor from the momentum. “Argh, hey! My back!”
“I’m sorry,” Atsushi repeated, looking up at Imai with a miserable pout.
“It’s… fine,” Imai sighed. He hated repeating himself.
Letting himself slump to the floor, Imai let his body go limp as he lay motionless under Atsushi’s weight. Atsushi himself started moving, straddling Imai on his back. Deciding against questioning Atsushi, Imai let him be, relaxing as Atsushi started kneading his back again. He seemed more careful this time around, reducing the pressure he applied whenever Imai’s body twitched even the slightest bit.
Imai folded his arms and rested his chin on his forearms, breathing slowly as Atsushi moved down his spine, popping Imai’s joints with each point. “My, my, aren’t you stiff,” Atsushi commented.
“Hm, I never realised either,” Imai muttered, growing drowsy from Atsushi’s massage.
“Hey,” Atsushi called. “Don’t fall asleep without me.”
“You’re surprisingly good at this,” Imai mumbled.
“Please, I’m not that inept,” Atsushi huffed.
Chuckling, Imai pushed himself up and waved at Atsushi. “Anyway, you can get off me now.”
“What if I don’t want to?” Atsushi asked.
“Then you’ll really ruin my back,” Imai said dryly.
Almost immediately, Atsushi rolled to the side, letting Imai turn around. Once he did though, Atsushi straddled Imai at his hips again, pinning him down with a hand on Imai’s right wrist, fingers casually stroking his brand.
“Really?” Imai sighed.
“You don’t have to do anything,” Atsushi said, leaning forward.
One side of his robes slipped off his shoulder, and Imai couldn’t help it but his eyes were drawn to Atsushi’s bare skin. Noticing that he had drawn Imai’s attention to him, Atsushi smirked and drew closer, brushing his lips over Imai’s before swerving away to kiss his wrist.
With Atsushi’s bare skin right in front of him, Imai barely had to move to nuzzle against him, breathing in his now familiar scent. Imai instinctively slid an arm around Atsushi, going under his robes to caress his skin. The knot holding Atsushi’s robes close came a little looser and more slipped off, exposing both his shoulders and his chest as he pressed his body to Imai’s.
Imai could barely resist the urge to nip at Atsushi’s skin, trailing kisses from his shoulder to his neck, all while enjoying Atsushi’s warmth and his scent. He could feel Atsushi’s fingers still tracing the brand on his wrist as Atsushi grinded his hips against Imai’s, humming contentedly.
Atsushi eventually found himself hovering over Imai, meeting his eyes as he grinned and leaned in for a kiss. Pausing, Atsushi took a long look at Imai, his hair now undone, and mumbled, “Shorter hair on you really is better though.”
“Hm? Now you agree with me?” Imai raised a cynical brow.
“It’s easier to kiss you without anything in the way,” Atsushi beamed.
Imai groaned, rolling his eyes. “And here I thought you’d be complimenting me or something.”
“Well, of course, I get to see more of your pretty face too,” Atsushi added.
“You’re only saying that just because-”
Thumping noises on the walkway outside stopped Imai short as his eyes darted to the open entryway, frozen and alert. Atsushi, like him, was tense and still. Imai glanced at Atsushi, “That wasn’t my imagin-”
“Excuse the intrusion!” A new voice called from outside the house and a booted foot stepped in as he continued speaking, “We found a message in a bottle asking for hel- Oh shit! Shit! Sorry!” The intruder immediately turned on his heel, rushing back out when he caught sight of a half-dressed Atsushi rushing to fix his robes and still seated on Imai.
Helping Atsushi to right his clothes, Imai continued staring out the door after the intruder, feeling a strong sense of familiarity in the back of his mind. Atsushi, on the other hand, was trapped between the desire to make the intruder leave and the urge to disappear out of sight, to hide away. He had understood that they had sent out a call for help, and that it would draw more people to them, but Atsushi had not realised how much he would instantly hate having strangers around.
Sensing Atsushi’s discomfort, Imai turned his attention back to him. Atsushi had a frown on his face and he appeared closed off, distant. Unable to read him, worry gnawed at Imai. Atsushi had never been like this before.
As Atsushi removed himself from Imai, smoothing his hands over his robes, Imai gripped his forearm. Atsushi looked at him, still frowning. Having caught his attention, Imai asked, “Are you alright?”
“Yes, why do you ask?” Atsushi replied flatly, looking away.
“You can’t fool me,” Imai said. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” Atsushi replied, changing his tone to a lighter one this time as he smiled thinly.
An inexplicable ache squeezed Imai’s chest as he struggled with the confusion of Atsushi’s sudden change in demeanour. Standing up, Imai grabbed Atsushi by his shoulders, making Atsushi turn to face him. “Atsushi, I don’t-”
“Uh, I need to check if you indeed need assistance,” the intruder interrupted. “Because you look like you don’t need any.”
Imai glared at the entrance, where the intruder stood dressed in a white loose-fitting, button-down shirt and dark-coloured trousers tucked in boots. Once again, Imai found the man’s stature familiar. Staring as he squinted in the dim light, Imai tried to figure out what caused this feeling when finally… “Araki!”
“Hah! I knew that shitty handwriting was yours, Imai!” Araki exclaimed triumphantly. “With you looking like that though, I wasn’t really sure that I was right!”
“Imai?” came a quiet question from Atsushi.
It suddenly occurred to Imai that he had never told Atsushi his full name. “Ah, that’s my family name,” Imai explained, speaking softly, as if it was only for Atsushi’s ears.
“And… Hisashi is?”
“My given name,” Imai replied. “Not a lot of people use it though.”
“So who does…?”
“My family,” Imai said. After a moment, he added, “... And those I consider to be close enough to be within that circle.”
“You both really like whispering between each other a lot, huh?” Araki commented, stepping forward.
As Araki approached, Atsushi took a step back to stand behind Imai, watching Araki with wary eyes as he held onto Imai’s right wrist for comfort. Imai glanced back at him, unable to shake the worry that ate at him. “It’s just… how things turned out,” Imai answered.
“We were expecting to pick just one person up though,” Araki said as he came to a stop in front of Imai. “You didn’t mention you had a woman with-”
“I’m not a woman,” Atsushi growled.
Araki’s brows shot up in surprise, mouth slightly agape and seemingly at a loss for words.
“What’s that face for? You look like a dead fish,” Imai jabbed. “Anyway, what do you mean by ‘we’?” he asked, diverting Araki’s askance.
“Ah, uh, the uh, um-”
“For goodness sake speak properly,” Imai grumbled, grabbing Araki’s face with a hand under his chin as he squeezed Araki’s cheeks between his thumb and fingers. “So happy to see me that you’ve lost the ability to speak?”
“Don’t do that!” Araki’s distorted protest came with a smack on Imai’s forearm, swatting him away. Rubbing his face with his own hands, Araki furrowed his brows at Imai for a moment.
“Still the same as always,” Imai chuckled. “Anyway, you didn’t come alone, did you? You mentioned a ‘we’?”
“It’s a bit of a long story, actually,” Araki began. “When your bottle got caught in the Higuchi brothers’ fishing net, your parents wanted to go looking for you immediately. So naturally, being your loyal childhood friend,” Araki gave them a smug smile, “I volunteered. Hidehiko came along too. He’s on the main ship-”
“Main ship?!” Imai interjected. He felt Atsushi squeeze his wrist. “How many people did you come with!?”
“Right, so… I’d say your parents spared no expense-”
Imai groaned, covering his face with his left hand. “I should’ve known they’d be so… over the top.”
“Well, yeah, you know how your family is,” Araki shrugged. “Anyway, as I said, there’s me and Hidehiko, right? And then, your parents wanted us to take a bunch of people with us because, the more the merrier. I mean, that’s not what they said, but, y’know,” Araki shot a pointed look at Imai, who simply nodded with a grimace.
“Here’s the kicker though,” Araki continued. “The Envoy wanted to come along.”
Imai turned sharply as he felt his heart stop for a second. “ The what? ”
“Yes.” Araki nodded with a wry expression.
“I’m not getting on another ship with that fuck,” Imai spat.
Atsushi pressed his fingers into Imai’s wrist again, stepping closer as he whispered, “Is that the one who…?”
With a nod by him, Imai could sense Atsushi’s mood darken, a strong resentment simmering under his stony facade.
“I had a feeling you’d say that,” Araki chuckled. “This is why I insisted on being the first face you see. The idiot actually wanted to be the one approaching you. I assume he wanted to try and convince you to take his side but honestly think you’d just kill him and tell us all to fuck off.”
“Just so you know, I still have not qualms about doing that,” Imai seethed. “But what’s this about taking his side? How delusional is he to think that I’d even consider doing that? And how’d you know what happened?”
“Well, y’know, when that ship you were supposedly on docked at the port and you didn’t show up, and the Envoy said that you fell ill and died at sea, everyone started getting suspicious,” Araki recounted.
“Hah! I got sick and died,” Imai echoed, shaking his head. Turning to Atsushi, Imai laughed and repeated, “I got sick and died?”
“You’ve been living in paradise with me after all, haven’t you?” Atsushi smiled, playing along.
“Ah, that’s true,” Imai nodded. “We should really just stay here, don’t go back.”
“No no, you need to come back with us,” said Araki quickly. “Just you being alive proves that he’s guilty of something.”
“Guilty of what?” Imai asked sarcastically. “Didn’t everyone welcome him with open arms when he first arrived? How’d he get all of you to turn against him?”
“See, it began when you ‘died’,” Araki said in a matter-of-fact tone. “No one believed it, especially me. You never got sick. Fools don’t catch colds, after all.”
“Hey! I do get sick, alright?” Imai retorted. “Atsushi can testify for me.”
Araki grinned, pleased that he struck a nerve with Imai. “Anyway… Long story short, your family has the influence to turn the tables, and they pretty much dug up a shit ton of skeletons from the Envoy’s closet. So now, with you alive, it pretty much confirms that there is something fishy about that guy and that it’s not just a mere suspicion.”
Imai stared at the floor, pensive, as the information sank in. “A lot has happened while I was gone, huh?”
“You have no bloody idea what a mess it was,” Araki said. “He basically picked the wrong guy to frame.”
“You know what happened?” Imai asked, feeling slightly uneasy.
“The other passengers who travelled with you told us what they saw and heard.”
“So… you know I have this?” Imai eased his wrist out of Atsushi’s grasp and flashed the brand to Araki. Atsushi’s hand moved to grip Imai’s robes.
“Goodness, that didn’t heal well, did it?” Araki commented, raising his brows. “But yes, we heard.”
“Then don’t look so repulsed,” Imai huffed. “It’ not like I asked for it.”
“You know, you could probably remove it-”
“No,” Atsushi interjected, a defiant look in his eyes.
“Leave it,” Imai said. “I don’t intend to get it removed.”
“But you know how others-” Araki’s objection was cut short when Atsushi turned his glare to him, silencing Araki. “Okay, fine, whatever you say,” Araki mumbled, backing down.
Imai took Atsushi’s hand off his robes, letting him hold his wrist again as Imai took a moment to consider him. Atsushi met his eyes for a split second before looking away, embarrassed by the obstinacy he displayed. A muscle in Imai’s cheek twitched with the sudden inclination to smile.
Turning back to Araki, Imai stroked the back of Atsushi’s hand as he asked, “Come to think of it, how long have I been away for?”
“Ah? You didn’t keep track?”
Imai shrugged. “Quite hard to, frankly.”
“Well… a little less than a year?” Araki answered after a moment’s consideration. “Maybe eight months?”
“Only?” Imai shot back, surprised. “I thought it would’ve been at least a couple of years since-”
“Young master Imai! I must say, you’re looking well for someone who has been lost at sea!” The honeyed words of an orotund voice cut into their conversation, assaulting their ears as a finely dressed man stepped through the entryway.
Imai immediately curled his lip in disgust the moment he caught sight of the man. “Get. Out.”
“I was wonder what took your dear friend here so long to fetch you and I simply had to come and see you for myself,” the man, or rather the Envoy, went on, ignoring Imai’s glower and Araki’s eye roll.
“If you don’t step outside within the next minute I will drown you with my own two hands,” Atsushi low voice suddenly emerged from behind Imai as he watched the Envoy with an eerie gleam in his eye.
The moment the Envoy noticed Atsushi’s presence, his confident disposition vanished. At the receiving end of Atsushi’s very sincere threat, he instantly went silent and turned pale. Swallowing nervously, he tried and failed to mask the fear in his voice as he said almost inaudibly, “I’ll… wait outside…”
Despite the fact that this hostility was not directed at Araki, Araki could not help but feel unnerved. Once the obnoxious presence left them, he swallowed and licked his lips before asking, “Anyway… Do you want to leave? This place?”
“No.” “Yes.” Atsushi and Imai stared at each other, perplexed.
Putting a hand on his forehead, Araki took a deep breath and sighed. This whole operation was turning out to be more complicated than he expected. “You know what? I’ll leave you two to talk about this between yourselves,” he muttered, quickly excusing himself as he headed out of the house. He got the strong feeling that this wasn’t something for him to interfere with.
Finally left alone again, Atsushi stepped in front of Imai. “Don’t you want to go home?” he asked, frowning in confusion.
“Yes, but… At the same time I don’t really want to?” Imai muttered, struggling to explain his choice. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “And, you’re clearly very uncomfortable with having other people around-”
“Don’t use me as an excuse,” Atsushi hissed.
Imai winced and looked away, unable to say anything in his defence.
Softening his expression, Atsushi pressed his head against Imai’s with a hand by Imai’s face. “I’m sorry for snapping,” he said softly, caressing Imai’s cheek. With a shaky sigh, Atsushi put an arm around Imai, holding him close. “You know I’ve always wanted to leave, so don’t worry about me. I’ll learn to deal with it, I’ll get used to it, somehow.”
Turning to Atsushi, Imai said nothing as he nuzzled in Atsushi’s hair while contending with his thoughts. After awhile, he finally said, “But… it’s night…”
“They were able to approach us unharassed, weren’t they?” Atsushi pointed out. “This is probably our best chance to leave, possibly our only chance too.”
“What if this doesn- mmf.”
Atsushi pressed his lips to Imai’s, cutting him off. “Don’t jinx it,” Atsushi whispered, smiling gently for Imai.
Imai kissed Atsushi back, hugging him tightly as he did. Breaking apart, Imai took a moment to take in Atsushi’s visage before him, though he wasn’t sure why he felt the need to. Stroking Atsushi’s cheek with his thumb, Imai muttered, “You know you can always count on me, right?”
“I feel like I’m the one who should be saying that to you,” Atsushi said with a smirk.
Imai scoffed. Just as he was about retort, Araki called to them, “Got an answer yet?”
Atsushi looked at Imai with a firm resolution in his eyes. He nodded. Imai paused and took in a deep breath. “Yeah,” Imai answered. “We’re coming with you.”
We’re leaving the island tonight. Risks are high but Atsushi thinks we should take the chance anyway.
Long story short, Araki showed up with a whole ship, an entire search party, because he recognised my handwriting and knew it was me who needed help. Apparently my family arranged much of it though.
Stupid Envoy came with vested interests too but… we’ll see what happens.
It felt bittersweet, sitting in the dinghy with Bonnie, the chest of his belongings, and Atsushi hugging him from behind as they watched the island grow smaller and smaller. Imai was looking forward to seeing familiar faces again, but at the same time, he couldn’t help but worry for Atsushi. He wasn’t looking forward to losing the absolute privacy that he had with Atsushi on the island as well. Their world was going to be that much bigger and that much more crowded, and Imai honestly couldn’t tell if it was a good or bad thing.
The fact that they were on the water at night made Imai anxious as well. Atsushi himself wasn’t as relaxed about this as he tried to appear either. Atsushi’s hand on Imai’s waist was tense, white-knuckled as he bunched up Imai’s robes in his fist. There wasn’t much Imai could do to ease Atsushi’s nerves though. Araki, who was rowing the boat, had already exhibited discomfort with their closeness. That was another thing that ate at Imai, but he could worry about that later.
Glancing up, Imai felt his stomach clench as he watched clouds drifting in the night sky, dangerously close to eclipsing the moon. Quiet curses spilling from his lips, Imai pressed his fingers against Atsushi’s hand and gestured to him to look at the sky. Imai heard a sharp intake of breath from Atsushi, followed by the tightening of his embrace.
“Araki… was it?” Atsushi spoke, addressing Imai’s childhood friend.
“Yes. What is it?” he responded stiffly, clearly uneasy around Atsushi.
“I would suggest that you row faster,” Atsushi replied, his eyes fixated on the moon. “Before the moon disappears…”
“I don’t see your point,” Araki rebutted.
“Araki…” Imai muttered, likewise watching the sky. The clouds were edging over the moon now. “Just do as he says. Or pass me an oar.”
“Like I said, I don’t see-”
“Araki, drop the oar!” Imai exclaimed.
Once the clouds obscured the moon, terrified screams erupted from the other boat a short distance away, in which the Envoy rode. Araki himself got distracted by the screams and failed to let his oar go. Time seemed to slow as Imai watched Araki get yanked to the side. He darted forward but Atsushi was faster, grabbing Araki by his shirt and pulling him back into the boat.
“What the fuck was that?!” Araki yelled, eyes wide as dishes.
“The reason why we needed help,” Imai answered grimly. He looked to the shore, then to the ship anchored at the edge of the reef. He cursed. They were stuck in the middle.
Atsushi stood on the boat, alert and on edge as his eyes scanned the waters around them. Looking at him, it was clear to Imai that his mere presence was a deterrent. But they can’t stay like that forever. Glancing over at the other boat, the Envoy and his aide cowered in the middle of their boat, equally, if not more helpless than them. Racking his brains for ideas, Imai took the dagger out from his chest and set it on his lap. Bonnie, he noticed, was sound asleep in her crate, blissfully unaware of the peril they were in.
Upon seeing the dagger, Atsushi immediately snatched it away from Imai. “You’re NOT going to attempt anything,” Atsushi said sternly.
In that brief moment of distraction, one of their attackers decided to take its chance and reached out of the water, trying to grab someone or something. Noticing the attempt, Atsushi flipped the dagger, sliced the arm off, and threw the dismembered limb back into the sea. As it hit the water, a flurry of movement churned the water, splashing everywhere.
“Huh, so they do eat everything,” Atsushi thought aloud.
“You think we can use that to distract them?” Imai asked.
Before Atsushi could answer, Araki screamed in terror and shuffled away from his end of the boat, bumping into Atsushi’s legs. Imai craned his neck, trying to see what scared Araki so badly. By the incandescence of the gas lamp in the boat, Imai saw hands, numerous hands with slick, slippery-looking skin clutching the boat, seeking to tilt it over.
Imai cursed again and looked up to the sky. The moon was completely out of sight now. To top it all off, there seemed to be no end to this cloud cover overhead. This was probably the worst possible thing that could happen for them right now. Noticing a lull in activity, Imai turned his attention back to Atsushi, who had successfully fended off the assault. He was, however, quite the sight.
Atsushi’s iridescence now glistened red from the blood that had splattered onto him in the skirmish, giving him a rather grotesque appearance. Araki, on the other hand, was frozen, unable to move nor speak. He was probably overwhelmed by everything going on around him now. It was understandable. Whatever they were experiencing was supposed to exist only in macabre tales told over drinks at a pub.
Araki barely reacted as Atsushi stepped past him to reach Imai. Wiping a hand on his own robes, Atsushi put his hand on Imai’s cheek as he crouched down, giving him a kiss tainted with the tang of blood under the curtain of Atsushi’s long hair. It was slow, lingering, pleasant. But something felt wrong.
“Atsushi, this isn’t the time-”
“Just a while more, please,” Atsushi pleaded, kissing Imai again.
Imai let him, just as he asked, but in the pressing circumstances they were currently experiencing, he could not find it in himself to let it drag out longer. Tearing Atsushi away from him, Imai tried to redirect his attention. “Atsushi, we have more urgent things to address right now-”
The firm look in Atsushi’s eyes stopped Imai’s breath as dread washed over him, holding him hostage. Something was indeed wrong. “How dare you make a decision without talking about it,” hissed Imai, his voice shaking from a quiet intensity as he grab Atsushi by his shoulders.
“Of course you’d know,” Atsushi muttered with a tender expression. Even as he smiled, melancholy emanated from him as he kissed Imai again with his lips tinted red.
“Don’t you dare,” Imai warned, digging his fingers into Atsushi’s skin. “Don’t you dare do anything stupid.”
“Hisashi,” Atsushi breathed, watching Imai’s internal meltdown with nothing but sorrow in his dark eyes. “Hisashi-”
“Shut the fuck up,” Imai interjected. He could feel an illogical calmness beginning to take hold of him. And he knew what was causing it. Imai tightened his grip on Atsushi, his fingernails on the verge of cutting into Atsushi as he desperately fought against whatever Atsushi was doing. “Atsushi, I swear, don’t you dare-”
“Hisashi, please,” Atsushi spoke over him
Imai slapped a hand over Atsushi’s mouth, attempting to silence him. But he was getting too addled. All Imai could do was smudge the blood on Atsushi’s lips, like rouge, mumbling ‘no’s as warm tears hit the back of his hand.
