It’s summertime, and the air smells of sea-salt and daffodils from the preceding spring.
Sugimoto sets himself in the sand so his feet meet the line between land and sea clipped by the ocean tide, sheltered by an outcrop of rocks speared into the sand. He dips his toes into the water and fiddles with the paper square in his hands, its edges catching the peak of the setting sun.
“What are you doing?”
Ogata never did do much to announce his presence, always walked on the balls of his feet like he was stalking his prey. Sugimoto’s used to it, though, and it doesn’t startle him. He strokes the paper under his palm, smoothing the undulations of its surface.
“Origami.” He says, simply.
Beside him, Ogata sticks one hand into his jersey pocket while the other bounces a cigarette, idly.
“Ok,” he says. “Why?”
Sugimoto shrugs. When Ogata lights his cigarette, the lick of flame burns persimmon-orange in the half-light.
“When I was younger my mum used to take me down to the local brook and we’d fold origami boats in the summer,” he shoots Ogata a low, side-long glance when he thinks he isn’t looking, folding the paper once twice under the pad of his thumb. When he doesn’t say anything, Sugimoto continues —“She told me if mine travelled upstream and made it out to sea, it would bring me luck, or grant wishes, or something.”
He feels Ogata’s long-lashed, unblinking owl-eyes settle on him, and isn’t quite sure why he suddenly feels so self-conscious.
“I don’t remember exactly,” Sugimoto interjects, quickly. “It was a long time ago.”
Ogata makes a low sound in the back of his throat, a chuckle that could be mistaken for fond. He brings the cigarette to his lips and takes a long, drawn-out drag.
“That’s ridiculous,” he says, finally, the smoke leaving his lips in ripples when he speaks. “If it doesn’t get caught in the rocks, it’ll get washed away by the current. Not to mention the fibres will soak, rip and then disintegrate. Your little pet project won’t make it further than 5 meters.”
Sugimoto huffs, indignantly. He does one last half-hearted fold, before tossing the scrap of paper in the sand.
“Why are you like this?” He says — a whine, really. “Let me have this one, babe.”
He hears the shift of Ogata’s feet in the sand, the tell-tale tap of the cigarette butt as he scuffs Sugimoto with his knee, lightly enough that he knows he’s smiling, “I know you only call me that because I hate it.”
They both know he doesn’t.
“Fine then, asshole,” Sugimoto chuckles softly, leaves the half-folded ark there in the patterns he’d left in the sand, and rises to meet Ogata’s gaze. He’s inspecting him with that expectant glint in his eyes, so Sugimoto folds his arms across his chest and cocks his head, “So, what’s up? Dinner ready?”
“Yeah.” Ogata breathes, stamping the cigarette under his heel, and suddenly, he has his full attention. “I told them to start without us, but apparently they won’t start eating without your ugly mug.” He looks him over once, twice — grins to himself — and before Sugimoto can ask what’s so funny, he turns tail without another word. “C’mon. Before Asirpa kicks your ass.”
He makes it halfway up the knoll to the beachhouse before Sugimoto catches up, calls him a bastard for leaving him in the dust, and threads sun-kissed fingers against his slender ones.
Sugimoto tells him that Asirpa wouldn’t kick his ass, smack him upside the head maybe, and Ogata brings up all the times she has, like he’s catalogued them in that grimy little head of his. He’s right, of course, always was when it came to small petty minutiae like this, but there’s something endearing about it, all the same.
The boat he leaves behind, unfinished, stays there long after the sun sets, and is eventually washed away by the gentle come and go of the evening tide.
They make it to Okinawa halfway through June, where the days are at their balmiest, and spend the first night unpacking. The beach house they’d rented for the week is well-sized and bordering luxurious, because Sugimoto had wanted to make it worth their while — Ogata had taken a week of leave from dental work, after all, an occasion rarer than the blue moon.
(Besides, he wanted to make sure they had their own room.)
