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The Perfect Setup

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“Oh!! We’re stuck at the top of the ferris wheel!”

Rei glanced over the rails of their seats at the local amusement park below them. He had agreed to accompany Nagisa on this particular summer weekend as their other teammates were at their homes in Iwatobi.

“What a romantic situation. This is something Rin-chan would like.”

“Rin-chan??” Rei scoffed. “I don’t see him as the romantic type. He’d probably just complain and stare out the window.” Rei brushed his bangs forward darkly, then tossed them out of his eyes and sighed in a deep voice, perfectly mimicking their Samezuka rival. “Stuck up here with you, Nagisa. Tsk. What a pain.”

“You think I’m a pain, Rei-chan?”

“No! I mean, sometimes you—nevermind. That was my imitation of Rin-san! How could you not tell?”

“That’s not like him at all! You have to say,” Nagisa took on a pained expression, “Up here… I can never… be free.”

Rei folded his arms critically and raised an eyebrow. “How was that any more accurate?”

“Besides, Rin-chan is a very romantic person! He just plays it cool and doesn’t show it. Not like you, you get excited and then start waving your arms, like this.” He wildly demonstrated a motion that bore a similarity to drowning.

“Nagisa-kun!!” Rei snapped to cut off the gesturing, afraid to draw the attention of passengers below them. “That is hardly the case. Besides, you underestimate me.” He began chuckling to himself and Nagisa scooted back, blinking with concern.

The last chuckle came out too forcefully and wilted into a small coughing fit. “Ahem—as I’ve said before, romance is no simple matter of antics and love-declarations. It requires strategy, cunning execution, and an excellent instinct.”

Nagisa patted his knee and nodded sympathetically. “Of course, Rei-chan.”

“Naturally, these are all qualities I myself possess in abundance, which is why I would be the perfect candidate for any partner during a romantic encounter.”

Nagisa leaned back against the edge of their hanging booth, causing it to sway slightly. “So, since you and your date would be stuck up here, this is the part where you would stretch out your arms and wrap one around them all smooth and casual, right?” Nagisa demonstrated, reaching behind Rei and giving his opposite shoulder a flick.

Shaking his head in despair, Rei plucked Nagisa’s errant hand away and deposited it back in his own lap. “As I predicted, you are hopelessly misled. I would never do something so tacky and obvious to win someone’s affections.”

Nagisa pouted. “Well, what would you do, Mr. Romantic Genius?”

“We would stand up, careful not to tip the booth, and look out at the beautiful view together. I, of course, would offer my hand to ensure they didn’t lose their balance while leaning.”

“But Rei, you’re the one who’s afraid of heights.”

“That is beside the point.”

“Okay. Well then, while they’re distracted by the view, you lean over and sneak in a kiss!”

Rei clutched the bridge of his nose. “Kisses should not be stolen! A kiss is a gift, not a trophy. It’s not romantic if it’s robbed, that’s barbaric.”

“Sounds like you’re speaking from experience.”

Rei adjusted his glasses. “It’s possible…”

“You got your first kiss stolen from you, didn’t you?” Nagisa shook his head tragically.

“…Why is that your first assumption?”

“Poor Rei-chan.”

“That’s enough! That is not what I said.”

“I bet you broke someone’s heart when you ran away screaming.”

“WHY WOULD YOU ASSUME THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED??”

“Ah, look! Were moving again!” Nagisa pointed to the swaying booths of the ferris wheel below them. “It’s too bad. If this was your romantic date, you missed your move.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure. The likelihood of getting stopped at the top of the ferris wheel is relatively slim, it’s not practical to leave that much to chance. Remember, the key to a romantic date is planning and strategy.”

“And romantic instinct?”

“Yes, yes, that too.”

“You make it sound like homework. No one wants to be an assignment, Rei-chan.”

“Ah,” Rei’s voice slipped into a dramatic whisper, “but the key is to disguise your tactics with gentle grace so they are wrapped up in the excitement of the night and forget the illusion of a date altogether.”

Nagisa tipped his forehead to one side. “But what if they accidentally have too much fun and forget about you as their date?”

“Nagisa, a date is not an act to draw attention to yourself. It’s an opportunity to show the other person how delighted they would be at your side at any given day. It’s a promise, not a performance. And if their affection is real, they will certainly notice and be drawn to you.”

“If you say so, Rei-chan.” The door unlatched before them and the two climbed out onto firm ground again.

“Ah! They have cotton candy! Want to split some with me?”

“Absolutely not,” Rei jogged to keep up with his sprint toward the food cart. “I have no intention of trying to enjoy my day while covered in sticky residue of—”

“How about carmel corn, then? It’s your favorite.”

“I really should save for the train fare home, and you—”

“—Will buy us both some! You can share mine.” Nagisa beamed.

“Thank you, Nagisa-kun.”

Rei continued their discussion as they wandered through the tents with their snacks.

“At any rate, an amusement park provides endless opportunities for creative twists to a date. It’s much fresher and more exciting than simply a shared meal, but one has to consider the risks here. For example, I would choose—”

“Let’s go on this one!” Nagisa pointed to a fierce-looking dragon mounted on steep, rickety tracks. Rei turned slightly grey.