Huddled over Imai, Atsushi placed a kiss on Imai’s right wrist, then on his forehead. Taking in a deep breath, he spoke again, “Hisashi, please just sleep.”
No matter how hard he fought, Imai felt the last strands of his consciousness slipping out of his grasp. “Atsushi, you bastard…” he croaked as he forced himself to maintain his hold on Atsushi.
Atsushi clasped a hand over Imai’s and whispered, “Let go.” Despite all of Imai’s protesting his hands relaxed and he released Atsushi, albeit after much resistance.
Cradling a barely-conscious Imai in his arms, Atsushi found himself touched by Imai’s tenacity as he gently wiped away the blood on Imai’s lips. Even as he gradually slipped away, Imai’s fingers continued to curl around Atsushi’s robes, holding on weakly. Atsushi wondered if Imai realised how futile it was.
Imai could feel Atsushi hugging him, his shaky breath against his skin as Atsushi let out a mournful sigh. Raising a hand, Imai tried to hold on to Atsushi’s forearm, but his fingers wouldn’t cooperate and his hand simply slid off Atsushi’s arm again.
Feeling less and less awake, Imai barely registered Atsushi catching his hand and holding it to his lips. He did however, notice Atsushi speaking. But it took all Imai had to focus and catch what he said.
“Whatever happens, remember that I did, I do, and I will love you… … … Don’t forget… … Take care of Bonnie… … … Good night.”
Imai woke with a start. He was in a bed. Lying still, he stared at the timber ceiling as he gathered his bearings. Imai’s eyes darted around, scanning his surroundings which were almost entirely made out of wood. To his left, sunlight streamed in through a porthole, illuminating the otherwise poorly lit cabin. It was clear enough that he was on a ship. But how did he get here?
Sitting up, Imai winced as the blood rushed to his head, giving him a giddy spell. As he massaged his temples, Imai continued examining the sparsely decorated cabin. It didn’t look familiar to him. When he sailed with the pirates, they all slept in a common area so he definitely wasn’t still on that ship. When he sailed on the merchant’s ship, things were a little more… luxurious. This was dismal in comparison.
While lost in his thoughts, short, repeated clucking noises caught Imai’s attention as a flurry of brown feathers burst out at him. Imai let out a yell of surprise, jerking backwards when the ball of feathers landed on him.
… A chicken? Imai stared blankly as it stepped into his lap and settled down while making softer happy-sounding clucks. Imai instinctively began gently stroking its head with a finger and suddenly, something clicked. “Bonnie…?”
Turning his head sharply, Imai searched the room and found his chest sitting in a corner, untouched. He breathed a sigh of relief. At least he had that. But… where was Atsushi?
Picking Bonnie up, Imai held her, tucked under an arm as he swung his legs off the bed. Finding his sandals placed neatly at the side, Imai put them on and opened the door to his cabin, stepping out with Bonnie. They needed to look for Atsushi.
Imai looked left, then right. The corridor he found himself in was empty. Imai paused and listened to his surroundings. The ship creaked and groaned, as most vessels did, and amidst that cacophony, Imai caught the sounds of people interacting, chatting. It sounded like it came from the left. And so left he turned, heading towards the noise.
Sure enough, Imai soon came to a set of stairs that led up to the deck. The daylight that shone in through the exit at the top of the stairs was very much brighter than the warm yellow lights that lit the corridor. Ascending the stairs, Imai squinted his eyes against the glare and stepped out onto the deck.
A light breeze ruffled Imai’s unruly hair as he looked around on deck, searching for a familiar face. Then again, everyone was a familiar face. The crew were all personnel who were employed with his family’s business. They came towards him, all seemingly elated to see Imai and soon, he was surrounded by people, all expressing their joy at his apparent well-being. Unaccustomed to the attention, Imai hesitantly nodded and flashed half smiles at them, acknowledging their good will.
Out of nowhere, a familiar voice said, “Hey, hey, give the man some space now, won’t you?” The attention collectively diverted to the speaker. Araki.
The moment Imai caught sight of him, the image of a terrified Araki sitting in a boat, hugging his knees to his chest flashed through his mind. Imai frowned. When did he see that? Something doesn’t add up. In any case, Araki now looked fresh and comfortable, navigating around the crewmen as he sent them away. He was nowhere alike that frightened version of him.
“Glad to see you’re awake,” Araki said, clapping Imai on his shoulder. “You slept for so long that we weren’t sure if you were going to wake up,” he added, laughing nervously. He wasn’t joking about that worry.
“Huh,” Imai huffed. “How long was I asleep for?”
“More than a day,” Araki answered. “We’re close to home now, probably docking in the evening.”
Imai’s mind spun and barely heard the second part of Araki’s answer. More than a day? Why was he sleeping for such an extended period of time? And why wasn’t Atsushi with him? If he slept that long, Atsushi would usually…
“Where’s Atsushi?” Imai asked suddenly as an ominous feeling started building in his chest. Something wasn’t right.
“Who?” Araki gave Imai a blank look.
“Atsushi!” Imai repeated, distress amplifying his voice. “The man who was with me!”
A spark of recognition lit up in Araki’s eyes and for a moment, Imai felt his hopes lift but Araki looked away, conscience-stricken.
“Araki… Where is he?” Imai’s asked again, his voice low, cautionary.
“He… He never surfaced,” Araki said.
“It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t surface!” Imai exclaimed.
“No human can stay underwater for more than five minutes, Imai!” argued Araki.
“Has it not occurred to you that maybe he’s not exactly human?” Imai seethed. Memories from the previous night were beginning to trickle back to him, ruffling his emotional state.
Araki hastily slapped a hand over Imai’s mouth, eyes darting around wildly in panic as he pushed Imai back down the stairs. Flustered by the sudden movements, Bonnie leapt out of Imai’s arm, slapping her wings at Araki as she clucked indignantly.
Beaten back by Bonnie, Araki stepped away. “I swear, it’s like that chicken has something against me,” he muttered.
“What was that for!?” Imai growled.
“Can we… just… forget all that weird stuff happened…” Araki said, staring at the floor.
Imai furrowed his brows. “What? What do you mean by ‘forget’?”
"It's not… things like that don't happen, you know?" Araki said.
"What are you getting at?" Imai questioned.
“I… I didn’t… Well, the crew couldn’t see what happened-”
“You didn't tell them,” Imai mumbled, disappointment apparent in his voice. “You lied.”
“No! Well- I did tell them something happened,” Araki defended.
“But not the whole truth.”
“I told them that the crewman in the Envoy’s boat fell into the water and Atsushi dove in to get him,” Araki said quickly.
“Is it that hard to tell them what really happened?” Imai asked.
“Who’s going to believe me?!” Araki countered.
“You coward,” Imai spat.
“Don’t you speak to me like that,” Araki snapped as he grabbed Imai’s collar and pushed him into the wall behind him. “I’m doing you a favour here.”
“What favour?” Imai hissed with disdain. “Is this how you justify what you did?”
“Think about it,” Araki insisted. “Nothing good will come out of a relationship with another man, much less a monster-”
Imai punched Araki, throwing him backwards. Pressing a hand to Araki’s throat, Imai held him against the opposite wall. “Say that again, I dare you,” Imai snarled. “The only reason why we’re standing here is because of him and you dare call him a monster?”
Araki’s face turned red, sputtering as he choked under Imai’s hold. Desperately, he hit Imai’s forearm, urging him to let go but Imai, blinded by rage, only clasped tighter.
Imai barely registered the sound of someone thundering down the stairs before that person forced Imai’s hand to leave Araki’s throat. Seething with anger, Imai turned and glared at the meddler. It was Hide.
“What do you two think you’re doing?” he reprimanded, looking reproachfully at Imai and Araki, who clutched his throat as he coughed and wheezed. “The whole ship can hear you,” Hide said. “Get a hold of yourselves, won’t you? Don’t do something you’d regret.”
Despite this being the first time Imai was seeing Hide in months, he barely spare Hide a glance as he fixed his burning glare at Araki. “You abandoned Atsushi,” said Imai, his voice barely louder than a whisper as emotion threatened to overwhelm him. “And I will never forgive you for doing that.”
Unable to meet the pain of betrayal in Imai’s icy stare, Araki kept his eyes on Hide’s shoes, wincing as Imai’s words stabbed into him.
“Hey, don’t be so harsh on him,” Hide coaxed, trying to diffuse the situation.
“Harsh?” Imai echoed. He scoffed. “Did he give you the same bullshit about what happened?” Imai asked Hide, looking at him out of the corner of his eye. Seeing Hide’s confused expression made Imai scoff again. “I guess not,” he surmised.
Araki remained silent and unmoving, even as Imai rammed his shoulder into his when he stormed past. Crouching down, Imai picked up Bonnie, cradling her in his arms again. Softening his tone, he muttered to Bonnie, “I should probably get you something to eat.” Bonnie responded, clucking and cocking her head to one side, interested. “I think there was bread in the room…”
“I’m sorry,” croaked Araki. Looking over his shoulder, Imai observed Araki’s remorseful form, with hunched shoulders and head hung low as he leaned against the wall. His brown eyes met Imai’s, apologetic and pleading. “I didn’t realise-”
“Forget it,” Imai cut him off, turning away. “It’s too late.” Despite Araki’s contrition, Imai could only find resentment in him. “I should’ve never agreed to leave with you,” he said. walking back down the corridor, towards his cabin.
Imai shut the door behind him, enclosing himself in a silence that was only disrupted by the occasional cluck from Bonnie. He looked at the lone desk in the room. There indeed was a roll of bread there. Imai single mindedly shuffled to the desk, tore the bread in half and put one piece on the floor for Bonnie to peck at. He stared blankly at the other half in his hand. It took Imai a few moments, but he eventually decided he didn’t have the appetite for it.
Stepping away from the desk, Imai’s eyes were naturally drawn to his chest and there he veered, letting his legs take him where they wanted to. He stopped before it and knelt, dropping to his knees. Imai stared at it, unsure of what he had initially intended to do. His eyes traced the grain of the wood it was made out of, noticing the small defects, like tiny scratches and dents that had damaged it over time.
Imai smoothed a hand over the lid, feeling the wood with his own finger tips. Reaching the side, he slid his hand down towards the front of the chest. With both hands, Imai slowly flicked the draw bolts open and lifted the lid, resting it against the wall it sat in front of.
Immediately, Imai’s attention went to Atsushi’s music box and that other smaller box he brought back from the cave. Imai felt his heart lurch at the sight of those. His hand trembled as he reached for the items and held them. With a box in the palm of each hand, Imai stared blankly at them. So many thoughts ran through his head that he didn’t know what to feel.
Putting both boxes in his lap, Imai took his time closing the chest back up. Once done, he shifted across the floor of the small room, stopping once his back hit the frame of the bed he had slept in. There, on the floor, Imai sat with one leg outstretched and the other folded in as he continued his listless staring at the boxes.
Eventually, Imai moved, setting the smaller box down on the floor, next to him. Holding the open musical box in both his hands, Imai rubbed his thumb over the cold, uneven surface of the cylinder, feeling the bumps on it against his skin. He suddenly wondered if it still worked. Gently clenching the small crank between his thumb and index finger, Imai wound up the mechanism once, twice, thrice, and waited.
The moment the first note sounded, Imai felt his heart lurch again, this time bringing such a strong wave of emotion that his throat clenched and his chest felt like it was about to collapse into itself. As he held onto the musical box in one hand, Imai crossed his other arm over his front, squeezing his opposite arm as he hugged himself. His jaw trembling, it felt like a struggle to breathe as he whispered, “Atsushi…” His name was like a spell of invocation, bringing forth long, racking sobs that shook Imai’s whole being and warm, wet tears that spilled from his eyes. “Bring back… Atsushi… to me…”
As the song came to an end, Imai clutched the contraption to his chest, his grip so tight that it was as if he wished to crush it. The silence that followed felt deafening, crushing in the way it exacerbated the lack of Atsushi’s presence. Doubling over, Imai bit his lower lip and pressed his forehead against his knee, letting the tears soak into the robes that he still wore.
Closing his eyes, Imai could almost recall the feeling of Atsushi’s arms around him, the sound of his mellifluous voice soothing the ache in his heart. But he wasn’t here. Imai was alone. And it felt like this solitude was draining his life away.
Imai could almost see Atsushi’s teasing smile before him, almost hear Atsushi ribbing him for what he’d call an overreaction. The thought of it made Imai smile and cough out a laugh or two. But his mirth did not last and the pain of Atsushi’s absence assaulted him again, making his shoulders shake with renewed sobs.
“Atsushi… where are you?”
A couple of raps that sounded on the heavy door of the cabin were followed by the click and scrape of the door opening. Hide stuck his head through the opening and peered into the room. Imai sat on the bed, staring out the porthole as he leaned against the wall. He didn’t seem to have reacted to the door opening. Deciding to give it a shot anyway, Hide asked, “May I?”
There was no response from Imai, not even a twitch. Frankly, he looked like a mannequin to Hide. It was almost unreal how still Imai was. Did Imai even realise that Hide was here? Clearing his throat noisily, Hide made every effort to announce his presence as he stepped into the room. In his enthusiasm, Hide swung the door a little too vigorously and it closed shut with a slam. He winced, shrugging his shoulders with a jerk.
Hide slowly turned towards Imai, worried that he might have incited Imai’s rage but no, Imai’s posture didn’t change. He continued to watch the water, acting as if Hide was not even there. The only thing that moved was the chicken. While it was previously nestled against Imai, as if asleep, it was now definitely awake. It seemed to be giving Hide some kind of dirty look as it walked to the edge of the bed and hopped off, batting its wings.
No wonder Araki preferred to keep his distance from it.
“I got wine,” Hide said, shaking the bottle he held in his hand as he approached the bed.
“I don’t drink,” Imai said flatly. Well, at least he finally moved, even if it was barely an inch.
“Araki said he spotted a crate of empty rum bottles in the house,” Hide mentioned. Cautiously, he sat down on the edge of the bed, testing the waters to see how receptive Imai was going to be.
“I don’t want to hear anything about that man,” Imai said, his tone growing hostile for a moment. He seemed to mellow down though, as he added, “It was mostly drunk by Atsushi anyway.”
“You do drink a little then,” Hide concluded, popping the cork off the bottle. Tipping the burgundy liquid into his mouth, Hide took a drink and offered the bottle to Imai. “Drink,” he said. “You’ll feel better.”
Looking at the bottle out if the corner of his eye, Imai stared at it for awhile and eventually took it from Hide. Bringing it to his lips, Imai tilted his head back as he drank, taking three big gulps before handing the bottle back to Hide.
“Didn’t you say that you don’t drink?” Hide chuckled, taking the bottle back. Imai went back to ignoring him, a new frown on his face as he lost himself in his thoughts.
Hide now noticed that Imai’s eyes were red and puffy. He wouldn’t have thought that Imai had been crying. Araki seriously fucked this one up. Hide sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. He couldn’t let things lie as they did though.
“So… I made Araki tell me what happened,” Hide said, trying to draw Imai into a conversation. Despite that this really wasn’t his forte.
“Which version?” Imai asked in a monotonous voice.
Hide chuckled in a bid to lighten the mood. “Well, he said you were attacked by things in the water or something. That they almost pulled him into the water with them but your companion… Atsushi, was it? He pulled him back into the boat. Araki said he was lucky that he was there.”
Imai scoffed. “His actions say differently.”
“You know he only meant well,” Hide said.
“If you’re here to defend him, you can leave.”
“I’m not saying that he did and said was right,” Hide sighed, ruffling his hair with a hand. Why’d he have to be the one who has to deal with this? “All I’m saying is that I see where he’s coming from, even if I don’t agree with it.”
This time, Imai merely grunted before going silent. Hoping that Imai would say something more, Hide remained silent, taking a drink from the bottle as he waited.
“Did he say what happened to Atsushi?” Imai finally asked, reluctance apparent in his tone and body language.
“Ah, you mean, after you fell asleep?” Hide asked, looking over at Imai. “According to Araki, he said a few things to him, not that he remembered the exact words, but it was something about rowing as fast as possible once he enters the water.”
At that, Imai’s face contorted in anguish. It was only then that Hide noticed that he held something, probably a ring box, in his white-knuckled fist.
“Araki said he felt like he was in a daze. He was really ashamed of that, you know. He said he should’ve reacted better he had,” Hide went on.
“And after that?” Imai asked, his voice cracking.
Hide sighed. Telling Imai about this seemed to hurt him but since he asked… “After that, your Atsushi took rope from your chest and tethered the Envoy’s boat to the one you all were in. Araki said that while he was in the Envoy’s boat, he kind of manhandled the Envoy and said a few things to him as well.”
Imai barked a laugh but quickly grew sullen again. “How’d the Envoy take it?”
“You know, he seems rather… I don’t know, he doesn’t seem like his usual self. Oddly quiet.”
“I don’t suppose you know what he did?” Hide asked.
“If my hunch is right... He probably commanded the Envoy to do something,” Imai mused. He simply looked tired now.
“And what might that be?”
Imai shrugged but he didn’t say more.
“Anyway,” Hide continued. “Atsushi took the oars from the Envoy’s boat and gave one to Araki, so he’d have two to row with, I suppose.”
“There’s still one extra oar,” Imai noted.
“Well Atsushi apparently broke that one and took it with him as he leapt into the water,” Hide said.
Imai shut his eyes, frowning as his jaw tensed. He looked like he wanted to say something else but all he muttered was, “And he never came back.”
“… It seems that way,” Hide said, looking down at his feet. “You don’t suppose he’s…?”
A heavy sigh came from Imai. Putting a hand to his forehead, Imai held his hair back and propped his elbow against the porthole window sill. “I hope not.”
Silence grew between them, filling the space that unspoken words left. Both men felt a certain aversion to saying more on that topic, as if putting their thoughts to words would magically turn them into reality.
Hide took another sip from the bottle and held it in Imai’s direction again. “Want more?”
Imai shook his head. “I haven’t eaten anyway.”
“Shit, I shouldn’t have come in with this then,” Hide muttered to himself. Spotting a smirk appear on Imai’s face for a split second, relief flooded Hide. At least Imai’s mood seemed to have improved a little. “Anyway, Araki wanted me to apologise to you for him but I told him he should do it himself.”
Imai grunted, his expression immediately growing dark.
“You’ve known each other for so many years now, don’t throw it all away just like that,” Hide went on. “Next to your family, he was the most exhilarated one to see that message in a bottle.”
Imai stopped responding as he remained silent, going back to staring out the porthole with a stony expression.
“I’ll come back with a wash basin and stuff for you anyway,” Hide said, getting up. “You’d probably want to clean up before we dock. I’m sure a welcoming party will be waiting for you.”
At this point, Imai had stopped reacting to Hide. He had that faraway look in his eye again as he stared at some unknown point outside the porthole.
Shrugging to himself, Hide turned and headed out the door. He had done all he could to mediate. Now the rest was up to Araki and how he handles things going forward.
As the door clicked shut behind Hide, Imai finally let himself lie down. Drinking that much in one go on an empty stomach was a bad idea. It did, however, seem to make things feel a little less vivid though. Perhaps even numb the pain a little.
Closing his eyes again, Imai watched the events from the previous night replay in the faux darkness, feeling his own heart twist on itself again when he recalled Atsushi’s pained expression as he began speaking in that compelling voice. He couldn’t imagine what Atsushi must’ve been thinking or feeling as he went about doing whatever Hide related to him.
Imai grabbed the pillow from under him and pressed it against his face as he sucked in sharply and released another shuddering breath again. And here he thought his tears had finally run dry.
Imai stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. His long hair was gone, cropped short with fringe still long enough to flop over his eyes regardless of how often he pushes it back. Raking his fingers through his hair again, Imai sighed. The long hair was honestly more manageable in that regard. The hair was simply a distraction though.
Continuing his self inspection, Imai squinted at his face. At a glance, he looked almost the same as when he last left home. Almost. His skin was still sun-kissed, but the tan was fading after three weeks back. The biggest change to him, though, was how he seemed to have aged more than the eight months he had been missing for. Perhaps it was the weathering by the sun and the seas, perhaps it was the stress of everything he had been through.
Imai rubbed a hand over his clean shaven chin as a muscle in his cheek twitched. Despite what he thought, the visitors, his friends, his parents’ friends, his distant relatives, even the neighbours, every one of them who came by, be it out of curiosity or concern, all commented on how Imai still looked the same, said that he hasn’t changed. It unnerved him.
In the bustle that followed Imai’s return, between the trips to the prosecutor’s office, the intrusions by meddlesome news reporters, visitations by well wishers, and his own family’s fussing, Imai barely had time to spare for himself, much less his own thoughts. He had often thought of running off, back out to sea to look for Atsushi, or maybe even join him, but testament to how busy things were after he came back, every possible opportunity was taken away by the occurrence of some new happening or utter fatigue.
With the sheer contrast in how his time was spent these days, Imai’s time on the island with Atsushi never felt further way, and more like a dream than now. The only proof that he had of Atsushi’s existence were the scant scribblings by Atsushi in his journal, the lidless music box, and that smaller box…
The two gold rings that hung by a silver chain around Imai’s neck clinked, reminding him of their presence. Attention drawn to them, Imai squeezed his eyes as he felt that familiar ache in his chest. Holding the rings between his index finger and thumb, he thought back to the night when he opened the small box that Atsushi retrieved from the cave, and the moment when these two rings fell out. Imai’s jaw tightened as he felt his breath hitch in his throat.
Banging rattled the bathroom door on its hinges, snapping Imai out of his thoughts. Muffled screaming came from outside. “Brooooo, hurry up!”
Imai rubbed his face in his hands and groaned. The non-existent privacy was another reason to regret coming back.
The banging started up again. “C’mon, what’s taking you so long!?” his younger brother whined.
Buttoning his shirt back up, Imai ran a hand through his hair again, sighing as the fringe flopped back down. When the banging started up for the third time, Imai swung the door open and scowled at his sibling, catching him by surprise.
“What took you so long?! I swear you take longer than a girl!” his brother complained as he barged into the bathroom. “Get out! I needa pee!”
“I’ve seen you pee a million times, what does it matter,” Imai grumbled as his brother pushed him out the door. “Just say that you want to jerk off-”
“Shut up!” His brother slammed the door shut.
“So much for ‘I’m so happy you’re home, this is the best day of my life’,” Imai muttered to himself, mocking his brother as he shuffled back to his room.
Closing the door behind him, Imai scanned his room, as he always did ever since he came back. It was eerie how everything was left as it was, as if he had never been away. It just amplified the illusion that he had never been a castaway at all.
Light tinkling made him look towards the source. The old wind chimes from his younger days that hung over his window facing the port. Imai smiled to himself. Atsushi would’ve liked them. Speaking of which… Imai turned to his desk and frowned as he picked up Atsushi’s musical box. The box had, for some strange reason, stopped working about a week ago. Maybe it rusted up or maybe something was wrong with the mechanism on the inside. Whatever it was, the craftsmen he had brought it to couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it. Imai tried cranking the handle once more, but, as expected, it was stuck. Putting a hand on his hip, Imai clicked his tongue. Atsushi would be rather upset about this.
“Come eat!” A high pitched voice rang out throughout the house, announcing breakfast. “Come eat! Come eat! Come eat!” Light slapping sounded on Imai’s door. He sighed. Finding a moment for himself in this house is quite the challenge. Opening the door, Imai looked down at his three-year-old niece grinning up at him with Bonnie at her side. “Come eat!” she repeated.
Taking her hand with a quiet smile, Imai left his room and headed downstairs, into the dining area with his niece and Bonnie in tow. It was a good thing she grew attached to Bonnie right off the bat. The rest of his family weren’t too receptive to keeping a chicken as a pet after all. They still wouldn’t let Bonnie stay in the sleeping quarters upstairs though. That’s another thing that was bound to irk Atsushi.
Imai picked his niece up and sat her down in her high chair. Pulling out the chair two spaces away, Imai took his seat and started eating, greeting the rest of his family members as they came together at the table.
Listening to the growing commotion as he ate, Imai rested his head in the palm of his hand, half to hold his fringe out of his face, half out of fatigue. He could feel the furrow between his brows. It was almost like a constant now. He was probably going to develop a permanent line between his brows at this rate.
“Don’t sulk at the dining table,” his mother chastised when she spotted Imai’s frown.
That only deepened the frown. Imai merely grunted in response as he poked at the food before him. Imai had boasted to Atsushi that his mother’s cooking was great but, for some reason, he just couldn’t bring himself to eat on most occasions.
“Respect your mother,” his father grumbled from the other end of the table.
Imai’s frown intensified, if that was even possible. “I’m not…” He simply sighed instead of finishing his sentence. Whatever he was going to say didn’t matter. He already knew where this was leading to.
“You’re always spoiling the mood during meal times with your moaning and sighing. Shouldn’t you be glad that you’re back home safe and sound?”
There it was.
Taking in a deep breath, Imai leaned back in his seat, breathing out slowly with his eyes closed. Chewing on the inside of his cheek, Imai slowly stood up and left the table.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“Out,” Imai replied, walking to the front door.
“Alone? What did we say about you going out on your own?”
“I’m taking Bonnie with me.” She was already loitering around at Imai’s feet, waiting for him to be done with putting on his boots.
“The chicken does not count!”
Picking up Bonnie in his arms, Imai stepped out of the house and shut the door behind him. Things have been like this ever since the dust settled. The Envoy has been dealt with, everyone has run out of things to keep them occupied with, and the brief novelty of Imai’s return has faded. All that was left was his parents’ overwhelming desire to keep Imai around, whether he liked it or not.
Living close to the city centre meant that the place was always busy, a far cry from Imai’s quiet days on the island with Atsushi. In all honesty, this would’ve been rough for Atsushi. Would he really have been able to adjust to this?
Bonnie started moving restlessly, her wings twitching as she wriggled. Imai put her down on the ground and she walked a few steps forward, stretching her wings to their full span before turning back around and sticking close to Imai’s legs under the traditional robe that he wore over his shirt and trousers. Some days, Imai wondered if Bonnie was in fact a dog or a cat trapped in a chicken’s body instead of an actual chicken.
Keeping an eye on Bonnie as he walked, Imai swept his robe to the front, swishing them like a cloak to guide Bonnie. Ever since his return, Imai couldn’t kick the habit of wearing those robes. It could be that it provided a sense of comfort to him, something to hold on to from his time away, but it did have the added benefit of concealing the brand on his wrist from prying eyes. Even without his outer robe, the brand was already covered under a black wrap around his forearm. That drew curious eyes though, not that he wanted the attention.
As Imai wandered aimlessly around the city, Bonnie went around pecking at food scraps that passers-by dropped, both accidentally and purposely. Imai let his lips twitch into a brief smirk. At least Bonnie seemed to be enjoying her time here.
Inevitably, Imai came to find himself at the market square which was packed with people, buyers, browsers, traders alike. Feeling repulsed by the crowd Imai intended to move away from the square but when he looked down, looking for Bonnie, she was nowhere to be found.
“Well, shit,” he swore. If she got picked up by a poultry seller, that’s the end of the road for her. Quickly scanning his surroundings, Imai searched for any sight of Bonnie, frantic despite his calm exterior. Spotting a flash of brown heading into the tentage, Imai ran after it, yelling, “Bonnie, get back here, you shit!”
Startled shoppers turned towards Imai and stepped out of the way as he barrelling towards them. Swerving between still and moving bodies, Imai struggled to keep Bonnie in his field of view as he tried to catch up. It shouldn’t be that hard for Imai to catch Bonnie but her size was an advantage while his was a hindrance in this crowd.
“Bonnie! Get back here!” Imai yelled again, running deeper and deeper into the complex after the chicken.
Seeing her leap onto a low table, Imai’s eyes brightened, spotting his chance. Pouncing forward, Imai successfully swiped Bonnie off the table. “You dumb bird! Bold of you to run off like that! Don’t you understand you’re food!? What if you end up as someone’s dinner?! How am I supposed to explain that to Atsushi!?” he vented as he held Bonnie aloft in his hands.
Bonnie stared back at Imai and after a second, she turned her head away. Imai glared at her. A stink eye and a scoff? From a chicken?
A chuckle came out of nowhere to Imai’s right. “That’s a clever bird you have there,” said a man, supposedly the owner of the stall Imai and Bonnie were standing in front of.
Giving the skinny man a once over, Imai’s expression turned sceptical. “More like troublesome,” he remarked.
“Wanna relieve yourself of that trouble?” the man smirked. “I could take her off your hands.”
“Not for sale,” Imai said flatly, tucking Bonnie under his arm.
“I thought so,” the man chuckled again. “You seem quite attached to it after all. What’s your name?”
Imai remained silent as he stared at the man, trying to figure out what this was about. “Imai.”
Recognition lit up in the man’s eyes. “Ah, the talk of the town himself. Eldest son of the family, am I right?”
“You know, they were saying that perhaps you came back a little touched in the head,” the man chuckled, leaning his hip against the edge of his store table. “What with the strange sense of dressing you have there,” he nonchalantly gestured his hand up and down Imai, “and a pet chicken to boot. Don’t you eat chicken?”
“Not this one.”
“I mean, yeah, it’s a pet after all,” the man nodded with understanding. “Anyway, call me Maki.” He stretched out a hand to Imai.
“Right.” Imai reluctantly shook his hand. “So… what do you want from me?”
“Buy something?” Maki waved a hand over his wares, stacks and stacks of boxes, with a sheepish grin. “It’s hard to make a living when no one ever comes by here.”
Imai frowned. “Boxes?”
“Not mere boxes-”
“Don’t tell me,” Imai cut in. “Musical boxes?”
“Oh-ho? How’d you guess?” Maki asked, thoroughly amused.
Imai coughed a laugh, glancing down at Bonnie. “I guess you led me here for a reason, huh, Bonnie?”
“Did you happen to be looking for them?”
“There’s one I need fixed,” Imai said. “Can you do that?”
“Ah… I might be able to but…” Maki looked crestfallen. “I thought I’d finally get a sale.”
“I’ll pay you however much you want if you can get it done,” Imai offered.
“Huh? Why would you do that for these cheap trinkets?” Maki blurted, before covering his mouth with a hand, eyes wide with the gravity of what he just said.
Imai pressed his lips thin. “I don’t think that’s how you’re supposed to promote your wares.”
“Yeah,” Maki agreed in a small voice, staring at the floor with the same wide-eyed expression.
“Don’t worry, I’ll buy your cheap shit too,” Imai sighed. “As long as you manage to fix mine.”
“I guess I’ll have to give it a shot then,” Maki said, nodding to himself.
Imai barged through the front door and sprinted up the stairs to his bedroom.
“Where have you been!?” his father yelled from the living area.
“Market square!” Imai shouted back, ignoring his wrath as he went into his room.
Quickly stuffing notes and the broken music box into his pouch, Imai made haste as he fastened it to his belt. That Maki made him leave Bonnie behind as collateral and that did not make him feel comfortable at all.
Thundering back down the stairs, Imai saw his father waiting at the door, filling him with apprehension. Just then, his younger sister appeared with his niece in her arms. “I assume you’re going back to the market square?”
“… Yes, why?” Imai asked warily.
“Okay, good.” She made Imai carry her daughter. “Take her with you and entertain her, I need a break.”
“Uncle Hisashi, where’s Bonnie?” his niece asked.
“Playing in the market square,” Imai answered in a cheery voice as he approached the door. His father glared at him but said nothing, probably to avoid scaring his precious granddaughter with his rage. “Shall we go and join her?”
Imai glanced at his sister who nodded quickly and gestured at him to leave. Realisation hit Imai and as he turned away from his father to open the door, he flashed his sister a grateful smile and gave her a quick nod.
“See ya,” Imai bade as the door closed. Once it clicked shut, he briskly walked away from the house, chatting with his niece as he did.
Maki whistled in awe. “This is ancient,” he commented, turning the box around in his hands. “Well, not literally, but it’s definitely old.”
“Uh-huh.” Squatting down next to Maki, Imai watched him inspect the music box. His niece was occupied with playing with Bonnie nearby.
Frowning with a pout, Maki shone a tiny hand-held light into the interior as he tried to get a look at the mechanism. “This…”
“You know, all the other guys I’ve brought this to so far said they can’t fix it,” Imai muttered.
“That’s probably because they’ve never seen anything like this before,” Maki scoffed.
“And you have?”
“You see a lot when you grow up around these things,” Maki said vaguely. “Anyway…” He stood up and walked into the backroom. “Give me a few minutes.”
“Don’t break it,” Imai called after him as he sat down on the carpet, stretching his legs out to lounge.
Eyes still frowning intently at the music box, Maki waved a dismissive hand at Imai. “Can’t break it any more than it already is anyway,” he retorted as he slipped behind the curtains that separated the shop front from the back.
“True,” Imai muttered to himself.
Just as Imai began to zone out, he felt a tug on his sleeve. Turning, it was his niece. “Can we go to the beach?” she asked, looking up at him with pleading eyes.
“Huh?” Imai was caught off guard by her request. The beach was a little further out from the city centre, near the old beach house where his grandparents used to live in. It was a bit of a pain to get to but… “I… suppose we can… after this,” Imai said.
Exhilarated giggles erupted from his niece the moment Imai agreed to it. Amused, he asked, “Do you like the beach that much?”
She nodded. “But no one ever takes me,” his niece complained. Sitting down, she pulled a flustered Bonnie into a hug, burying her face in the feathers.
Imai simply smiled. “Try not to crush Bonnie, will you?”
“Done!” came an exclamation from the back. Imai turned sharply and found a triumphant Maki brandishing the music box. “Try,” he said, extending it to Imai.
Eying it with obvious scepticism, Imai took the music box from Maki and raised a cynical brow at him. “So quick?”
“Go on, try it,” Maki urged.
Hesitantly, Imai held the handle and exerted a bit of force. His brows shot up in surprise when it moved, making soft clicks as it wound up inside. Imai wasn’t going to be too optimistic about things until it actually worked though. Cranking it thrice, as usual, Imai held his breath as he let the handle go… and it played.
Hearing it again automatically made Imai smile. It also had the unwanted effect of causing a ball of emotion to well up in his throat. With a hand over his mouth, Imai chose to watch the fascination on his niece’s face as he controlled his breathing. There was no way in hell he was going to let himself go in public.
When the music stopped, Imai put it down and took a deep breath. “I… Thanks,” he muttered.
“That old thing clearly means a lot to you,” Maki observed. “Who does it belong to?”
Ignoring Maki’s question, Imai reached under his robes for the pouch at his waist. He held the pouch out in Maki’s direction without looking at him. “Take however much you want."
“Nah,” Maki waved him away. “It’s fine. I didn’t do much anyway.”
Imai glanced at Maki with narrowed eyes. “What did you do?”
“Trade secret,” Maki winked.
Imai peered at the musical box, sniffed, and looked back at Maki. “You only added lubricant, didn’t you?”
“ Trade secret ,” Maki insisted.
“Huh, I suppose the solution is sometimes simpler than it seems.”
“Assume what you want,” Maki scoffed indignantly.
“Hey, Hina,” Imai called his niece. “Go pick out a box you fancy.” Almost immediately, her face lit up and she started running around, opening boxes and listening to the music as she discussed with Bonnie. “Be careful with those things,” Imai reminded. “I can’t afford everything,” he added as he started browsing around himself.
“You seriously gonna buy something?” Maki asked in disbelief. Despite his doubt, Imai could hear the smile in Maki’s voice.
“I need to compensate you for fixing it somehow,” Imai said nonchalantly.
“These!” came an excited declaration from knee height.
Imai looked down and despaired. There were probably four… no, five boxes held in a jumble in his niece’s little arms. How did she even manage to hold so many? “I said a box, that’s one-”
Sensing Imai’s rejection, his niece started pouting and tearing up as she stared at him.
“Argh…” Imai buried his face in his hands, fighting the urge to swear in front of his niece. “ Fine , fine… Fine, just…” he waved his hands around, exasperated.
A wide grin on Maki’s face, he chuckled, clearly pleased with the result. “Thank you for your patronage.”
It’s been awhile since Imai heard the familiar sound of sand shifting underfoot and felt the sea breeze in his hair. The beach here was not like the from the one he grew used to living on though. It looked different and it felt different. It seemed colder too, but that might just be because of the colder months approaching.
Imai could hear his niece playing around in the sand a short distance away, along with Bonnie’s clucking as she was being chased by his niece. In all honesty, it felt like Bonnie was a better babysitter than Imai was. Though from the look of things, she definitely wasn’t too happy about it. He felt sorry for Bonnie, but the strangeness of how things turned out made Imai smirk despite his melancholy.
Looking at the sea always reminded Imai that Atsushi was still out there, left behind on his own again. And even though the sea has always been visible from his room, being at a beach made the gravity of it weigh even heavier on Imai’s shoulders.
Along with his outer robe, Imai took his boots off and set them aside in the sand, next to the bucket bag that Maki loaned him to put the musical boxes that his niece manipulated him into getting. Digging his feet into the sand, Imai felt a strange sense of satisfaction in the pit of his stomach as he bent over to roll his pants halfway up his shins. Standing at the edge of the water with his hands in his pockets, he let the ebbing waves wash over his feet and closed his eyes, focusing on the sound of the waves crashing onto the shore and pulling away, soothing his mind with the sounds and sensations.
“Hm, I barely recognised you, looking like this. Where’s Atsushi?” Imai’s eyes shot open and he turned sharply, searching for the source of the voice. Frankly, it wasn’t hard to find him. He was standing right next to Imai after all.
Frozen in shock by the man’s sudden appearance, Imai remained silent as he took a long look at the stranger who he last met on the island. He looked exactly the same as before, long hair neatly tied back, flowing black robes in that same dark iridescence, the complete opposite of Atsushi’s.
It took a moment for Imai to find his voice. “That’s my line,” he replied curtly.
The man frowned. “He’s not with you?”
Imai slowly shook his head stiffly. “Isn’t he with you?”
The man shook his head as well. This look of worry on his face was new. “I thought he left that dump with you. Weren’t you rather adamant about that?” he asked with a critical tone.
“Things didn’t… He almost did,” Imai muttered.
Imai sighed. He could feel the man’s intense stare on him, pressuring him. “Atsushi… He put me to sleep. And then… did his own thing…”
“Huh.” The man turned his gaze to the sea. “Powerless after all.”
Imai clicked his tongue in annoyance. “Don’t remind me,” he muttered. “Why are you asking me though? Can’t you just go look for him at the island-”
“There is no island.”
“What?” Imai’s mind went blank. He turned sharply to the man. “How- What do you mean by that? How can there be no-”
“It was swallowed by the sea.”
Imai found himself stunned into silence again, neither able to comprehend nor speak. Staring at each other without a word, only the sounds of his niece’s joyful play kept the silence from engulfing them. Looking into the man’s dark eyes, previously so full of mirth and guile, Imai could find no deceit in his eyes. All he found was sympathy.
“You’re pulling my leg now, aren’t you?” Imai mumbled as he looked away, mind still reeling from the news.
“I wish I were,” the man said in a quiet voice.
Letting the information sink into him, Imai gradually started to feel a certain sense of denial growing in him. “It can’t be…” he whispered to himself. Louder, Imai asked, “Atsushi is not…? Is he?”
“He’s… somewhere,” the man replied, albeit with hesitance. “Just… for once, I don’t know where.”
“But he’s fine? He’s alive?” Imai needed to know.
“I don’t know,” he whispered. The man was silent for a long while, as if giving Imai time to grapple with his thoughts. “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t want your apology!” Imai hissed through gritted teeth. “I want to know if Atsushi is…”
“Why haven’t you tried finding him then? Or going back?” questioned the man.
“I can't! I have no means of travel,” Imai rebutted. “And unlike you, I can’t swim that long a distance,” he added, kicking the water. “Can’t you go and investigate the area though?”
“Well… I can’t either,” the man confessed, looking slightly sheepish.
“That does not make sense.”
“The water’s too… warm, in this season,” he muttered. “I travel with the cold currents…”
Imai stared blankly at him. “But… you saw that the island was gone?”
“Yes,” the man nodded. “And I get the sense that Atsushi’s not dead but I don’t know what state he’s in. You get stories of turning into seafoam and what not.”
“The… seafoam thing is real?”
“Well, I’ve heard of it but…”
Imai’s face contorted into a grimace. So the island was gone and Atsushi is missing. And he was likely alive but could be as good dead? Unable to wrap his head around this, Imai stepped away and began to pace in the sand. He barely noticed his niece approaching the man until she spoke to him. “Who are you?”
In a panic, Imai darted towards her, picking her up and carrying her away from the man. “What did we say about talking to strangers?” he asked her, stressing his point.
“But Uncle Hisashi, you were talking to him.” When his niece called Imai by his name, he choked. “That means he’s your friend, right?” she went on to ask.
“So that’s your name, Hisashi,” the man purred.
“Sometimes, grown ups have no choice but to talk to certain people who aren’t friends,” Imai said to his niece, ignoring the man. “That doesn’t mean that they’re all good people though.”
“But, why?” his niece asked.
“One of those unpleasant things that adults have to do,” Imai said, hoping that it was enough to satisfy her curiosity. “Go play with Bonnie while I deal with him,” he said, putting her down.
Imai suddenly felt an arm around his shoulders. “Am I not a good person, Hisashi?” the man said into his ear.
Stepping away, Imai shook him off. “Good people don’t talk about eating other people for one,” Imai muttered, hoping that his niece wouldn’t hear him. “Leave her alone, you hear me?”
“I’ve had my fill before coming here,” the man said, dismissing the notion with a wave of his hand. “Besides, I’m more interested in eating the chicken-”
“Atsushi will kill you if you do that,” Imai said. “Then me, for letting you.”
The man chuckled, amused by the idea of it. His expression, however, turned sombre. “Is that why you’re keeping it? For Atsushi?”
Imai blinked, perplexed by the question. He hadn’t exactly thought about it. “I suppose I’m used to having her around… And it’ll upset him if anything happened to Bonnie.”
“What if he doesn’t come back?”
Imai didn’t know how to answer. He never even wanted to consider the possibility that it could happen. What would he do then?