“I’m not so sure if—”

“Come on, Rei-chan!” Nagisa grabbed him by the elbow and tugged them into line, countering Rei’s protests by insisting that he be more willing to “try new things” or he would never have any fun in life.

Twelve minutes later, Rei staggered from the bathroom wearing a flush of pale green with Nagisa supporting him.

“What a waste of carmel corn…”

“It’s okay, Rei-chan, I can get you more!”

“No! Hrk—” he swayed unsteadily. “Please, Nagisa-kun… just no more roller coasters.”

“Okay. But you looked like you were having so much fun in the photo.” Nagisa pulled out the novelty snapshot that was taken of them down the last drop of the ride.

“Why did you have to purchase that? It’s so not-beautiful…”

“You were so excited you couldn’t let go of me!” Nagisa beamed. “I think they got your good side, you look very flattering mid-scream.”

“I was not screaming! I was trying not to vomit directly onto you.”

“You’re so considerate, Rei-chan.”

“That’s not the point!! Please, just no more roller coasters—”

“Okay, okay.” Nagisa patted Rei’s hand gently. “We’ll find something more gentle.”

“Like what?”

“Like… these!” Nagisa gestured brightly to a set of giant, neon-colored plastic boats floating down an apathetic stream.

“Not beautiful…” Rei muttered with a shiver. He calmed himself by resuming his lecture on romance as they boarded the boats and bobbed down stream.

“It’s important to plan strategies far in advance and make provisions for when things don’t go as planned, but the event will seem false without a certain element of spontaneity. That’s where the instinct comes in.”

“Rei-chan, hold this,” Nagisa turned from the front seat of their two-person canoe and handed him something attached by a hose to the bottom of the boat.

“Certainly. It goes without saying that this is left to the mercy of timing and opportunity, but it’s best to use sound judgment in these cases. Stick with what you know, I always say.”

“We’re going this way, okay?” Nagisa steered them down a plastic tunnel.

“What’s really important to keep in mind is how well you know the other person when attempting to w—AUGH!!” Rei was suddenly drenched with chlorinated water from behind.

“Pirates!” Nagisa shouted off the tunnel walls. “It’s an ambush! Behind us! Fight-o, Rei-chan!”

Rei suddenly realized the apparatus in his hands was a water gun. Turning with a sudden spark of vengeance, Rei took aim and pulled the plastic trigger. The slap of water on sunburned skin and a yelp of surprise answered them.

“Yes! Go Rei-chan! Hold them off until I can steer us for a better shot!”

“Take that!” Rei shouted prematurely to the canoe pursuing them. Instinctively he ducked the retaliating fire, realizing too late that he had sacrificed his teammate’s dry clothes in his place. Laughter rang off of the plastic scenery as their ride came to an end.

“I’m sorry I failed to shield you,” Rei apologized quickly as they exited the ride.

“That’s okay, here,” Nagisa grabbed his friend in an overly-enthusiastic hug, lifting Rei onto his toes. “Now we’re both soggy.”

“Perfect,” Rei sighed.

“I know how you can make it up to me.” Nagisa led them behind one of the tents into a dark archway.

“Where are we going? Spontaneity has a reasonable limit, Nagisa-kun…”

Seven minutes later they exited the haunted house with Rei still clinging desperately to Nagisa’s arm.

“Wow, Rei-chan, I didn’t know your voice could go that high when you screamed.”

Several stammered syllables fell from Rei’s mouth until “I’m picking the next one,” could be detected.

Nagisa let Rei choose the next four rides until they settled on wandering the booths. The ring toss looked particularly difficult, but didn’t catch Nagisa’s eye until he spotted the enormous stuffed penguin hanging above the prize shelf.

Rei touched his glasses and grinned confidently, stepping up to the menacing-looking owner and placing three coins on the counter.

“The best rings you have, please.”

Nagisa’s eyes brightened as three wooden hoops were shoved in their direction.

“This technique has been passed down the Ryuugazaki family for generations,” Rei tested the hinge of his wrist experimentally. “Watch closely, Nagisa-kun.”

Nagisa made a small sound of amazement as Rei collected himself, facing the rows of bottles before him. Time seemed to stop as he exhaled slowly and brought the first ring to rest between his eyes.

Zero… Resistance… CANONNN!!!

With a blinding flash, Rei sent the ring speeding through the air and landed it directly around the neck of the center bottle with a satisfying clink.

“Ehh?? Rei-chan has super ring-toss powers??”

“Patience, Nagisa. This isn’t over yet.”

Nagisa clapped a hand to his mouth and crouched low for a better view of Rei’s incredible form.

Studying the remaining bottles, Rei took two steps backward and positioned himself much like the start of his pole vaults. He seemed to summon all the energy of the crowd around him as he took aim again.

Lightening… Strike… Hurricane SHOOOCK!!!

The second ring landed around the corner bottle, perilously close to the edge.

“Ohh, good shot, Rei-chan. Last one! Fight-o!”

With another slow exhale, Rei turned away from the playing field and tucked the next ring in the crook of his wrist, winding up for the biggest toss yet.