Another fruitless week has passed. After hearing the news that the island Atsushi should be on had disappeared, Imai had expressed his wishes to head out to sea to his family. Needless to say, they did not react well to it. His parents have forbidden him from travelling on his own again, apparently. Considering the nature of their business though, Imai was knew that their decision would not hold in the long run. But now, time was of the essence and he couldn’t wait that long.
Sullenly stirring the stew in the large, family-sized pot, Imai continued to rack his brains for ways to leave and look for Atsushi. That has been the only thing on his mind for the past week, but he has yet to come up with anything. At the very least, Imai has found a way to solve the issue of his hair flopping into his face. He stole a clip from his sister’s stash and it was on his head most of the time now, holding his hair up. She initially did want him to return it but she refused to let him cut the offending hair off, so there the clip stayed, along with the hair. Scratching his chin, Imai sighed.
“Don’t go turning that into the pot of sighs,” his mother quipped from the kitchen table behind him. She was arranging the seaweed that Imai brought back from his beach visits on a drying tray.
Imai grunted, barely acknowledging her while immersed in his thoughts.
“Though it’s nice that you’re helping out with dinner these days,” she said. “You never did in the past.”
“It’s something to do,” Imai muttered, watching the bubbles well up and pop in the stew.
“And you got better at it too,” she commented.
“Out of necessity,” Imai said curtly.
“It’s not easy to cook for one though,” his mother continued.
“It was never just for me.”
“Oh? Weren’t you alone when you were stranded on the island?”
Imai dropped the ladle with a clatter. It suddenly occurred to him that he had never spoken much about what happened during those months to his family. Imai quickly checked if anything spilled, but thankfully, the ladle fell back into the pot without making a mess.
Going back to stirring, Imai finally answered, “Um… no. There was… another person.”
“Hm? And that person didn’t come back with you?” asked his mother nonchalantly.
“Supposed to,” Imai muttered reluctantly.
“Oh? Did something happen?”
“… Yes.” Imai’s voice grew smaller. “Complications arose.”
Before his mother could pry more, the doorbell rang, prompting her to leave the kitchen. Imai breathed a sigh of relief. He wasn’t sure how he should answer if she asked for more details. Imai was also pretty sure that if his parents knew his reason for heading back out to sea, they would likely confine him to travelling by land for all eternity.
Imai could hear cheerful greetings being exchanged by familiar voices that have been absent since his return. Well, peak fishing season has just come to an end after all. They were probably busy with trying to make the most of the last few weeks.
“And there he is!” That was the only warning Imai received before being pounced on by a smaller man.
“Careful now, Yuta! He’s at the stove!” A gruff voice chided. “Welcome back.” A hand smacked Imai on his back.
“Nice to see you Higuchi’s too,” Imai said, managing a smile despite his heavy heart. “How’s the season been, Toll, Yuta?” he asked, going through the motions with pleasantries.
“Not too bad,” Yuta said as he peered into Imai’s pot. “Is this dinner?”
“Yeah,” Imai answered.
“Though, I’d say last year’s catch was better,” Toll remarked, squinting an eye as he gave Imai’s question careful consideration. “Hopefully this downward trend ends soon.”
“As always, if you need help…” Imai trailed.
“Pah!” Toll waved Imai away. “Appreciated, but we’re doing well enough.”
“You, on the other hand, don’t look too well though,” Yuta observed.
Imai’s eyes slowly slid towards Yuta. “Huh?”
“Dinner’s ready!” Imai’s mother suddenly called out, summoning the rest of the family to the dining area. Popping into the kitchen, she asked, “Are Hidehiko and Araki going to join us?”
“No, I think they’ve got some other plans lined up,” Yuta replied, moving to the dining area with his older brother as Imai brought the stew out.
“Ah, what a pity,” Imai’s mother remarked. “It’s been so long since all five of you have been around together too.”
“Maybe we should all go on a fishing trip!” Yuta suggested. “The five of us.”
“Didn’t you just come back?” Imai noted, settling into his seat. “And the fishing season just ended, didn’t it?”
Yuta sat himself down next to Imai. “Well, we don’t mind being out at sea all that much. And the season’s only for those varieties that we catch for a living.”
“What do you intend to catch then?” Imai asked.
“We’ll see what comes up. There’s always fish in the sea after all,” Toll said. “It’ll be interesting, don’t you think?”
“Doesn’t matter what I think,” Imai muttered. “I’m not going anyway.”
Yuta turned sharply to Imai, who was munching on the seafood in the stew with indifference. “Why not? You’ve always been up for these trips.”
Imai had a far away look in his eye, and after a moment, he answered, “Don’t feel like it, I guess.”
“He can’t go anywhere anyway,” his brother cut in, having overheard the tail end of the conversation as he was coming over. “He’s been forbidden from going out to sea on his own,” he added, as if taunting Imai.
“Huh? But why?” Toll asked, confused.
“He won’t be alone though,” Yuta pointed out. “He’d be with the rest of us.”
“He looks like he needs the fresh air too,” Toll commented.
“And it’ll only be for a week, tops!” Yuta added.
“Go if you want,” Imai’s father said out of nowhere. He had settled into his seat without anyone one noticing him while they were talking. “You do look like you need some fresh air anyway.”
“No thanks,” Imai rebutted. Though he was surprised by his father’s agreeing to it.
The idea sounded nice but with Araki around, it was unlikely that Imai could get them to steer towards where the island once was. He really didn’t want to waste yet another week just like that anyway. Then again, he has been struggling with finding a way to leave land…
“Oh, come on,” Yuta groaned. “You know you want to!”
“Not really,” Imai muttered.
Yuta’s spoon clattered to the floor and Imai naturally bent over, intending to pick it up for him but Yuta got off his chair and crouched down too, catching Imai’s forearm as he reached for the spoon. Imai stared at Yuta with large eyes, shocked by the sudden grab.
With a hushed voice, Yuta said rapidly, “We heard about your mermaid wife or something from Hide so if you want us to help you with your search just fucking say you’ll come.” Yuta then let go and stood up with his spoon, cheerfully announcing, “Got it!” as Imai remained bent over and stunned.
Slowly straightening up, Imai was still working on letting Yuta’s words sink in when his brother asked, “What’s with that weird look on your face?”
“Huh?” Imai blinked. “The… rush of blood to my head, I guess,” he muttered,
“Maybe you really should go on this trip,” his mother commented, sounding concerned for his state of being. “Being outside would do your body good.”
From his peripheral vision, Imai could see Yuta nodding vigorously next to him as Toll asked, “So, what do you say? Wanna come along?”
Imai glanced at his parents, then at his brother, and finally the Higuchi brothers. He looked back at the stew in his bowl, contemplating. This was his chance, wasn’t it?
Making up his mind, Imai asked, “When do we leave?”
When Yuta first mentioned the fishing trip, Imai did not expect them to leave for the sea on the immediate next day. The good thing was that he did not need to bring much with him. After all, the Higuchi brothers had all the gear they could ever need.
Briskly making his way down to the docks, Imai quickly approached the familiar fishing boat. He could see that the brothers were, of course, already there. Hide and Araki were there too. At the sight of Araki, Imai’s nervous excitement died down a little. He hasn’t seen Araki since the last time they fought and honestly, he wasn’t looking forward to being in an enclosed space with him again.
As Imai crossed the gangway from the dock to the boat, Yuta clapped his hands together and announced, “Our bait is finally here!”
Imai froze. “Bait?”
“Well, without you, I’m a hundred percent sure that we won’t be catching our whopper at all,” Yuta shrugged.
“Whopper?” Imai asked, suddenly doubtful. “Do you really know what we’re looking for?”
“Your wife,” Yuta answered, snapping his fingers and winking at Imai.
“Give me your bag,” Hide said, approaching Imai. “They really weren’t kidding when they said you looked like shit, huh.”
Handing his bag over, Imai clicked his tongue, offended. He followed Hide into the boat and as he passed Araki, he asked, “And why are you here?”
“Because I’m the best navigator among us,” Araki replied flatly, looking Imai straight in the eye. “And because I want to.”
Glaring at him with narrowed eyes, Imai huffed and went down the stairs.
“Don’t be like this,” Hide urged. “He’s the one who led us to you in the first place. There’s no better person to rely on for this than him.”
Imai merely grunted in response. Aside from his scepticism regarding Araki’s motives, Imai didn’t really have much to say. It’s not like Hide would want to hear anything about that anyway.
“As usual, the brothers bunk together. And this time I’ll bunk with Araki, since you guys haven’t seemed to have resolved anything,” Hide said, sounding slightly sarcastic as he gestured around. “So, lucky you. You get to bunk on your own.”
Opening the door to the final cramped cabin, Hide deposited Imai’s bag on the floor. Without bothering to step in, Imai closed the door. “Lucky me, I guess,” he muttered.
“Not going in at all?” Hide asked.
“There’s no rush, is there?” Imai said, looking over his shoulder as he headed for the stairs. “And if things persist as they are for me, I doubt I’d be sleeping much anyway.”
“Oh, you’ll definitely be sleeping, for sure,” Hide chuckled, following Imai back out as a bang and loud snaps came from the deck.
“How are you that sure?” Imai asked, steadying himself as the boat started moving off.
“All we have to drink is beer, after all,” Hide grinned.
Imai grimaced. “You’re all just trying to fuck me over, aren’t you,” he groaned.
“I suppose Hide told you about the beer?” Toll asked, calling out from the wheelhouse.
Looking up at him, Imai caught Toll’s smirk. “That was your idea, wasn’t it?”
“You’re gonna have the time of your life!” Yuta declared, slapping Imai on his back as he went to join his brother.
Oh, he was definitely having the time of his life alright. Imai was already slumped over on the large table in the wheelhouse by early evening. They had spent the better part of the day fishing for bait fish and their dinner, and during that entire time, they were drinking beer. Yet despite his restraint and the slight amount that he had drunk so far, Imai’s head was already spinning from the alcohol.
“I thought Araki said you drank rum while stranded,” Yuta commented from across the table, seated behind his brother who manned the wheel.
“It was shared…” Imai croaked, pressing his forehead into the heavy wooden desk.
“With that wife of yours?” Yuta asked. “Doesn’t that mean that she drinks a hell lot then?”
“Not 'she’…” Imai slowly pushed himself up. Holding his head in his hands, he mumbled, “You see… this is why I asked if you really knew what we were looking for.”
Yuta stared at Imai. “… It’s not an ‘it’, is it?”
That made Imai sit up. “How does that even work?!”
“I mean, if animals are up your alley-”
“No!” Imai moaned. “What the hell?”
Toll leaned back in his chair and laughed. “You know he’s just joking, right?”
“Seriously, just…” Imai groaned as Yuta began chuckling as well.
“Though, I’ve been meaning to ask,” Toll spoke. “What’s with the black cloth around your forearm?”
“Huh?” Imai looked at his right arm. “Oh, right. I can take this off now.”
“It’s just that brand that he refuses to remove,” Araki muttered. He was seated at the table as well, albeit turned slightly away.
“Brand?” Yuta asked.
“You know the one they put on criminals?” Hide said. “I told you, right? That the Envoy wrongfully branded him?”
“Oooh, you’re hardcore now,” Yuta teased, chuckling as Imai threw the ball of black cloth at him. “What are you wrapping it up for though?”
“Attracts the wrong attention in the city,” Imai muttered.
“Then why not remove it?” Yuta asked.
Imai held his right wrist in his left hand, brushing his thumb over the scarred skin as he looked at it with downcast eyes. “Because he likes it.”
“So it’s a ‘he’ we’re looking for,” Yuta confirmed, folding his arms as he nodded. “Not a mermaid but a mer… um…”
“Merman? I think?” Hide piped up. He rubbed the stubble on his chin. “You typically hear about mermaids in stories but not so much of the male versions, right?”
“I suppose that’s because most seafaring persons are male,” Araki mused as he drank his beer. “And typical male fantasies involve women.”
“You’re making it sound like I willed him into existence by sheer power of imagination or something,” Imai muttered, resting his head on the table again.
“I’d be worried for your state of mind if that were true,” Araki chuckled. “Too bad he’s as real as that chicken of yours.”
Imai slammed his palm on the table, sitting up again. “I forgot to bring Bonnie!”
“Well, too late to go back now,” Toll shrugged. “What’s with the chicken though?”
“Ah, it’s… his, as well,” Imai mumbled, a frown on his brow. “If I brought her we’d have eggs to eat too…”
“Damn you for forgetting then,” Araki groaned. “Now you’ve condemned us to eating fresh seafood and only fresh seafood for a whole week.”
“Starve if you want,” Imai retorted. “No one’s stopping you.”
“I knew you’d say that,” Araki muttered, drinking his beer again.
Imai sighed and curled his arms around his head, enclosing himself in darkness. The rocking of the boat by the waves was making his head hurt again.
“Say, you’ve never really told us the full story of what happened to you during those eight months, have you?” Yuta suddenly asked.
“Ugh… Give me five minutes…” Imai groaned. “My head…”
“Sure you don’t want to lie down instead?” Hide asked.
Slowly shaking his head, Imai silently declining the suggestion. He held up five fingers, gesturing for five minutes before putting them down again.
“And then there’s the story about how you got picked up,” Yuta went on.
Pointing in Araki’s direction, Imai slurred, “Ask him. He knows more.”
“Huh?” Imai could hear Yuta’s confusion. “Weren’t you there too?”
“It’s a bit complicated…” Araki began.
Imai’s brain barely registered anything else that Araki said before it began shutting down. As Imai felt his consciousness getting overwhelmed by drowsiness, his friends’ conversation simply turned into background noise for his dreamless sleep. He had to admit, though, that it felt good being in familiar company like that again. It really has been too long after all.
Imai woke up on the third morning, no, afternoon, at sea to exasperated yelling. He frowned and turned in his bed, burying his face in the sheets in a bid to block out the glaring afternoon sun. The trip has been enjoyable, probably the most fun he’s had since re-entering civilisation, but having nothing but beer to drink…
“I. Don’t. Know! This should be the right place but I don’t…” Araki’s voice trailed off as he went past Imai’s cabin.
“Have you had too much beer or something?” Yuta’s voice passed by as well.
Imai groaned. He wasn’t going to fall back asleep at this rate. Pushing himself up, he found his pillow next to the bed on the floor. He’d never understand how or why the pillow ends up there when he wakes up. Reaching down, Imai pulled the pillow back up onto the bed and dropped his head into the fluffy cushion. Relaxing with a low sigh, Imai felt his mind going quiet again when boots stomped past his door, waking him up again.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Imai groaned, rolling out of bed with a grunt. Running a hand through his hair, Imai scratched the back of his head as he put on his sandals and shuffled out. It was only when he stood up that he realised that the boat seemed to be anchored to the spot.
When he opened his door, Hide paced past. “Oh, you’re up,” he remarked, going up to the deck without even looking at Imai.
Imai made a vague noise in response, squinting as his eyes followed Hide upstairs. Deciding to take his time, Imai stopped by the bathroom and washed up first. That would help to wake him up a little more. It took awhile, but Imai finally showed up in the wheelhouse, wet hair slicked back despite his bleary expression. Yuta handed him a plate with grilled squid and fish.
“Huh, thanks,” Imai muttered, sitting down at the table.
Araki looked exasperated, scratching his head and making annoyed sounds as he kept scribbling on a piece of paper while referencing the map. “It can’t be…” he muttered, stepping away from the table to scan the horizon.
“How long has he been like this?” Imai asked Yuta.
“The whole morning, actually,” Yuta replied, munching on his own squid. “We might be lost.”
“Why would you say that?” Imai asked.
“‘Why’?” Araki echoed, agitated. “You’re asking ‘why’?”
“Yeah, why?” Imai repeated.
“We’re supposed to be able to see the island by now!” Araki exclaimed. “But there’s nothing! Nothing at all!” He gestured wildly at the sea.
“He just doesn’t want you to think that he’s working against you or something,” Hide commented.
Imai’s eyes went vacant for a moment. “Ah, I think I’ve never mentioned this…”
“Mentioned what?” Araki spun around.
“I was told that the island sank,” Imai said.
There was silence.
“So… there’s no island?” Toll asked.
“I… suppose not,” Imai answered.
“How did you know?” Hide asked.
“Uh… An acquaintance came by and told me,” Imai muttered. “I was kind of hoping he was joking but I guess I forgot about it.”
“Acquaintance?” Yuta raised a brow. “Where from?”
“And you didn’t think of telling us about the lack of an island until now?” Araki questioned, folding his arms.
“Sounded too implausible to me at the time,” Imai shrugged.
“How are we supposed to know if we’re in the right place then?” Toll asked.
“Wait till night,” Imai said. “I’ll know when I look at the stars.”
“You sure?” Hide asked.
“And here I thought I’ve become so inebriated that I can’t function,” Araki huffed. “What are we supposed to do in the meantime?”
“Fish?” Imai suggested. “Swim?”
“You? Swim?” Araki retorted. “And in these waters?”
“I can swim,” Imai huffed.
“Since when?” Hide asked.
“Since… Well, I had to when I was stranded, alright?” Imai muttered. “Look, I’ll show you,” he said, getting up.
Araki cut into Imai’s path. “But those things in the water!” he hissed.
“It’s fine as long as the sky’s clear,” Imai said, pointing up at the blue sky as he went past Araki and onto the deck. “The fishing lines are set up at the back, right?”
“Yeah,” Toll confirmed. “Be careful if you’re going around in that direction.”
Imai nodded, pulling his shirt off. Turning around, he found his friends all watching him. “Why’re you all staring at me?”
“On standby,” Araki said. “In case you can’t swim.”
Imai clicked his tongue and rolled his eyes. “Have a little faith, won’t you?”
Ignoring the tense atmosphere on the boat, Imai climbed over the edge and leapt into the water, entering the seemingly endless depths with a splash. Feeling the cool water against his skin again made Imai smile. He never would’ve thought that there would be a day when he’d be happy to be in the water again.
Making a turn underwater, Imai swam back up to the surface, popping out of the water to face the boat. “Here, look,” Imai called, a smirk on his face. “I’m fine, aren’t I?”
“More than fine from the looks of it,” Toll chuckled. “Haven’t seen that smirk on your face until now.”
“Hah, really now?” Imai remarked. Without waiting for another response, he dove back underwater to see if he could find any familiar landmarks. From what Imai remembered, the sea in this area should not be too deep, but considering that the island suddenly sank…
Kicking at a steady pace, Imai dove deeper, squinting his eyes to try and perhaps spot a faint outline of what could once have been the island. With all the trees and foliage and dwellings, surely there should be something? Then again, Imai really didn’t know how long everything has been submerged for. It could all be unrecognisable or gone by now.
Suddenly feeling his lungs start to strain, Imai let himself resurface for air. Breaking the surface, Imai spun around and found himself quite a distance from the boat. He raised his brows in surprise. Had he really swum out that far?
The guys waved at him from the boat, seemingly relieved that Imai reappeared. “Don’t do that again!” He could hear one of them yelling at him, probably Araki. Imai laughed and flipped onto his back, floating on the water. He could afford to relax a bit before heading back.
“Get back here!” came another call. This time, it sounded like Yuta. Imai languidly raised an arm and waved back at them.
“There’s something on your line! Get back here and reel it in!” Now it’s Toll.
“Can’t you guys reel it in for me?!” Imai shouted back.
“It’s a big one!” Toll yelled back.
Imai’s interest was finally piqued. Righting himself, he saw that only Toll was left on this side of the boat, beckoning to him while the rest have run off, presumably to keep the fish on the line.
Leaning forward, Imai was about to start swimming back when he felt something brush past his legs. Atsushi? Imai immediately dove underwater again, frantically turning around in every direction in a bid to catch what touched him. But nothing stood out. Out of desperation, Imai screamed for Atsushi underwater. But nothing changed.
Resurfacing, Imai panted as he felt the warm tears on his cheeks mixing with the sea. His chest felt constricted by the renewed pain, hindering his breathing as he lay on his back again. Concealing his soundless anguish under one hand, Imai slapped the water with the other in vexation, crushed by the hollow in his chest that threatened to swallow him whole again after weeks of numbness. Barely registering the sounds of excitement from the boat, Imai simply floated as he let the waves slowly push him towards the vessel. Why wasn’t Atsushi coming back?
By the time Imai reached the boat, he had managed to compose himself enough to head straight for the reel and take over from Hide. Imai staggered from the weight on the rod. He wasn’t expecting that. They really weren’t joking when they said it was a big one. Unfortunately for Imai, the fish on the other end of the line was still full of fight, and it took him another hour before Toll finally managed to harpoon it and land it.
“It’s a whopper!” Yuta cheered as he helped to pull the fish, a five foot tuna, onto the boat.
Exhausted, Imai could only laugh as he fell backwards and sat down on the deck. “Not the whopper I’m looking for though.” It was a good thing that this tuna came up when it did. It helped to distract his mind from Atsushi.
“It’s bigger than you, Yuta!” Toll laughed, holding the fish upright.
“I’ll leave the gutting and cutting to you guys,” Imai said, slowly getting up from the floor. “I need a wash.”
Shuffling away, Imai left them to their fawning over the fish while he descended into the boat to clean the sweat and saltwater off his skin. Imai didn’t take long. He didn’t want to dwell either. Being alone wasn’t good for the state he was in now.
When Imai eventually went back up, feeling cleaner but no less sore, the sun has almost completely set and the stars were beginning to appear. Staring up at the fiery orange sky turning indigo, Imai paused for a moment, appreciating the view as he took note of the positions of the stars.
The smell of grilled fish suddenly hit his nose, snapping Imai out of his reverie. He looked towards the wheelhouse where they normally dined, but it was empty. Finding it odd, Imai followed the smell and headed to the stern where the guys have set up a table and started grilling the fish.
“We just started cooking,” Yuta informed, handing a bottle of beer to Imai.
“You know, I think that tuna’s just too much for us to finish on our own,” Araki commented. He was lounging on a chair, gazing at the sea.
“See, that’s why I brought all this salt,” Toll said, crouched in a corner as he dumped the white grains on a slab of tuna. “Can’t eat it as it is after I do this though.”
“There’s more than enough for normal consumption anyway,” Hide muttered as he seared a piece of the fish on the grill. Pointing to another slab of meat on the side, he said, “Look. Just look at that.”
“My sincere apologies for hooking a big fish, then,” Imai said, amused by how having too much to eat turned into a whole other dilemma. “Do you need me to do anything?”
“No, no,” Hide waved Imai away. “You caught the fish, we do the rest. Go sit with Araki.”
“Sure you won’t ruin the fish?” Imai asked, sceptical.
“Oh, come on. I’m not Araki,” Hide remarked.
“Oy!” Araki protested.
“There’s a reason why you’re sitting out,” Hide retorted.
Chuckling, Imai pulled out a chair and sat down next to Araki, likewise facing the sea. Stretching his legs out he groaned as he felt the soreness in his body. Letting out a huge sigh, Imai muttered, “I’m definitely going to feel like shit tomorrow.”
“First, you swam in the open sea, then, you fight an hour long battle with a tuna the size of Yuta,” Araki recounted. “I’ll be damned if you don’t feel it in your bones tomorrow.”
Imai groaned again and leaned back in his chair. “I’m not looking forward to that…”
“So? Found anything during your swim?” Araki asked.
“I did feel something brush against my legs when I was about to come back.”
Araki lost his relaxed posture as he turned to Imai, interested. “And?”
“What are you so excited for?” Imai questioned, raising a brow at him. Araki said nothing, simply nudging Imai on with his curious expression. Imai turned away, folding his arm across his waist as he drank from his bottle. “And nothing. I found nothing.”
“Oh…” Araki sounded disheartened.
“Maybe the water was too cloudy or something, couldn’t really make out anything,” Imai mused, nonchalant. He was too tired to dwell over it now. Glancing at Araki out of the corner of his eye, Imai asked, “Why so keen though? Aren’t you against this?”
“I’m not exactly…” Araki’s face scrunched up as he struggled to find his words. After a difficult looking moment, he gave up. “Gah, you’ll get it when you find your what’s-his-name.”
“Atsushi. It’s Atsushi,” Imai said, still watching Araki with a suspicious eye. “You’re being kind of weird about this.”
“I know ,” Araki whined. “I swear, you’ll get it when you find him.”
“Guys! Dinner’s ready!” Yuta called from behind, putting an end to the topic as Araki and Imai turned around to eat with the rest.
Sitting together, they chatted, they drank, and they ate as much tuna as they could until the sun completely set and the sky filled up with stars, but alas, there really was too much after all. With their bellies full and lethargy setting in, they fell silent, quietly observing the now foreign landscape that surrounded them. In the night, the sea was pitch black except for a sheen of silver by the light of the rising moon and the only other source of light in this darkness was their boat, illuminated by lamps hanging around.
“Any of this looks familiar to you?” Toll asked Imai, waving a hand over the scenery before them.
Imai stood up and stared at the sky, looking out for the familiar constellations. After a moment, he frowned and started moving from the stern to the bow with his eye trained on the sky.
“What’s wrong?” Araki piped up.
Ignoring him, Imai continued scrutinising the stars as he climbed up to the wheelhouse for a better vantage point. “It’s a bit strange…” he muttered.
“What is it?” Hide asked.
“We’re on the island, I think.” Imai turned to look out by the left side of the boat. “That direction should be where you approached from, Araki. That side, coming in to the bay, or rather where it once was.”
“Huh. If we’re on the exact spot where the X was marked on the map, then it makes sense that it feels a bit off,” Araki muttered.
“At least we’re in the right area,” Toll said, nodding to himself. “We can anchor here for another day or two. Hopefully your boyfriend turns up by then.”
Imai frowned at him. “My what ?”
“Did I get it wrong?” Toll asked, looking honestly confused. “What do I call him? Your friend? Brethren? Comrade?”
Imai stared at him, somewhat dumbfounded by his choice of words. “What kind of descriptors are those?”
Toll shrugged. “Just, of the top of my head, y’know?”
“I think you should go wash up or something,” Yuta suggested.
And so he did. One by one, the others eventually disappeared into the boat, preferring to stay indoors, away from the chilly night air, leaving Imai alone on the deck.
Quiet nights on the island typically filled Imai’s ears with the chirps from insects that masked the barely noticeable sounds of Atsushi’s soft breathing. Here, however, the boat’s intermittent creaking and groaning was the dominant sound, followed by the murmurings of the sea breeze and the quiet sloshing of water hitting against the sides of the boat.
The moon now hung in the middle of the sky, surrounded by the endless multitude of stars. Sipping from his bottle, still his first pint, Imai leaned against the railings of the boat, looking out towards the horizon. He found himself subconsciously searching the moonlit waters, looking for anything that stood out in the gloom. He knew that it was futile though. It was far too dark after all.
Imai sniffed, wrinkling his cold nose, and drank again, shaking the bottle afterwards. He was finally at the last few mouthfuls. With a sigh, Imai ran a hand through his hair which steadily grew longer as the days went by. His sister would probably be appalled by the mess that it has become. It was still far from reaching his shoulders though.
A sudden thought occurred to Imai. Could Atsushi recognise him with how he looked now? He probably cast a different silhouette with his current appearance. Imai groaned and rubbed his forehead with a hand. Is this why Atsushi was being skittish? If that was even Atsushi this afternoon…
A thump came from the other end of the boat. Imai turned sharply, eyes wide with surprise. What was that? With slow, careful steps, Imai made his way across the deck to investigate.
Then came a splash. Imai sprinted over, his sandals scratching the deck noisily as he rushed to the edge. “Atsushi?” he called. Leaning over the side, Imai turned his head left and right, scanning along the waters lit by the boat’s lamps for a glimpse of that familiar iridescence.
“Atsushi?” Imai tried calling again. “Come on, it’s just me,” he muttered, feeling dismayed. “It’s Hisashi. You know me.”
The waters remained undisturbed as time ticked by while Imai grew more and more woeful with each passing second. “Atsushi, come on… Where are you?” he mumbled glumly, his head sinking into his arms folded on the railing with his beer bottle hanging over the side by his fingertips.
Imai waited awhile more, listlessly swinging his bottle to and fro, occasionally knocking against the boat with it as he did. Zoning out, Imai’s hands relaxed a tad too much and the bottle suddenly slipped from his fingers, snapping Imai out of his daze as shock drove him to try and catch it before it fell into the water. But he didn’t have to.
Leaning halfway over the railing, Imai came face to face with a pensive Atsushi peering out of the water, holding Imai’s bottle in his hand raised above the water. Without a second thought, Imai leaned further out, reaching for Atsushi before he could slip away again. Before he could do anything more though, Atsushi pushed the bottle back into Imai’s hand as he cupped Imai’s cheek with his other hand and surged out of the water, locking lips with him. Imai barely had the chance to comprehend what was happening when he felt something yanking him backwards into the boat.
“Don’t lean out so far!” Hide chastised as Imai landed on the deck with his bottle in his hand.
“You almost fell into the water,” Hide said. “Couldn’t you tell?”
Without responding, Imai scrambled to his feet and looked over the railing again, hoping that Atsushi was there but, of course, he disappeared. Or did he just imagine it?
“Hello? Are you there?” Hide called, peering at Imai’s blank expression from the side. “Are you drunk?”
“I’m not- Actually, I don’t know,” Imai muttered, staring into the murky depths as he ran a hand through his hair.
“Looks like I got here just in time,” Hide remarked, frowning with concern as he observed Imai. “Your hair’s a little wet too.”
“Huh?” Imai glanced at Hide as he touched his hair. It was wet. So was his cheek. Atsushi really was here then. His eyes snapped back to the water in their immediate vicinity.
“You’re not thinking of swimming now , are you?” Hide asked, watching Imai warily. “You know it’s a bad idea to go swimming at night, right? You can’t see anyth-”
“Argh, I get it,” Imai grumbled, ruffling his hair in annoyance. “I get it, I get it. Tomorrow or something…” he muttered to himself.
“Good thing I decided to come up and check on you,” Hide said, folding his arms.
Imai turned to look wistfully at the sea again. Atsushi was right there . But…
There was a nudge on Imai’s back. “Come on, let’s go inside,” Hide coaxed. “I’m not leaving you out here on your own. Your parents will kill us if you disappear or something.”
Reluctantly, Imai let Hide led him away from the stern and down the stairs, where the rest of the guys were lounging in the small communal space below. With everyone still awake and a new bottle of beer introduced to his palm, it was impossible for Imai to find an opportunity to go back upstairs. After all, he was always the first one to get knocked out by the alcohol.
Imai sat up, groaning from the stiffness in his body as he rubbed his eyes with a bleary expression on his face. He was still seated on his chair at the communal area. There was no one else around though. It looks like he didn’t make it back to his bed this time. He yawned and stumbled around, making his way to the bathroom to wash his face.
When Imai eventually went up to the deck, Araki called to him. “Hey, Imai. D’you know how to make your mom’s stew?”
Imai rolled his neck as he turned towards Araki who was up in the wheelhouse. “Yes, but we’re missing ingredients,” he said, yawning again.
“Like what?” Araki asked. “Because Toll had the idea of using the salted tuna in it.”
“Uh…” Imai scratched his head. “See, the stew’s mostly made from shellfish and dried seaweed… I could get those if we find a spot shallow enough to dive from but honestly? I don’t feel like doing anything today,” he said, grimacing as he tried to stretch the sore muscles in his arms.
“We have the net on board,” Yuta pointed out, appearing from the stern. “We can just drag it along the seafloor for a bit and see what we get,” he suggested.
“That sounds a lot easier than diving for food,” Imai nodded.
“I’ll get big bro to help set things up,” Yuta said, climbing up into the wheelhouse.
With the brothers’ experience, it didn’t take long for them to get to net into the water. Right after that, Araki and Hide raised the anchor while Imai let the mast down, letting the wind decide on the boat’s direction.
It was, quite literally, smooth sailing. But it didn’t take long for them to hit some sort of a snag.
“Is it just me or are we slowing down?” Araki wondered.
Looking up at the sails, Toll muttered, “The wind speed doesn’t seem to have changed…”
“Do you think it’s because of the net?” Hide asked, peering towards the back of the boat where the net was attached to. “Maybe something big got caught in it.”
“ Oh no ,” Yuta grimaced. “Please don’t be another tuna. Please don’t be another tuna.”
“Well, there’s only one way to find out, isn’t there?” Imai said, raising the sails.
Taking his cue, Hide nodded and let the anchor drop, halting their movement. As the Higuchi brothers began hauling the net up, the others noticed that the catch seemed to be causing quite a bit of trouble.
Peering down past the railing, Araki suddenly exclaimed, “How big is this thing?!”
Hide and Imai rushed over, looking down at whatever they caught. At the sight if the opaline tail that thrashed in the net, a flash of recognition struck Imai and adrenaline surged through him.
“Should we spear it?” Hide asked.
“No!” Imai burst out. “Don’t you even think about it,” he warned, pulling his shirt off as his eyes fixated on the tail.
“I’ve never seen a fish that looks like that,” Yuta muttered, sparing a brief moment to look into the water.
“That’s not a fish,” Imai muttered, climbing up on the railing. Before anything else could be said, Imai was in the water.
Propelling himself towards the rainbow-hued tail, Imai tried to find an opening to reach through. The fact that the net was being pulled up did not make things easier. The struggling did not help either, everything was being pulled together far too tightly. Giving up on trying to free him, Imai went under the net, pushing upwards. It would probably be easier to untangle on the boat. The exertion made it difficult for Imai to stay underwater for long though.
Coming up for air, Imai saw that the net was almost completely out of the water now. The tail was disappearing as the sun rays and the sea breeze hit. Seeing this, a sight he knew well, brought a flood of elation to Imai. Yet at the same time, apprehension crept in the back of his mind as he thought of Atsushi’s unusual behaviour.
While Imai climbed back onto the boat, the rest have started working on untangling the net, curious and eager to see this being that got trapped by the net. The moment a big enough opening was made though, Atsushi immediately scrambled to his feet and made a run for the nearest railing, robes fluttering and eyes wide with panic as he darted out of their grasp.
“Atsushi!” Imai called, running after him. “Atsushi, wait!”
Imai’s calls seem to have fallen on deaf ears as Atsushi leapt over the railing, heading back into sea. Without hesitation, Imai too charged ahead, and as he dove in, Imai crashed into Atsushi’s back, wrapping his arms around him as they fell into the sea.
Hitting the water, Imai felt the impact as his position shifted. He now had Atsushi holding him, pushing him deeper underwater as he dove down. Imai’s heart rate was starting to go up. His body was reacting to the lack of air. Well, it made sense since he didn’t exactly get to take in a good breath of air before ending up here.
Time seemed to slow as Imai made eye contact with Atsushi. Though he was slightly out of focus, Imai could tell that Atsushi looked well, even if he didn’t seem to recognise him. When he brushed his fingers by Atsushi’s cheek, Atsushi looked stunned by the tender gesture, and doubt suddenly appeared in his eyes. Imai felt himself smile and his shoulders shook, as if chuckling, as he said, “Have you already forgotten about me?”
Imai was sure that no sound came out from his throat, but judging from the air bubbles that escaped and the look on Atsushi’s face, he definitely saw or hear something poignant to him. Imai felt his body jerk as water filled his lungs. The gold rings that hung around his neck suddenly appeared in his line of sight, reflecting the filtered sunlight off their smooth surfaces.
Atsushi’s face came closer and Imai felt hands smoothing over his face, brushing his hair away. The look of disbelief on Atsushi’s face made Imai laugh. Why he found it amusing, he really didn’t know but that combined with the irony of drowning at the hands of the man who taught him to swim, made Imai feel like he was being told the joke of the century. The sight of Atsushi, backed by the broken sun rays shining in from the surface and between the locks of his hair like a halo, made Imai smile again. If this was the last thing he ever sees, it’s not too bad, really.
As his vision darkened, Imai felt Atsushi’s grip on him turn firm, but gentle, followed by the familiar sensation of Atsushi’s fingers dancing on his right wrist. The warmth from Atsushi’s body enveloped him, contrasting the cold waters as Atsushi took him up again.
The next thing Imai knew was that he was coughing, and that his sinuses and throat hurt. Again. This feeling was getting too familiar. Grimacing, Imai put a hand against the floor behind him and tried to sit up. He was immediately hugged by Atsushi and his glossy black hair, wailing sorry’s as he sobbed into Imai’s shoulder.
Patting his back in a half-hearted attempt to comfort Atsushi as he tried to recover, Imai found himself surrounded by the relieved faces of his friends. He was back on the boat. No wonder the surface under him was so flat.
“This happens far too often whenever I’m around you,” Imai muttered, wincing as his throat stung from speaking.
“At least you’re still alive,” Toll said with a sigh of relief. “I really can’t imagine how we’re supposed to tell your family if-”
“I didn’t knooow!” Atsushi wailed suddenly, his voice muffled in the crook of Imai’s neck. “I thought you were some other person…”
“Well, I’m still here anyway,” Imai replied to Toll. “And what do mean by that?” he asked Atsushi. “It's only been a month!”
Atsushi looked up at Imai, his eyes red and glistening with tears. “But-!”
“In his defense,” Araki spoke up. “I could barely recognise you when I first came into that house. I had to wait for you to confirm my suspicions before-”
“Didn’t you say you knew it was me?” Imai questioned.
“ Maybe a random drab-looking castaway hobo had similar handwriting to your’s?”
Imai glared at Araki. “ Thanks .”
“Any time,” Araki smirked. “Anyway, the point is-”
“You failed!” Atsushi suddenly yelled at Araki.
“Hey! I tried, alright?! He almost killed me for that!”
“Wait…” Imai’s eyes darted between Araki and Atsushi. “ What? ”
“He made me say those things!” Araki said, pointing at Atsushi.
“You weren’t supposed to come back!” Atsushi whined.
Grabbing Atsushi by his shoulders, Imai seethed, “What did you do?”
“I wanted him to convince you to go back to your own life,” Atsushi muttered, unable to meet Imai’s intense stare.
“Ah, now that makes sense,” Hide suddenly cut in.
“What makes sense? What happened?” Yuta asked, confused.
“They had quite a… bad fight on the way back,” Hide explained.
“No wonder things felt a little testy,” Yuta muttered, nodding in understanding.
“Yeah,” Hide continued. “And Araki said some rather… unsavory things… I guess this means that you orchestrated that?” he asked, turning to Atsushi. “Because Araki’s can be mean but he’s not that terrible.”
Atsushi nodded slowly, meek.
“I came. This. Close. To strangling the life out of him,” Imai said, his voice low.
“You were never supposed to know,” Atsushi whispered. “He was supposed to talk sense into you-”
“Well, you got the wrong person for this deed,” Araki interrupted. “Putting those words of yours into my mind actually made it worse for me.”
“How’d he do that?” Toll suddenly asked.
“He does this thing with his voice,” said Araki, squinting his eyes as he tried explain. “Like, the only way you’d know he’s doing it is if you suddenly start feeling weird, out of nowhere.”
Toll frowned and cocked his head to one side. “Mm, I don’t quite get it, but okay.”
“Don’t hold it against him,” Atsushi muttered glumly as he tugged at Imai’s shirt, finally meeting his guarded gaze.
Imai groaned in frustration and tousled his hair with a hand. “Why’d you have to complicate things like that?” he complained. “Why couldn’t you just come back with us in the first place? Then we wouldn’t have to go through all this trouble…”
“Since I’m so much trouble, I guess… I’ll leave…” Atsushi mumbled, slowly inching away.
Imai grabbed his wrist, pulling Atsushi back. “I’m not going home empty handed,” he growled. “Waste my effort, fine, but don’t waste theirs.”
Atsushi settled back down, a troubled expression on his face as he remained torn between his desires to both leave and stay. Eventually, he looked around in askance, and said, “So… Who are they?”
With the way that Atsushi leaned into Imai as he sat next to him, he seemed to have adapted quickly to these surroundings. Keeping a straight face as Atsushi fidgeted and observed him wasn’t an issue for Imai. He was used to this, after all. It did take awhile for the others to get accustomed to it though.
They have now moved to the communal area within the boat for dinner as the sun set. In the end, they settled for having even more grilled fish, albeit saltier tasting ones, since they weren’t able to gather as much as they had hoped for with the net. Food was offered to Atsushi, but he smartly declined, preferring to simply lounge against Imai.
“Hey, Imai,” Yuta spoke. “I thought you didn’t like people touching you.”
“Ah, really?” Atsushi asked, craning his neck back.
Imai simply shrugged and put more fish into his mouth, ignoring the question. Yuta was right, but he hasn’t quite figured out why he let Atsushi do as he pleases. As he chewed, he asked Atsushi, “Sure you don’t want?”
“I want stew,” Atsushi replied.
Imai shook his head. “No ingredients.”
“I’ll go get them,” Atsushi said, getting up.
Imai pulled him back down by his waist, shaking his head. “Forget it.”
“Let me go, I can get the ingredients,” protested Atsushi.
“You’re not going anywhere alone,” Imai insisted.
“Why not?” Atsushi asked, indignant. “It’s not like this’ll be the first time I’m doing it. I can handle myself.”
“Don’t want you disappearing again,” Imai muttered.
“You sound like your parents,” interjected Araki.
“No I don’t-” Imai was about to deny it when he stopped short as realisation hit him. “Oh my god ,” he groaned, wide-eyed as he stared blankly into space. Putting his hands over his face, Imai swore.
“Bet’cha didn’t see that coming,” Araki snickered as he pointed his fork at Imai.
Atsushi leaned towards Hide, asking, “What? What’s going on?”
“See, the reason why he couldn’t come looking for you earlier is because his parents barred him from travelling out on his own, because he’s disappeared for so long that they can’t bear to let him out of their sight again,” Hide explained quietly. “So, basically… he’s acting like an anxious mother hen-”
At the mention of ‘hen’, Atsushi turned sharply back to Imai. “Where’s Bonnie?!” he demanded, shaking Imai by his shoulders.
“Uh?” Imai stared at him in shock.
“Where’s Bonnie?” Atsushi repeated.
“Oh, at home,” Imai replied, recovering. “My niece grew attached to her.”
“Niece?” Atsushi’s mind drew a blank.
“Uh, my sister’s daughter,” Imai explained.
“You have a sister?” Atsushi asked.