Climbing… Velocity… Reverse Entry HOOKSHOOOOOT!!!

The final ring arced gracefully sideways, but bounced off the farthest bottle. Its trajectory reversed, the ring curved upward, angling itself for a perfect landing around the neck of the painted first-prize bottle where it spun ruthlessly around the next for several intense seconds before settling at its base.

The small crowd around them erupted into applause and Rei took a humble bow. Nagisa cheered and the stall keeper rolled his eyes. Soon the plush penguin was in Nagisa’s arms as they walked triumphantly away.

“Wow, Rei-chan, you’re the best!! So, were you showing me how I should win a prize for my date? Should I use all those power-ups?”

“Well—I—suppose…” Rei trailed off awkwardly. “I mean, it’s best to use your own style. And a gesture of a gift like that wouldn’t go amiss, surely…”

Strings of lights were beginning to flicker on along the line of booths and tents as dusk gathered overhead. Nagisa stuffed the prize penguin in his bag and bought them both candied apples to celebrate. They snuck them onto the “Leisurely Lagoon” ride, Rei whispering anxiously about getting caught, and settled back as they drifted along.

“So what happens now?”

“What?” Rei looked over in surprise.

“On your imaginary date. What part would come next?”

“Oh.” Rei touched a knuckle to his lip thoughtfully. The soft music playing around them suddenly seemed louder.

“I suppose this is the part where it would be best,” Rei shifted, leaning sideways to demonstrate, “to whisper into their ear the perfect phrase you’ve been planning to tell them all night.”

“Rei-chan,” Nagisa murmured beside him.

“Yes?”

“You’re sitting on my candy apple.”

Rei jerked away, stuttering apologies and fussing with his handkerchief at the new stain on his shorts.

When they exited the ride evening had settled in and the park was aglow with blinking lights. A distant boom echoed across the sky.

“Ooh!” Nagisa’s glassy eyes reflected the gold sparkled that erupted across the sky.

“A fireworks show?” Rei smiled, glancing upward.

“Come on, let’s go!” Nagisa grinned. “I know a spot where we can get a better view. I used to come here with my sisters and they would sneak up there to watch the fireworks without me until I found their hiding spot.” Nagisa tugged Rei along by the wrist as they retreated up the hill. After scrambling through some brush and Rei’s complaint of a tear in his sleeve, they came to a small clearing overlooking the park, just above the sounds and lights of the crowd. The fireworks thudded and crackled in the distance, leaving a clear view overhead.

“This is a beautiful view,” Rei admitted, staring captive at the bursting colors.

“So, did you have fun today, Rei-chan?”

“Yes, I suppose.”

“So you enjoyed being here… with me?”

Rei couldn’t seem to pull his eyes from the blossoming lights. “Well, yes, of course…”

“Oh. Good.”

Nagisa smiled to himself and was quiet for a moment. The final burst of fireworks was the largest yet, draping an orange glow over them both, when Nagisa teetered forward on tip-toe, stretching upwards to kiss Rei on the cheek.
The thunderclaps accompanying the fireworks finally died out as the shimmering trails dissolved into the dusky sky. Nagisa turned to walk them back down their makeshift trail when Rei called out suddenly.

“Wait.”

Nagisa glanced over his shoulder to see Rei glaring at him, looking nearly furious and trembling. He froze in fear.

Rei’s voice wavered. “Nagisa… That was… highly inconsiderate of you.”

Nagisa shifted his weight with a worried expression. Below them the crowd was dispersing amid the lights of the booths.

“And after I explained so thoroughly…” Rei adjusted his glasses carefully.

Nagisa swallowed dryly.

“That kiss was stolen. I think… you ought to try again. It’s only fair. You’ll never win anyone’s heart like that.”

His soft eyes widened in the shadows of the clearing. Rei took a step towards him.

“Here. I—I’ll show you.”

A warm hand took Nagisa’s wrist and he followed, finding Rei’s questioning eyes unnervingly close to his own. Nagisa felt his own eyelids flutter as if they were begging to close, but desperate not to miss an instant. Leaning closer, Rei’s lips overlapped his softly with a slight, lingering tug. The next thing he knew, Nagisa was wrapped around Rei’s neck and pulling him deeper, knocking them both a few steps backward.

They pulled apart too soon and Nagisa laughed breathlessly.

“Okay, you’re right. That was much more effective.”

Rei quietly snuck a last peck before tugging away.

“Ehh?? I thought stealing kisses was barbaric, Rei-chan! Shame on you!”

Rei nudged his glasses back into place with a trembling finger. “Now we’re even.”

Laughing with relief, Nagisa took Rei’s free hand and knotted their fingers together.

“Rei… I think I’m delighted to be at your side.”

A wobbly smile spread across Rei’s face. It was too dark to tell, but Nagisa guessed he was blushing.

“Nagisa?”

“Hmm?”

“Next time… would you mind warning me when we’re on a date?”

“Rei-chan…” Nagisa grinned wickedly and reached to whisper coyly in his ear.

“You’ll just have to use your superior romantic instincts.”