“A younger sister, yes,” Imai said. “And a younger brother. Have I never mentioned them before?”
Atsushi shook his head.
“Really? That’s strange…” Imai muttered to himself. “What else…”
“Are we- Rather, does everyone live together?” Atsushi asked.
“Yeah. But my sister’s husband is rarely around since he travels for the family’s business,” Imai told. “Though… I was thinking of moving out…”
“Now that’s the first time I’m hearing of this,” Araki said, sitting up. Echoes of agreement sounded around the table. “You’ve never mentioned it before.”
“Well… I figured that I should have a contingency plan in case I get kicked out,” Imai muttered, coughing a laugh to mask his worry.
“You don’t know that for sure,” Yuta said.
“Why would you get kicked out?” Atsushi frowned.
“Hm?” Imai glanced at him and looked up at a corner of the wall behind Atsushi, scratching his chin. “Well…”
“It’s me, isn’t it?” Atsushi muttered. Standing up, he continued, “I knew it, this is a bad idea-”
“You leave right now, I’ll jump into the sea and stay in there until you come back,” Imai said flatly.
Holding eye contact with Imai, there was no expression on his face but Atsushi could see that he was not joking around with that threat. Pouting, Atsushi sat down with a huff and folded his arms, his back facing Imai. “How dare you threaten me?”
“You were the one who forced me to learn how to swim,” reminded Imai.
“Wait, wait.” Toll held up a hand, grabbing their attention. “Where do you intend to stay then?”
“Remember that old cottage by the sea? The one my grandparents lived in?” Imai mentioned. “It’s been empty ever since they passed, so…”
“Ah, I remember that one. It’s a bit further out from the city, isn’t it?” Hide considered.
“That actually sounds… fitting,” Araki approved.
“Doesn’t it?” Imai said. “I put a lot of thought into this, you know.”
“But… what are you going to do? If you really get kicked out,” asked Araki.
“We could live off the sea,” Imai said nonchalantly. “It’s not new to me. Or him, for that matter,” he added, exchanging a look with Atsushi.
“Oh, you could come fish with us too,” Yuta suggested.
“You want to fish with a half fish?” Imai chuckled.
“Hey.” Atsushi smacked Imai’s arm with the back of his hand, making him wince. The soreness in his muscles came back with a vengeance after the adrenaline had left. “I fished for us both, didn’t I?” Atsushi said.
“Ah, that’s true,” Imai muttered.
“Asking you to fish though…” Atsushi went on.
“Excuse you, I was the one who fished up that big-ass tuna yesterday, alright?” Imai retorted.
“Weren’t you in the water?” Atsushi asked.
“When it first got hooked, yes, but I came back to fight it for the most part,” Imai recounted.
“Oh… reeeally,” Atsushi drawled, pressing his lips thin.
“You don’t believe me, huh,” Imai muttered. “Well, ask them then.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Atsushi grinned, leaning back and laying his head on Imai’s shoulder again.
Imai clicked his tongue, rolling his eyes as he let Atsushi drape himself over his shoulders again.
“Seriously though,” Toll spoke, “If you want to, let us know.”
“I guess we’ll keep it in mind,” Imai said. He felt Atsushi nod in agreement. “Thanks, anyway,” he said, tilting his beer bottle to Toll and taking a sip.
Toll, too, raised his bottle before nodding and drinking with a smile. “Not a problem.”
The drinks and chatter went on for awhile more, with questions and answers being thrown back and forth until Imai dozed off at the table. When Imai woke up again, he was already in bed but not alone.
“Go back to sleep,” Atsushi coaxed softly. He lay next to Imai, sleepily fiddling with the buttons on Imai’s shirt.
“No… I,” Imai grunted and shifted, putting an arm around Atsushi’s waist, “I barely had the chance to speak to you.”
“Weren’t we talking earlier?” Atsushi asked.
“Alone,” Imai specified.
“I’m still quite appalled at how you didn’t know that it’s me,” Imai said as he twirled Atsushi’s hair in his fingers.
Atsushi buried his face in Imai’s neck, embarrassed. “You look different, too different from how I remembered you,” he muttered. “Short hair, clean shaven, these clothes…”
“So… if you didn’t recognise me until today, what were you trying to do to me last night?”
Imai felt Atsushi tense up and shift in his arms. “Nothing…?”
“Do you go around kissing random men now? Hm?” Imai asked, tightening his embrace to prevent Atsushi from moving away. “Pulling them into the water? Dragging men down to their watery graves and eating them?"
Atsushi desperately shook his head, denying the accusations.
“Weren’t you going to do that to me?” Imai asked.
“I didn’t know it was you!” Atsushi whined, looking up at imai with tears glistening in his eyes. “If I had known-”
Imai cut him off with a kiss. He could hear Atsushi whining as he broke off and brushed his thumbs under Atsushi’s dark eyes, wiping the tears away. “I’m making you cry again,” he sighed.
“Hisashi…” Atsushi looked guilty, his eyes darting away. As Imai caressed his cheek, Atsushi nuzzled against his hand.
“I’m just curious,” Imai muttered, “if you’ve been doing that ever since the island disappeared.”
“You’re honestly the first man dumb enough to do whatever you’ve done in open waters,” Atsushi remarked, a small smile on his lips. “Swimming alone, leaning too far over the edge, and all that.”
“I’ve said it before that I don’t mind if it’s you-”
This time it was Atsushi who cut Imai off with a kiss. “Never. I could never,” Atsushi reiterated, shaking his head as he ran his fingers through Imai’s hair. Resting his chin on Imai’s chest, he asked, “But how did you know that the island is gone?”
“Your… friend? He visited our beach when I happened to be there and told me,” Imai said.
“Friend… Oh ,” Atsushi mumbled, realising who Imai spoke of.
“How did that happen?”
“Mm… Actually, I don’t know,” Atsushi confessed, frowning as he thought about it. “I wasn’t very… aware of… things for a time. All I know is that I was in the cave, in the sea, when everything started shaking and I made a run for it.”
“What happened to you?” Imai asked softly, concerned eyes taking in Atsushi’s faraway expression.
Atsushi didn’t answer. He simply smiled and lay on his side, pressing his face into Imai’s shirt again. “Now everything’s gone,” he muttered.
“Except you,” Imai countered.
“And you,” Atsushi chuckled. Craning his neck, he nipped Imai’s earlobe.
“Tsk. ‘ey.” Imai pinched Atsushi’s waist lightly in retaliation. “Weren’t you just telling me to go to sleep?” he asked as Atsushi squirmed.
“But you’re wide awake now, aren’t you?” Atsushi whispered before nipping Imai’s ear again.
Imai jerked his head away. “Says who?” he snapped.
Atsushi simply beamed at him, curling his leg around Imai’s as he rubbed his bare thigh over Imai’s pants and pushed his knee into Imai’s crotch. Watching the annoyance on Imai’s face fade slightly as he tried to school his expression made Atsushi’s smile grow wider.
“Says me,” Atsushi said, his voice low as he pressed his own groin against the side of Imai’s leg.
Jaw tense, Imai frowned at Atsushi as he took a deep breath and muttered, “You need to keep it down though. We’re not alone anymore and the walls are thin.”
“I’ll try,” Atsushi promised, kissing Imai’s jaw. He didn’t look very bothered about it though.
Imai sighed, pushing himself up and over Atsushi. “You’d better,” he warned, leaning in and meeting Atsushi and his eager kiss.
Atsushi's hands got busy as they locked lips, undoing the buttons on Imai’s shirt as Imai’s hands went under Atsushi’s robes and caressed his cool skin. It took awhile, but Atsushi got rid of Imai’s shirt and he was about to move on to his obstructive pants when Imai carelessly brushed his fingers over a nipple, making Atsushi gasp and break the kiss. Through half-lidded eyes, Atsushi could see a smirk on Imai’s face before he linked fingers with Atsushi’s hand and sank back down.
“Stay quiet,” Imai whispered, trailing kisses under Atsushi’s jaw as he moved lower and lower.
Atsushi bit his lower lip, his breath hissing as he held his whines back when Imai made a short pause at his chest to lick and gently suck his nipple. “Hisashi…” called Atsushi, his voice threatening to escalate.
Quiet shushing hissed from Imai’s lips in warm breaths against Atsushi’s skin as Imai undid Atsushi’s robes and approached his waist, switching from mere kisses to intermittent nipping. Imai could feel Atsushi’s fingers in his hair, tugging whenever he bit and sucked on Atsushi’s flesh. Atsushi’s barely suppressed moans were growing as Imai shifted lower to his hips, where smooth skin gradually turned uneven where the scales should be.
Sliding a hand up Atsushi’s torso, Imai had intended to cover Atsushi’s mouth with it but Atsushi intercepted his path, instead, guiding Imai’s fingers into his mouth to suck. Imai sighed, but Atsushi’s noises turned softer, muffled, as he had hoped. Oh well, as long as he stayed quiet enough.
Finally reaching Atsushi groin, Imai could tell Atsushi has been waiting eagerly for it. He was already erect from Imai’s teasing. Atsushi drew his legs in, bringing his knees together as he pressed Imai’s head into his groin. Smothered, Imai bit the soft skin near Atsushi’s crotch, making him loosen his hold with a yelp.
“Come on, I need to breathe,” Imai growled as he looked up at Atsushi’s flustered pout.
Clasping his hand over Atsushi’s mouth, Imai closed his other hand around Atsushi’s erection and gave him a long lick from his thigh to his scrotum. As Atsushi let out at high pitched moan, albeit muffled by Imai’s hand, Imai was glad he switched to covering his mouth instead of letting Atsushi continue with the finger sucking.
With Atsushi’s scrotum in his mouth, Imai gently sucked and released, flicking his tongue against the sensitive skin before moving further down, pressing his tongue into Atsushi’s perineum before spreading his cheeks and moving to his entrance. Imai could feel Atsushi’s nails scratching against his scalp as he licked. Atsushi’s other hand closed over Imai’s hand covering his mouth, gripping tightly as he emitted muffled calls of Imai’s name. He probably said something else as well, but none of that was coherent to Imai.
Pushing his tongue into Atsushi, Imai heard a thump next to his head as Atsushi jerked and smacked his knee into the wall. Now if it wasn’t Atsushi’s moans waking the whole boat, his thrashing just might. Two hands were just too few for this man. Feeling just a tad bit disgruntled, Imai sat up and leaned over Atsushi as he whined again, bemoaning the loss of pleasure. Atsushi looked at Imai, yearning for more yet curious for the pause.
“Can you try just a little harder to not wake the whole boat?” Imai whispered, brushing Atsushi’s hair aside.
Atsushi sank into the bed, sheepish. “Sorry…” he muttered, his voice barely a whisper.
Sliding a hand under Atsushi’s leg, Imai brought it around his waist. Catching his cue, Atsushi wrapped both his legs around Imai, fighting to keep a straight face as he felt the fabric from Imai’s clothes caress his skin.
Imai chuckled, bringing himself lower as he pushed his fingers into Atsushi’s mouth again. Pulling his fingers out, slicked wet with saliva, Imai brought his fingers down low, whispering to Atsushi again, “Just try.”
Atsushi breathed in sharply as Imai carefully pushed his middle finger in. He was tighter than Imai remembered. Reaching down to the last knuckle, Imai slowly began thrusting, feeling Atsushi’s legs tighten around him as he jerked his hips with a soundless moan. Imai smiled. Atsushi really was trying.
Once he felt like there was a little more leeway, Imai pushed his index finger in as well, stretching Atsushi out a bit more. Atsushi bit his lip, arching his back as his body reacted to Imai’s fingering. When Imai curled his fingers inside Atsushi in a flowing motion, Atsushi breathed harder, a squeak of a moan escaping his lips, and as Imai continued, Atsushi began murmuring Imai’s name, showing signs of control slipping out of his grasp.
Pressing his lips over Atsushi’s, Imai unbuttoned his pants with his free hand and stripped off, finally freeing himself. He took Atsushi’s hand and brought it to his erection. Without any need of an explanation, Atsushi automatically began stroking Imai’s erection, making him grunt at his touch. Aroused, Imai’s kiss with Atsushi grew deeper, hungrier, as Imai kept up with the thrusting of his fingers.
It didn’t take long for Imai to feel himself reach his limit and moan into Atsushi’s mouth as he ejaculated. He could feel Atsushi smile and chuckle quietly. Imai grunted softly and pressed his forehead against Atsushi’s. “Just you wait,” he muttered. He was still hard, after all.
Locking lips with Atsushi again, Imai began rubbing himself again as he removed his fingers from Atsushi’s anus. Using his own cum as lubricant, Imai smeared his penis with his discharge and pushed himself in, feeling Atsushi’s warmth envelop him with only a slight resistance.
A quiet whine came from Atsushi as Imai thrust, quickly transitioning into moans and shallow breathing which Imai mirrored. Opening his eyes a crack, Imai could see tears escaping Atsushi’s eyes, be it from pain, pleasure, or both, he couldn’t tell, but it made his insides clench. Following his urges, Imai pressed his body to Atsushi’s, feeling the heat and sweat building between them as their bodies rocked in tandem.
Atsushi’s hands were on Imai’s back, caressing, grabbing, and sometimes scratching from the medley of emotions and sensations churning in him. Imai’s mind was just beginning to grow accustomed to everything happening to his back when Atsushi’s nails suddenly dug into his flesh. Accompanied by a particularly enthusiastic moan and an energetic arch of his back, Atsushi came and his insides clenched, spilling his load between their bodies. Imai grunted, the sudden intensity tipping him over the edge again as he quickly pulled out, coming on Atsushi’s stomach again.
As much as he wished to bask in the afterglow with Atsushi, Imai found himself plagued with one question. Were they too loud at the end?
Imai woke up in the mess of his bed, shirtless with his pants half undone. He glanced out the window. The sun was not yet at its highest. He scoffed to himself. This was probably the first time on this trip that he was waking up in the morning. He scratched his stomach, thankfully clean. He did force himself and Atsushi to wash up before going to sleep after all… But where was Atsushi?
Turning in bed, Imai found himself alone. He sat up and looked around quickly. The room was empty. Imai tumbled out of bed in a frenzy. Without bothering to even dress or put on footwear, Imai ran out of his room. He turned to the right. The communal area was empty. The other cabin doors were open and they were empty. Imai turned left and sped up the stairs, taking two steps in a stride. Atsushi couldn’t have left, could he?
Up on deck, Imai spun on his heel, quickly scanning his surroundings. Laughter came from the back of the boat. Upon hearing it, he immediately sprinted over, finding his friends sorting out the catch in a net bag with Atsushi. Overwhelmed with relief, Imai stumbled back a couple of steps, stopping to lean against the railing behind him as he caught his breath.
Upon spotting Imai, Araki commented, “Oh? You’re up early today.”
Imai waved his comment away with a dismissive gesture and held his head in his hands. That jolt was too much for one morning. Sensing someone near him, Imai looked up. It was Atsushi.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, concern in his eyes.
“I thought… you left,” Imai muttered, his voice weak.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Atsushi laughed, stepping closer to nuzzle Imai’s cheek.
“Would appreciate it if you’d keep that in your bedroom,” Araki called.
Before Imai could respond, Atsushi spun around and flipped his middle finger at Araki.
“Who taught you that!?” Imai snapped, pushing Atsushi’s arm down.
Atsushi pointed at Araki.
“Araki, you shit!” Imai seethed, storming over.
“He’s lying!” Araki yelled in alarm. “I did not teach anyone anything like that!”
“Oh, really?” Imai asked sarcastically. “What was that first word you were trying to teach my niece?”
“That’s a different case!” Araki protested. “Come on! Guys! Don’t just laugh, help me!”
“I actually learnt that from a massively vulgar castaway,” Atsushi chuckled as he snaked an arm around Imai’s waist, holding him back.
Imai sighed and rubbed his face. “Maybe I really am up too early today.”
“At least get dressed first,” Araki said.
“Yeah, yeah,” Imai acknowledge, slowly easing out of Atsushi’s embrace to head back inside. “I’ll be back in awhile.”
As Imai trudged away, footsteps came up behind him. “Hey.”
Imai turned to find Yuta. “What?”
“Just a suggestion from us, we get that it’s been awhile since you two have been together but try to keep it down at night, yeah?” Yuta winked.
Imai groaned, hiding his face in his hand. The walls were far too thin after all. “… Uh, yeah…” he muttered. “Thanks…”
“No problem.” Yuta slapped Imai’s upper arm. “If you need anything though, we’ve got backups, so… just ask.”
“Right… I hope not, but okay…” This was embarrassing.
“Right, see you in a bit then,” Yuta said, giving Imai one final slap on his arm before heading back to the group.
Standing alone at the head of the stairs, Imai paused to collect himself. What a start to the day. It wasn’t how he had wanted things to go but as long as Atsushi was still here, it was better than what could have been.
Hearing laughter erupt from the stern again made Imai smile. It seemed like Atsushi was assimilating well with them. He wasn’t having as much of an issue as Imai would have expected. It made Imai feel optimistic about the future. There were backup plans, they had the support of his friends, they weren’t alone. They could handle this. He nodded to himself and smiled again. They’ll be alright.
Chapter 20: Chapter 20
Imai lounged in the bathtub, letting the warm water soothe his tired body after a long day at the stall. Stretching his neck, he felt the itch of a stray lock of hair stuck to his shoulder. He pursed his lips, slightly irritated by it as he stuffed it into the messy coil of hair on the back of his head. He should really get around to cutting it all off again.
The door clicked open and Atsushi peeped in, the shy smile on his face framed by his long,jet black hair. He looked the same, as always, as if he had barely aged a day. There he stood, waiting quietly.
“Oh, c’mon, don’t pretend,” Imai scoffed, turning away as he raised a hand towards him, beckoning. He wouldn’t show it, but he did find it adorable. Not that he would ever say it aloud. Atsushi probably knew anyway.
Imai closed his eyes and went back to relaxing. He heard a chuckle, followed by water sloshing around as Atsushi slipped in with Imai. Feeling scales instead of skin against his own skin, Imai’s eyes snapped open and he was greeted with the sight of Atsushi’s tailfin sticking out over the other end of the tub.
“What the…” Imai almost swore but caught himself. He sighed. “I thought we agreed to wait until we got a bigger bath-”
“It’s fine,” Atsushi chuckled, cutting Imai off as he snaked a hand up the side of Imai’s face.
Imai made a disgruntled noise, frowning disapprovingly as Atsushi nuzzled his neck and peeked up at him, a spark of anticipation in his eyes. “You…”
“Hisashi…” Atsushi tilted his head up towards Imai as he sat between Imai’s legs.
“Mhmm, I know what you want,” Imai muttered, caressing Atsushi’s jaw with his fingers as he met Atsushi’s smiling eyes.
Taking Imai’s hand in his, Atsushi held Imai’s gaze as he kissed the brand on Imai’s wrist, tongue and all, before dragging his tongue from the brand and into Imai’s palm.
“You horny bastard,” Imai muttered He had to confess that this did shake him, but only slightly.
“Only because you like it,” Atsushi purred, pulling Imai down closer to him.
“So now it’s on me?” Imai asked, meeting Atsushi’s lips in a slow kiss.
Atsushi hummed his affirmation, smiling again as he felt Imai’s indignant huff against his skin and with a blissful sigh, Atsushi relaxed his body into his embrace as Imai’s hands wandered his body, fingernails gently scratching his skin and scales. Imai deliberately paid less attention to Atsushi’s genital slit, creeping his fingers close by only to veer away or carelessly brush past, much to Atsushi’s chagrin.
After the fourth or fifth pass, Atsushi’s slow shallow breathing turned into a weak whine, making his vocal chords tremble under Imai’s hand which pressed on his throat. Gently scratching the back of Atsushi’s jaw, Imai tutted. “Wait,” he whispered, to which Atsushi whined again, louder.
Removing his hand from Atsushi’s neck, Imai brought both hands to his torso, caressing the gentle curves and dips on his body as he bent over and bit Atsushi on his neck, sucking hard. Atsushi moaned softly, stretching his neck out to give Imai more space. The moment Imai held Atsushi’s nipples between his fingers though, Atsushi shrank back with a sharp breath, burying his face in Imai’s hair and moaning louder as Imai teased him with his index fingers and thumbs. Atsushi was settling into the constant stimulation from Imai’s gentle rolling when a sudden flick and squeeze made him cry out and thrash. It was times like these that made Imai feel glad that they lived away from the city, far from any neighbours. They wouldn’t have to worry about bothering anyone with the ruckus they caused.
As Imai’s fingers trailed around and away from the sensitive skin on his chest, Atsushi settled down, sighing softly. Atsushi gently clasped his hand over Imai’s which caressed the skin on Atsushi’s abdomen before moving lower. Eyeing the barely noticeable bulge on Atsushi’s tail, Imai chuckled. “Getting hard, are you?” he teased, stroking Atsushi’s cheek with the back of his fingers as Atsushi nuzzled in the crook of his neck, hiding his face. Imai’s lopsided smile widened. Even after all these years, Atsushi was still self-conscious about himself.
Imai let his fingers brush over Atsushi’s bulge, one digit after another, watching him jerk his hips ever so slightly as he instinctively pushed into Imai’s touch. Atsushi tightened his grip over Imai’s hand, his breathing laboured as the mild teasing began to affect him. Out of nowhere, Imai suddenly withdrew his hand and Atsushi lifted his head, curious. Imai closed his hand over Atsushi’s, placing it over his bulge as the rings on their respective hands clinked together. Controlling Atsushi’s fingers, Imai pressed them into his slit. Atsushi gasped and tossed his head back onto Imai’s shoulder, his eyes closed out of embarrassment. Atsushi felt Imai’s warm breath next to his ear as his voice rasped low, “Touch yourself for me.”
Without a word of protest, Atsushi started dragging his middle finger over his slit, slowly pressing harder and going deeper into his warm flesh with each stroke. Imai’s hand remained on Atsushi’s, his fingers occasionally joining Atsushi’s as he pressed, adding to the pressure. Atsushi finally plunged his index and middle fingers into himself and Imai pushed in with him, curling his fingers as Atsushi moaned his name and arched his back.
Imai looked down at Atsushi gazing back at him with a hazy euphoria and parted lips. Leaning in, Imai kissed him slow, savouring the pleasant saltiness of Atsushi as his fingers continued dancing with Atsushi’s. Imai marvelled at how Atsushi still tasted like the sea despite his less frequent visits in recent times. He couldn’t help but feel but feel guilty for keeping Atsushi away from where he belonged.
Sensing Imai’s disquiet, Atsushi intensified his kiss, pushing his tongue into Imai’s mouth as he moaned from Imai’s fingers curling around his hard, aching penis. Grinning, Imai slowly shifted away, planting kisses along Atsushi’s jawline as he spread Atsushi’s slit with his fingers, letting Atsushi’s erection slide out and into the palm of his hand.
Atsushi jerked his hips and moaned, splashing water around as he thrust into Imai’s palm. Feeling Atsushi’s fingers dig into his thigh, Imai reciprocated by biting into his neck again and sucking as Atsushi moaned louder, now dragging his nails over Imai’s skin. Folding his legs in, Imai brought his knees together, clamping Atsushi between his legs as he tried to reduce Atsushi’s thrashing before he started jerking Atsushi off. Imai adjusted his embrace, putting his hand around Atsushi’s waist in a firm hold, thumb caressing the skin on Atsushi’s abdomen as he started stroking Atsushi’s engorged phallus.
“Hisashi,” Atsushi muttered weakly. “Do that-”
“I know, I know,” Imai cut in, grumbling slightly. “This, right?” he asked, sticking his fingers into Atsushi’s slit as his hand slid back down his erection. Atsushi didn’t need to answer for Imai to know that he guessed right. His moans and spasms were telling enough.
Feeling waves of pleasure wash over him, Atsushi writhed in Imai’s arms, moaning as each new wave built on the previous. It was a sensation that Atsushi has experienced numerous times now, but he never tired of it. After all, there was no place that felt safer for him to surrender his body so completely than in Imai’s arms.
Meeting Atsushi's lips with his own, Imai kissed him as he kept his hands moving. Atsushi's jaw went slack as the pleasure overwhelmed him, his mind going blank. Moaning without restraint, Atsushi tossed his head back and bucked his hips as he came, his fingers digging into Imai's thigh.
When Atsushi released Imai's leg, there were deep indents where his nails were but it didn’t look like he broke skin. Though that doesn't mean that it didn't sting. Imai pressed his lips thin, staring at Atsushi's discharge floating on the water while he stroked Atsushi's fading erection with languid movements. Loosening his hold, Imai let Atsushi's member retract as his body finally relaxed, losing the tension that the stimulation brought.
As Atsushi stretched his arms and reached back to curl them around Imai's neck, Imai muttered, “We should get out of the bath.”
“Can't we stay just a little longer?” Atsushi whined, pouting at Imai.
“Well, there's… that.” Imai jerked his head towards the cum floating on the water. Atsushi began to slide into the water and open his mouth. “Don't you swallow that,” Imai warned.
Atsushi looked up at him and smirked. Turning facedown in the water, Atsushi brought his lips to Imai's flaccid dick and smiled.
Imai sighed. “It's not going to work,” he mumbled.
Atsushi rolled his eyes and mouthed something underwater, probably mocking Imai's griping.
“Try all you want,” Imai said with resignation. “I'm telling you it's-!”
The moment Atsushi began sucking, Imai’s breath hitched and his words got stuck in his throat. Atsushi's tongue rubbed and pressed Imai in all the right places, making his groin tingle and his insides flutter in a way he hasn't in awhile. Surprised and unprepared, Imai found himself moaning as he gripped the sides of the tub hard and pressed his back to the enamel. Atsushi's finger massaging his perineum, however, proved too much for his aging body to bear and Imai groaned as he felt his insides squeeze and release as he ejaculated. Unfazed, Atsushi dutifully sucked and swallowed, caressing Imai's thighs as he did.
Tilting his head back, Imai found himself getting overwhelmed by a strange, inexplicable emotion that welled up in his throat. While Atsushi slowly came back up, kissing Imai's body as he went, Imai closed his eyes and focused on steadying his breathing.
Imai felt Atsushi’s arms around him, hugging him as he nuzzled against Imai. He still couldn't trust himself to speak but he sucked in a shaky breath, and tried anyway. “How did you… Where…?”
“I asked around,” Atsushi replied casually, guessing Imai's question. “You're not the only one with this problem, after all.”
Imai cracked his eyes open to see Atsushi smiling tenderly at him. Snaking his arms around Atsushi, Imai pulled him close and planted kisses all over Atsushi's face.
Atsushi giggled, elated by Imai's burst of affection, but it quickly subsided when he felt hot tears hitting his skin. Worried, Atsushi sat up, peering hard at Imai's face as he tried to decipher his anguish. Did he do something wrong? Before Atsushi could utter a word, Imai pulled Atsushi close again, locking him in a tight embrace as he buried his face in Atsushi's hair.
Imai sighed, closing his eyes as he pressed his lips to the side of Atsushi's head. Imai was quiet for awhile, breathing slow, until he collected himself and muttered, “You didn't have to.”
“Didn't have to what?”
“You didn't have to go through all that trouble for me.”
Atsushi curled a hand along Imai's jaw, reaching up for a kiss. “Hisashi, it's no good if I'm the only one having fun,” he whispered, gazing Imai with a soft smile.
With his feelings raging out of control in his stomach, Imai couldn't offer a reply to Atsushi, only managing to release a long shaky breath as he held Atsushi tight in his arms.
Seated in one of the five spaces of Imai's humble stall situated next to his musical box store, Maki squinted his eyes as he stared hard at Imai who was busying himself with cleaning today's fresh catch for his stew. Maki's elbow thumped on the counter, supporting his chin as he hummed loudly and continued his staring.
Imai's eyes darted to Maki for a glance. “What?” Imai asked in monotone.
“Something's different about you today,” Maki replied, tilting his head. “I don't know…” he muttered. “Are you like… glowing? Or something?”
“Hah?” Imai's face scrunched up in incredulity.
“Ah, he sure is, isn't he?” A voice suddenly spoke from the spot next to Maki.
Startled, Maki jolted as he snapped his head towards the voice to find Atsushi seated next to him, holding his cheek in a hand as he gazed at Imai with obvious affection. He was dressed in a navy blue, short-sleeved top that was held close by a belt around his waist, and a pair of loose, knee-length, black slacks. He also wore some kind of socks that reached up, past his knees to hide the iridescent skin from view. All in all, the usual outfit for the unusual man, but an unusual outfit for anyone else. The locals who didn't know much about Atsushi accepted the odd dressing as a necessity for a ‘skin condition’ though.
Maki swore violently. “How do you keep doing this?!”
“Hm?” Atsushi turned to Maki. “Doing what?”
“But I've always been here,” Atsushi muttered, mildly confused.
“Yes,” Imai interrupted, attention back on his shellfish. “He’s always been here, Maki. Staring at me too hard to notice?” he teased, a smirk appearing on his face.
Atsushi narrowed his eyes at Maki, pouting slightly as he drummed his fingers and made the gold ring on his fourth finger flash against the light. “See the ring, Maki,” Atsushi warned, his voice low. “Or I'll gouge your eyes out and eat them.”
As the colour drained from Maki's face, Imai started laughing. “Boy, I haven't heard that threat in a long while,” he chuckled, wiping a tear with the back of his hand.
“Y-you're not serious, are you?” Maki stuttered.
Atsushi shrugged and smiled thinly while Imai said, “No, he's not.” Pausing, Imai grunted as he pried a shell open. “Otherwise who else is going to fix his music boxes?” he continued. Picking something up in his fingers, Imai called, “Atsushi.”
Turning, Atsushi's gaze softened as he met Imai's eyes.
Imai reached over the counter with a raw scallop in his fingers as he offered it to Atsushi. Leaning forward, Atsushi closed his mouth over the scallop and Imai's fingers, sucking lightly as he took the scallop off of Imai’s hands. He made seductive eyes at Imai as he did, pulling away. Once his fingers were free, Imai smirked and tapped his finger on the tip of Atsushi's nose before retreating over the counter. Wrinkling his nose as he scrunched his face up in a playful smile, Atsushi sat back down, chewing on the fresh scallop while he hummed in satisfaction.
“Do you have any idea,” Maki started, “how odd this looks when you two look like you could be uncle and nephew, or even father and son?”
“Maki, that's disgusting,” Imai muttered.
“Hey, you can't blame me when we're both pushing fifty yet this guy here looks like he's still in his twenties, maybe early thirties, at best,” Maki retorted. He found out that him and Imai were of the same age a few months after they got acquainted. When he first met Atsushi, he had thought that he was close to their age too, but after this many years… Maki wasn’t so sure.
“It can’t be helped” was Imai’s only response before he grew silent.
Gathering up the shellfish, Imai brought them towards his pot, quietly dropping them in one by one. Atsushi’s mood was significantly darker after Maki’s comment as he stared wordlessly at Imai’s back, seemingly preoccupied with his thoughts while a stray lock of hair slowly slid out of his bun.
“Hey, what’s up with you two on this fine morning?” A gruff voice approached the stall. The owner of the voice pushed aside the curtains that separated the outside from the counter seats. “Or rather, you three. What are you doing here, Maki?”
“I’m always here, Toll,” Maki retorted. “Where’s your brother?”
“Here!” Yuta called, ducking under the curtains. “With fish!” He raised a large box in the air. “All sliced!”
Atsushi turned around in his seat, quickly taking the produce from Yuta to relieve him of his burden as they exchanged pleasantries. Leaving his seat, Atsushi took the fish out around the back to go into the kitchen. As the brothers sat down, Imai reached over the counter with paper bills in his hand. Tapping Toll on his shoulder, because he was taller and easier to reach, he tried to hand the money to him but Toll refused to take it.
“Keep it,” Toll grumbled.
“We have enough,” Imai insisted.
“So do we,” Yuta retorted. “And you give us free meals often enough anyway.”
“Just keep it,” Toll repeated, pushing Imai’s hand back.
A snicker came from the back and Imai turned. Atsushi had the freezer open and was packing the sliced fish in, a broad smile on his face as he worked. Making eye contact with Imai, he raised his voice as he said, “Well, thank you for the gift then.”
Imai clicked his tongue in annoyance, shoulders dropping as he pulled his hand back in defeat.
Closing the freezer, Atsushi took a stride over to Imai and leaned in close. “Just give them more later,” he whispered, easing the money out of Imai’s fist and putting them back into the drawer under the counter.
Making a disgruntled noise, Imai reluctantly agreed and turned back to tending his pot, stirring the ladle as his early morning visitors chatted among themselves. Imai could hear Atsushi moving around behind him, navigating the narrow space as he turned on the rice cooker and started preparing the condiments.
Stirring the pot, Imai remembered the day he brought Atsushi home. His niece was instantly enchanted by Atsushi’s ethereal qualities. Bonnie didn’t need any time to warm back up to Atsushi and wouldn’t leave him alone. His family, thankfully, took a immediate liking to him, offering to let him stay. Imai didn’t know what it was about Atsushi made things so easy, but he was glad to just let things be.
On the way back though, Imai had thought of an excuse for him to move out and live with Atsushi at the beach and during their first dinner, Imai brought it up. He proposed to let Atsushi live in his grandparents’ old cottage by the sea to give him time to grow accustomed to living in a densely populated place, and for Imai to stay with him for that duration, since he was the one that Atsushi was most familiar with.
Imai had sensed some reservations from his father, but after how much Atsushi complimented his mother’s cooking before this, she was more than receptive to the idea. Her enthusiasm for it and the fact that Imai would be fixing up and restoring the place were likely the main factors that convinced his father that it was a good idea.
Chuckling to himself, Imai recalled how hard it was to keep Atsushi quiet on their first night back, bedding in a house full of people. The hassle of it convinced them to head down to the cottage first thing in the morning to check that the bedroom was weatherproof, which it was, and then move clothes over in the afternoon to start living there.
He also remembered how it took a couple of months of constant work to clean up, add water and heating systems, and really reinforce the old foundations before Imai could consider things to be more comfortable than their conditions back on the island. Once they were settled though, there wasn't much to it. They easily reverted back into their old routine, fishing, doing the chores, relaxing by the sea, with the occasional trip back into the city, either to let his family know he was still alive and dine with them, or to visit the marketplace. The cottage was supposed to be a ‘temporary’ arrangement, as originally proposed to his family, but as time passed, they forgot and everyone just took for granted that they lived together.
Over time, friends and family started visiting them instead, giving them the opportunity to taste Imai's stew, which he still grumbles that it’s nowhere near his mother's standard. And since it didn’t look like Imai was going to travel out and ply his family’s trade anymore, they had often suggested to him to start up a stall like the one he has now. The family business had more than enough manpower with Hide, Araki, Imai's younger brother, and his brother-in-law running around anyway.
It took a few years for the stall to come into realisation though, when the space next to Maki's shop and after Imai felt confident enough about the prospect of it. In that time, Imai and Atsushi had already acquired a small fishing boat, enough for them to head out to sea and frolic together in privacy while Atsushi fished with greater efficiency than Imai.
Imai smiled to himself as he recalled their short trips away, visiting nearby islands, sometimes attempting to visit other neighbouring countries along the routes that he used to sail to let Atsushi see a little more than the port city they resided in. His smile turned wry as he recalled the one time they tried visiting somewhere slightly further away by air and Imai discovered a fear he never knew he had. They never did air travel again.
“Something wrong with the soup?” A familiar voice spoke by Imai’s ear.
Snapping back to reality, Imai felt Atsushi’s arms hugging his hips from behind, leaning against him as he peered over Imai’s shoulder. “Ah, no, I… I haven’t actually tried it.” Imai stirred the soup once, twice, then gathered a small amount in the ladle. As Atsushi shifted to the side, Imai lifted the ladle and offered the bowl to Atsushi, letting him sip. “Careful,” Imai muttered, watching Atsushi.
A pause, and then a smile. “Delicious, as always,” Atsushi commented with a peck on Imai’s cheek.
“I suppose we’re good to go then,” Imai declared.
Atsushi automatically set the bowls out on the counter next to Imai and he started filling them, one each for their visitors. But there were five instead of three.
Imai glanced at Atsushi. “Five?”
“Hide and Araki are here,” Atsushi explained.
Imai raised a brow. “When did they arrive?”
“While you were lost in thought,” Atsushi teased, smirking at Imai as he took away the filled up bowls.
Imai hummed and went back to distributing the portions, letting Atsushi distribute the bowls he was done. Imai then put the lid back on the pot and lowered the heat, leaving the stew to simmer as he finally turned his attention to their friends.
Having everyone together in one spot was rare. Although Hide has decided to assume a more clerical role and stay put in the city with his family, much of his time was divided between work and his wife and children. On the other hand, the Higuchi brothers were often out at sea, and Araki was still travelling around, though with his wife and child in tow now. The preferences in lifestyles between Hide’s and Araki’s families were vastly different, but it seemed to work out just right for each of them.
This was probably the first time in months that they have all met together, and there was much to catch up on. The day was, however, just starting and eventually, they all had to disperse to tend to their own work. As the men parted reluctantly, promises were made to have drinks someday, on some evening.
Imai barely noticed it when Atsushi slipped off halfway during the catch up, but he did notice when Atsushi returned to clear the cutlery.
“Where’d you go?” Imai asked.
“I went home for awhile,” Atsushi replied as he stacked the bowls up. “Fed the Fourth’s brood and collected the eggs were laid after we left.”
“Fourth brood?” Imai repeated, confused for a moment before it finally clicked in his head. “Ah, Bonnie the Fourth.”
Even as Atsushi smiled, he had a slight frown in his brow. “Are you alright? You seem a little absent today, Hisashi.”
“Am I?” Imai asked. Scratching his chin, Imai stared into the distance, watching passers-by through the gaps in the curtains.
Atsushi hummed affirmatively as he put the bowls into the sink. Wrapping his arms around Imai’s waist, Atsushi linked his fingers together on the small of Imai’s back as he asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing in particular,” Imai answered, eyes wandering on Atsushi’s face as they took in his features. “I guess… It just hit me that I’ve known you for more than half my life now.”
Humming again, Atsushi asked, “Getting bored of me yet?”
Imai clicked his tongue, huffing as he pressed his forehead against Atsushi’s looking into his eyes. “What do you think?”
“Yes?” Atsushi grinned, pushing against Imai.
Imai rolled his eyes as he muttered, “Oh, please.”
Throwing a quick glance outside, Imai made sure that no one was approaching before he pulled Atsushi closer to him, leading him into the back where they wouldn't be seen. Atsushi giggled as he let himself be taken away, eyes squeezing shut in happiness. He felt Imai's arms closing around him, holding them chest to chest as Imai rubbed the tip of his nose against Atsushi's with a tender look in his eyes.
Atsushi closed his eyes, brushing his lips against Imai's as they met, kissing slow. Imai brushed Atsushi's stray lock of hair away, tucking it behind his ear as he caressed Atsushi's cheek, fingers tickling the back of his jaw. Atsushi let out a soft sigh, pressing closer to Imai, pushing him against the counter he was leaning on. Ignoring the edge biting into his hip, Imai firmed his grip on Atsushi’s waist, scratching against the lose fabric that he wore.
Imai could feel Atsushi growing hard against his crotch and he smirked, entertained by how Atsushi's libido never seemed to drop. Using the counter behind him as leverage, Imai lifted a knee and pressed it against Atsushi's groin, massaging his erection. Atsushi whined with restrained desire, pressing harder against Imai in search of more pleasure. His hand slid down to Imai's rear, squeezing hard before rubbing Imai's inner thighs as well.
Breaking the kiss, Imai muttered in amusement, “You know it doesn't work like that.”
Atsushi raised a rebellious brow. “Do you want me to make it work now?”
Imai pressed his knee harder against Atsushi's groin, a smug smile on his face as a particularly loud moan came out of Atsushi.
“Excuse me!” A voice suddenly called from the front of the stall. “Are you open yet?”
Imai hurriedly pressed Atsushi's mouth to his shoulder, muffling his moan. They glanced at each other, a mix of distress, disappointment, and annoyance in their expression as they exchanged unspoken words. Letting out a long sigh, Imai reluctantly let Atsushi go and began readjusting his clothes.
Atsushi stood facing the counter, eyes closed and breathing deep as he tried to calm his body down. Wrapping an arm around Atsushi again, Imai leaned in and gave him a quick peck on the cheek, muttering a quiet promise of “Tonight” before letting him go and heading back out to the front to tend to their first customer of the day.
Alone in the dim backroom, Atsushi smiled to himself, squatting down with his hands still on the counter as he resisted the urge to curl into a ball of joy from Imai's affection. Listening to Imai's friendly banter with the customer, Atsushi sighed blissfully as he rested his head against his arm, eyes cast in Imai's direction. He wouldn't mind living like this forever, even if meant forsaking the sea. He could do without the sea, but he didn't know what he would do without Imai, if he were to disappear from his life. Though Imai would probably be upset if he heard words like these coming from Atsushi.
Humming in resignation, Atsushi finally got to his feet. Undoing his hair, he gathered it up again, and tied it tighter, hoping that his hair wouldn’t escape its hold this time around. Atsushi smoothed his hands over his clothes, clapped his hands against the sides of his neck a couple of times and stepped back out into the front to join Imai. Time for work.
Chapter 21: Chapter 21
The door slammed shut. A sense of finality came with it. Imai let out a shaky breath, burying his face in his rough hands. He had finally done it. After months of venting his frustrations at Atsushi, of raised voices and dismissals, Atsushi had finally slammed their bedroom door on his way out. Imai had wanted this to happen. He had been trying to make it happen. He thought that he was prepared for it, but it still hurt so much that it felt like he couldn’t breathe.
With a hand clamped over his mouth, Imai kept his mouth shut as his voice strained weakly in what should have been an expression of his agony. He didn’t want Atsushi to hear him if he was still in the house. He hasn’t heard the main door open or close yet, after all. Folding a leg in as a hand scratched the sheets, gripping tight, Imai found himself looking back on the past few months, on how a mere flu weakened his body so much at such a rapid pace.
At that point in time, Imai has already aged so much that Atsushi looked as if he was half his age. How they behaved in public no longer mattered. There barely was anyone left who remembered how long Atsushi has been around, and all their gestures looked like familial affection to others by then. Although it did bother Imai whenever customers kept trying to match-make their daughters with Atsushi, but that was besides the point.
Imai looked out his window, at the now silent harbour in the night instead of the seaside where the two of them resided at for decades. It was all because of his weakened state that Atsushi insisted on moving back into Imai’s old family home for him. No one else lived here anymore, but the idea of having nosey busybodies surrounding them was simply distasteful to Imai. Not that Atsushi heeded his preferences. Closing his eyes, Imai could still hear the crashing of the waves back at the cottage, the very same sound that lulled them to sleep many a night. Oh, how quickly things have changed.
It feels like yesterday when they just returned from one of their short trips to a nearby island, a trip that was no different from any other. The only thing that stood out was that Imai felt a little under the weather while they were docking. He didn’t think much of it despite Atsushi’s concern. Atsushi was right to worry though.
His discomfort erupted into a full blown fever that never seemed to stay down long enough, and now, even months after it has stopped bothering him, the symptoms still plagued Imai. His body ached whenever he moved, he never had any appetite or energy, most foods he ate couldn’t stay down either. Imai clenched his fists. His own body frustrated him. But as much as he tried to fight it, he could feel his body expiring.
Imai couldn’t imagine what it must’ve felt like for Atsushi, for him to have to deal with this. He didn’t deserve to be stuck with him. Atsushi…
Yearning suddenly stabbed into Imai, constricting his chest again as Atsushi’s voice and comforting embrace came to mind. Tears welled up in Imai’s eyes. He could almost feel Atsushi with him but of course, he was no longer here. After all, Imai chased him away.
No longer able to stay silent, Imai let out an anguished moan, tears rolling down his cheeks as he lay down on the bed. He had thought that he would be fine with being alone without Atsushi, but now, looking back on their years together, he was never truly alone ever since Atsushi came home with him. As much as it hurt him to push Atsushi away, Imai could not regret his decision. Atsushi needed to move on. He still has far too much life left in him for him to be stuck with a dying old man. But for now, Imai desperately needed something of Atsushi’s to hold. Anything.
His move to the edge of the bed where their bedside cabinet sat was slow and excruciatingly painful. His joints felt like they grated against each other and his muscles screamed with every bit of strength he exerted. At least physical afflictions distracted Imai from his emotional torment, and that, he was slightly thankful for.
Once close enough to the side, Imai reached down to the lowest drawer and pulled it open. He stared at its contents with mixed emotions. Atsushi’s iridescent robes were still inside. He didn’t take it with him. Imai gingerly picked up the almost weightless material, still as beautiful as the day he first set eyes on it. Clutching it to his chest, Imai buried his face in it, engulfing his senses with Atsushi’s scent that still clung to it. Smelling him made tears well up in Imai’s eyes again. All he needed now was Atsushi’s presence and all would be right again.
Lying motionless in bed, restless thoughts ran through Imai’s head. If the robe is still here, that means that Atsushi would have to come back for it, right? After all, he needs it to return to the sea. And that means that Imai will have to hand it to him… Just as the thought crossed his mind, Imai’s grip tightened, conflicting his supposed intentions. The contradiction made Imai cough out a weak laugh at himself. To think that even his will has weakened.
His momentary amusement eventually faded and Imai began to feel fatigue settling into his body. However, in spite of his tiredness, Imai knew that sleep would elude him. He hasn't been able to fall asleep unaided, not without Atsushi singing him to sleep ever since his body started weakening.
Imai let out another sigh, closing his eyes as his longing turned into yet another dull, constant ache that tormented his body. Glancing down into the still open drawer, Imai saw his worn, leather bound journal lying a the bottom, next to the antique musical box that belonged to Atsushi. An inexplicable feeling squeezed at his chest, bittersweet as Imai recalled the day he woke up on the ship and found himself being whisked home without Atsushi. Was that pain similar to what he felt now? Or was this worse? Imai could barely tell.
Slowly reaching over again, Imai picked up the journal, lay it next to him, and then took the musical box out as well. With both items next to him, Imai stared listlessly, quietly letting the memories play in his head. He put a hand on the journal and lifted it’s pages, listening to the stiff paper cracking from years of neglect as the words flitted past his tired eyes, turning into images in his mind.
Imai could see the night view from their dwelling, the full moon hanging low over the horizon at night amidst the numerous stars. He could see the light from the fireplace lighting up Atsushi’s lustrous skin. He could see Atsushi chasing Bonnie around, feeding her scraps from his bowl. He could see Atsushi’s undersea cave, lit up by the bright blue luminescence. He could see the sunlight filtering through the surface of the sea, hitting Atsushi’s scales and making him glow as he frolicked. There was so much more that he recalled but the one scene that his mind seemed fixated on was the first time Atsushi appeared before him as a smiling intruder who teased him for his low alcohol tolerance.
What he wouldn’t give for the chance to do everything all over again.
Brows furrowing again, another wave of despair over his physical state hit Imai. His mind still worked fine, but his body was giving up. And although he has lived much longer than his other friends and family members did, Imai found it hard to feel satisfied when he always had Atsushi right next to him. He couldn’t help but compare his condition with Atsushi’s, only to grow envious of Atsushi’s almost non-existent ageing. He had often wished to get his youth back, and now more so than ever.
Imai swung his hand aside, pushing the journal away only to hit against the musical box. Feeling the hard impact against the back of his hand, Imai glanced at the box and pressed his lips thin. Out of their entire collection back in the cottage, this was the only one Atsushi brought over with him. Imai brought it closer to him. Clutching it in his shaking hands, Imai slowly cranked the handle once… twice… thrice… and let it play.
Watching the cylinder turn and pluck the fine toothed comb, Imai felt his body relax, his heartbeat turning calm and his breathing slowing down as the music played. It felt like his body was finally giving in to the physical and mental exhaustion that had built up in him and his mind was finally growing quiet as a strangely calming sensation taking over. With Atsushi’s robes still in his grasp, it was as if Imai was being enveloped by Atsushi’s scent, comforting him as his eyes slowly closed.
In the darkness behind his eyelids, Imai suddenly felt his longing for Atsushi grow unbearable, sweeping the peaceful calm away as his mind and body screamed for the chance to see and hear him again. All of it finally stopped when his mind conjured up the image of Atsushi smiling at him, reaching towards him, and caressing his face with a hand. Calmed by these visions, tranquillity returned, putting a smile on Imai’s face before he let Atsushi lead him away into the silence.
Atsushi woke up with a jolt, eyes large and heart racing. Something was wrong. He grunted, pushing himself off the floor, knees and back aching from falling asleep while seated, leaning against their bedroom door. Atsushi barely took a moment to stretch the kinks away but just as he was about to open the door to their room, he paused, suddenly recalling the events of last night. His face scrunched up, distressed, as his jaw tensed.
Imai was being his petulant self, venting his frustration and throwing sharp words around as if he hated Atsushi. He started acting like this towards Atsushi and only Atsushi a couple of months ago. It completely baffled him. He couldn’t understand what sparked this change in Imai. Imai was never this mean to him even before that, when it was clear that he wouldn’t be able to return to his original state again. At least Imai never hit him, even if he did come close to it once or twice. Although that would’ve definitely hurt less than what he said last night. Letting out a woeful sigh, Atsushi’s lower lip trembled as the words rang in his head again.
“I should have never gone back for you.”
This one line and the stony look that Imai gave him as he uttered those words finally made something in Atsushi snap. He could still remember the chill that spread through his body in that moment. Atsushi let out a shuddering breath, clutching his hands together as he stared at the two gold rings on his fourth finger with blurry eyes. With his illness plaguing him, Imai lost so much weight that his ring no longer fit his finger, forcing Atsushi to wear it in his stead.
A tear fell on Atsushi's knuckle. Was that the moment when Imai decided that he longer wanted him around? Recalling a previous occasion when Imai suggested to Atsushi that he should ‘move on’, another tear rolled out of his eye and hit his fingers. That was long before things took such a toll on Imai though.
Atsushi started to sob but he caught himself, forcing himself to swallow the ball of emotion that remained stuck in his throat. He had already cried himself to sleep last night. He didn't need to let Imai see him like this, lest it adds to his misery.
Hastily wiping his eyes on his sleeves, Atsushi mentally steeled himself for Imai's prickly attitude. He was determined to get through to Imai that he had no intention of leaving, somehow. Clearing his throat before swallowing once more, Atsushi pushed the door open and went in.
The sight that greeted him gave Atsushi a sinking sense of foreboding, gripping him as he was reminded of the dread that rudely awakened him. Imai was lying in bed, on his side, seemingly asleep as he clutched Atsushi's robes tightly in his hands. Within his reach on the bed were things that Atsushi could recognise in a heartbeat; Imai's journal from when their time on the island, laid open with its pages fluttering weakly from the breeze coming in through the open window, and the old, half-broken musical box that Atsushi held so dearly, paused mid-song.
Sunlight was starting to stream in through the window as Atsushi, filled with trepidation, took slow, wooden steps towards Imai. “Hisashi?” he called softly, hoping to wake Imai. With all the pain that his body brought him, Imai had turned into a light sleeper. His call should be enough to wake him but Imai didn’t stir.
Trying to push down the emotion that choked him again, Atsushi swallowed as he forced a smile onto his face. He knelt on the floor by the bed, bringing himself close to Imai as he managed a whisper, “Look at you, you actually managed to fall asleep without my help last night?”
A small voice started speaking in Atsushi head. He's not asleep.
“Hisashi?” Atsushi called again, ignoring the voice. He stretched an arm out on the bed, circling around the top of Imai's head. For some strange reason, Atsushi found that he was afraid to touch Imai.
“Hisashi, you need to wake up soon,” Atsushi breathed, his voice shaking towards the end of his sentence. “Don't you remember? Your favourite niece, Hina is coming to visit you today,” he reminded softly. Atsushi’s hand shook as he brought his other hand up towards Imai, fingers gently grazing his skin as he brushed his frazzled white hair away from his face.
“Did you forget to shut the window, Hisashi?” Atsushi asked, running his fingers through Imai’s hair. “You didn’t even tuck yourself in… Remember that time you slept without covers?” He chuckled despite himself, laying his head down as he gazed at Imai’s peaceful form, caressing his face again and brushing his thumb against Imai’s lips.
“Aren’t you afraid of the cold without me? You know my robe doesn’t help at all,” Atsushi whispered, voice growing small. His eyes lingered on the way Imai had half his face buried in Atsushi’s robes, skin stained with tears despite the small smile on his face and the loose grip he had on the fabric. Tears welled up in Atsushi’s eyes, fingers gently caressing Imai’s still damp cheeks as he muttered, “I know you still love me.”
“But why did you leave me?”
Emotions slammed into him with a force akin to waves crashing against a cliff. Atsushi slammed his fist on the bed, burying his face in the sheets. With his mouth open in a silent scream of anguish, his fingers clawed the fabric and he bunched the sheets up in his fists, tears seeping into the cloth that he pressed against.
Why did this have to happen on the one occasion when he leaves Imai alone? On the one night he lets Imai’s words eat into him? When he wasn’t around to soothe his aches? Why did Imai push him away? Why didn’t Imai call for him?
“Why do you hurt me?” Atsushi cried breathlessly, his body crumpling in on himself.
Looking up, Atsushi noticed something among the blank pages of Imai’s journal. As the breeze blew on the pages again, they turned and settled open on that very page.
In these last moments, I, Imai Hisashi, leave all my worldly possessions to my lover and lifelong companion, Atsushi who hails from the sea.
When did he write this?
The words branded themselves in Atsushi’s mind. Pain. They brought him nothing but pain as he gathered Imai up in his arms, cradling his cold, lifeless body in his embrace, keening and weeping without restraint. Atsushi buried his face against Imai, breathing in deep, taking in whatever was left of Imai’s scent. It was the only thing that could allay his pain, even if it was marred by the cloying smell of sickness and death, even if Imai's lack of response only intensified it again.
“Did it hurt?”
“Were you scared?”
“I’m here now.”
“I’ll never leave you again.”
The little stall that he made his yearly pilgrimage to was still up and running, but there were a couple of things that were different this year. First of all, the two men who usually operated it were not around. They have been replaced by a middle-aged lady and her teenage son. The other thing was a heavy solemnity that hung over the area, a vast difference from it’s usual lightheartedness.
Two elderly women walked into the stall and seated themselves. The lady served them their stew and after a moment, she headed into the back of the stall, leaving the customers to themselves. He walked towards the store and seated himself in the opposite end from the women. It was quiet enough that he could effortlessly eavesdrop on their conversation.
“It sure does taste different, now that the old man and his son are gone.”
“It's such a pity, isn't it? Though haven't I already told you? They're not father and son.”
“The boy is his nephew, then?”
“Well, they must be related by blood, somehow, right? They seem too close-”
“ Lovers .”
“Is dementia starting to get you, woman?!”
“I'm telling you, I was here when the stall just started out. The young man has not aged a day since then.”
“We should visit the doctor after this-”
“Bah! Forget it!”
The woman on the left chuckled at the other's exasperation then sighed. “It truly is such a pity though. Did you hear about how they found the boy?”
“Absolutely devastated. Still as the old man's corpse.”
“My friend's daughter's friend whose husband was one of doctors who got called over by the old man's niece-”
“It was a good thing she decided to visit that day, isn't it?”
“It definitely was. Anyway, they said that the boy fought against anyone who tried to take the old man away from him. He even bit some of them hard enough to draw blood!”
“Oh, you must be exaggerating!”
“I saw the bandages myself when I met them outside the marketplace just now!”
“Didn't the young man run away though?”
“Yes, he took the old man with him. I think it was the niece who made the the doctors leave them alone. It was probably in that moment when he ran away with the old man."
“Do you know where they went? I overheard that the boy returned to the cottage by the sea. You know, the one outside the city, where they originally lived in. But when the niece brought the doctors to visit the next day, there was no one there.”
“No one?! Those drunkards’ story might have some truth in them then…”
“I'm not even sure how believable this is, but they said they saw the young man standing at the edge of the cliff on the other side of town carrying a man in his arms. They said that they were shrouded in some kind of glow.”
“Glow? Must be the moonshine in their eyes.”
“Must've been. Because those drunkards said that they blinked and the two men disappeared.”
“Sounds like the alcohol must have gone to their heads. Hallucinating and seeing ghosts.”
“It's either that or…”
“You don't think…?”
“… There haven't been reports of bodies found, right?”
“Well, it was only a couple of days ago that-"
One of the women suddenly cleared her throat, cutting the conversation off the moment the lady who tended to the stall came back out to the front. There was a certain bitterness in the lady's expression as she forced herself to keep a smile on her face. She probably overheard the conversation that the two women had. Paying for their meal, the women hastily took their leave, as if embarrassed. He was now the only one left seated at the counter.
Once the women were gone, the grief that the lady felt surfaced and showed blatantly on her face. She slowly took the bowls from the counter, sighing as she turned to place them in the sink.
Suddenly, she froze. The lady turned back to the counter and looked at him, noticing his presence for the first time. She blinked once, then once more, squeezing her eyes shut for a moment longer, disbelief apparent in her behaviour.
He smiled. “You remember me.”
“When I was a child… at the beach-”
“I spoke to Hisashi, yes.” His smile widened.
“He said I should not speak to you,” she whispered.
“And yet.” He shrugged, gesturing towards her with an open palm.
The lady was silent for a moment before she asked, “Why are you here?”
“I'm not sure if Hisashi has ever told you, but I visit them once a year,” he replied. “Only problem is, no one was home this year.”
“He's not here either,” she responded, her voice now barely a whisper.
“So I gathered,” he remarked. Breathing in deep, he let out a sigh and raised his brows as he added, “They've been the talk of the town, huh?”
The lady's expression darkened. “It is not appreciated.”
“Atsushi drew too much attention to himself after all.”
Falling silent, the lady stared sadly at the bowls behind her counter, fingers lightly tracing the grain of the wood furniture.
Footsteps came from further inside the stall and her son stepped out. “Hey, Ma, is there anything else-” He caught sight of him. “Is… this… man a customer?”
“He's…” The lady paused and considered her answer. “He's a friend of your grand uncles’.”
Her son leaned in towards her and whispered, “But he looks so young .”
A smirk tugged at his lips.
“Your grand uncle Atsushi looked young too, didn't he?” she reminded.
“So he's… like…?”
“Yes,” he answered, smiling up at the mother and son pair.
“I thought grand uncle Atsushi was the only one…” her son muttered, mystified.
He laughed. “That's ridiculous. You can be rest assured that there are far more of us than you think there are. We just prefer not to be seen,” he said. “Though Atsushi is probably the only one I know who has… interesting preferences.”
“If you intend to speak ill of my uncle-”
“Oh, no, no,” he chuckled. “You don’t really think I’d let him have Atsushi if I thought that he was a bad person, do you?”
The lady raised her brows. That was clearly not what she expected to hear.
“In any case, since they no longer live here, do you intend to keep running the stall?”
The lady looked down at the counter. “I’m… not sure. I can’t seem to get the flavours right-”
“Ah, you can blame Atsushi for that,” he smiled.
“Excuse me?” she muttered, perplexed.
“I assume Atsushi was the one who did most of the catching?”
“I’m sure you understand their relationship well enough that he wouldn’t give Hisashi anything but the best.”
“But you’ll do just fine,” he assured as he stood up. Smoothing his hands over his robes, he asked, “Well then, will you give me a reason to return next year?”
“What?” the lady blurted. “Why would-”
“I do quite like having places to go and people to meet,” he said, stepping away from his seat.
“But if we decide to close the stall…?” her son suddenly asked.
“Then I’ll meet you in the cottage where they lived,” he answered simply. “After all, that is where I used to go. Nice and quiet place. And I quite fancy the tea that Hisashi favours, even if there are far too many musical boxes for my liking. I swear, Atsushi probably has hoarding tendencies with they way he piles things up…”
Mother and son exchanged a look.
“Aren’t you going to have something before you leave?” her son asked.
“I had my fill before stepping on land,” he replied with an inscrutable smile. “I always make sure I do.”
The lady’s expression seemed to darken again, realising what he meant. Hisashi must have mentioned something to her before.
“In any case, it looks like I’ll be leaving these waters earlier than usual this year,” he sighed. “I guess I could spend some time looking for them before heading off.”
A spark seemed to enter the lady’s eyes at his words. “What do you mean?”
He smiled thinly. “Will you have me as a guest next year?” he asked, ignoring her question.
“I’ll do my best to keep the stall going,” she replied with a determined look in her eyes.
He chuckled as he nodded. Turning to walk away, he remarked, “You are their favourite for a reason after all.”
“So… what did you mean?” the lady asked again, calling out from behind her counter.
“I’ll let you know if I see them,” he replied without giving much of an answer. Waving his hand casually, he bade them farewell and wandered away, melding into the shadows of the city.
He cracked his eyes open. There was a light shining down from above him. It seemed to warp and shift. There was a weight over his entire body. But he felt well rested. He felt sand under him, cushioning the space on which he lay.
A fish swam by.
Panic spasmed through his body. He was hit by the sudden realisation that he was submerged underwater. He thrashed and flailed his arms, reaching up as his instincts raged at him to head for air. He could hear the water churning, his heartbeat racing, and his body taking in and expelling water as his chest heaved.
Just when it felt like his mind was going into overdrive with both urgency and futility, a pair of arms gently wrapped around him, pulling him in. The hushed cooing of a warm voice filled his ears, coaxing his anxiety away as a calming wave spread through his body. Letting it relax his body, he let out a sigh and then groaned, squeezing his eyes shut against the light beaming down towards him before turning away, plunging his vision into darkness as he buried his face against whoever held him.
Gentle touches caressed his body as that same voice now began humming a tune he heard before. He could feel the vibrations from the humming and his skin being stroked in time with the quiet song. As fingers went through his hair, it suddenly struck him that all of this felt familiar. He knew that voice. He knew all these little touches.
A burst of energy rushed into him and his eyes shot open, suddenly fully awake. Turning in the embrace, he spun around and looked up at the face of the man who held him so tenderly.
The moment their eyes met, relief flooded into Atsushi's eyes. He felt a hand on the side of his face, a thumb caressing his cheek as Atsushi began to smile. Once again, he found himself mesmerised by Atsushi’s smile, by the way his long locks of black hair floated weightlessly around him, guided by each minuscule movement of his head, and by how it was dark enough to block out the sun in some parts yet still have it filter through in others to make Atsushi glow so brilliantly.
He reached up towards Atsushi, vaguely registering the sight of his gold ring on his own hand. Hasn't it been quite a while since he was able to wear it?
As his fingers carefully traced Atsushi's jawline and rested against his cheek, he noticed that the wrinkles on his skin were gone too, and so was his scar. But that didn't seem to matter to Atsushi. He looked so happy that nothing could shake him. Atsushi clasped a hand over his, holding it as he turned to nuzzle against his hand and plant a shy kiss in it before letting him caress his cheek again.
As they continued to gaze at each other, Atsushi’s smile widened. Giving his hand a squeeze, Atsushi’s lips parted and he whispered, “Good morning, Hisashi.”