In the morning, he wakes up with Ogata tucked in his arms, his face buried into his chest like he’s an oversized plush. The sunlight filters through the open window and the liquid-gold of the rising sun only just touches the unkempt birds nest that is Ogata’s bed hair, and Sugimoto could unravel himself with enough effort, if he’d really wanted. But when he lifts his arm from where it’s settled against Ogata’s waist, he feels the grip around him tighten, his softened, compact frame seizing like it wouldn’t let him go even if he’d tried. So Sugimoto resigns himself, coils his limbs around him, and sinks his nose into the charcoal-grey of his hair. It smells like the sea-salt carried by the ocean breeze. He stays.
It’s Asirpa that wakes them just before the peak of noon, banging on pots and pans until Sugimoto wrestles himself from Ogata’s iron-clad paws and rolls him off the bed, blanket and all. By the time they untangle Ogata from his burrito, have breakfast, and gather their packs, it’s well into the afternoon, and the beach just downhill is bustling.
So they fly down the sandy knoll, sand between the gaps in their toes, and Sugimoto tells himself he’s well and truly on vacation.
The sun is in full bloom and the heat is searing, but pleasant, the way summertime always was in the fairytales. Sugimoto makes a beeline for the sea. Tanigaki and Asirpa are already in the water, and Sugimoto pulls his t-shirt over his head and tosses it aside. Shiraishi gives a low, appreciative wolf-whistle — to which he responds by punching him in the arm, but it begged the question. Sugimoto lifts his head and looks around, the way a dog would sniff the air.
Scans the groups of busy nobodies, the colourful tide of parasols driven into the sand, the patterns left in the dunes by naked feet.
He finds Ogata aways out, in the sand, under the shadow of a cat-print parasoul.
He’s not doing anything, in particular. Has his knees to his chest and is looking out across the bay, isn’t even taking those thirst-trap photos he liked to spam his instagram (Sugimoto has a throwaway account he uses to save all of them).
But when he catches sight of him, and he does, he immediately ditches Shiraishi like an afterthought, leaving him whining at the beachline.
Hikes up the slight incline of the beach, the sand underfoot burning the heels of his feet, so he picks up pace. When Ogata sees him, he does that thing — carding his hand through his hair and looking away. Like Sugimoto couldn’t tell he was pleased. By the time he makes it under the parasoul and drops himself next to him, propping an elbow on his knee, Ogata is looking at him with interest. Skimming him up. Then down.
Ogata always knew how to make him nervous like that. With a single up-down.
“What?” Sugimoto says, and chuckles. He wishes he’d brought his cap to bring down over his eyes.
“Nothing.” Ogata rumbles, and brushes his hand over the knuckles of Sugimoto’s scarred ones. His lips quirk into a strange smile. “Just like what I see.”
Sugimoto flushes, looks away, and chalks it up to the harshness of the sun.
He changes the topic quickly. “You’re not going to swim?”
Ogata shrugs, unfolds his legs and crosses them. Sugimoto suspects it’s to show off his bare chest, the son of a bitch.
“Nah.” He stretches — reaching both arms over his head lazily, the tight muscles of his stomach flexing in the summer sun, and Sugimoto curses him halfway to hell. “Not too big on swimming.”
He swallows. Plays off his brisk, wandering gaze as surveying the open bay.
“I get it.” Sugimoto says, and falls back on his palms (he has a better view of his back, like this. The way the sweat beads down the nape of his neck). “Cats hating water, and all that.”
Ogata throws him a passive sidelong glance, but looks away just as quickly. Seems like he wasn’t the only one who couldn’t keep his eyes from wandering. His heart flutters. Endearing. In that backwards way Ogata always was, pushing and pulling like the morning tide.
Sugimoto grins. He sits up and without warning, touches the curve of Ogata’s knee, white of the skin startling even in the humid rays of the sun. He feels him jump under his fingertips. Even Ogata — in spite of his silvertongue — wasn’t impenetrable to these small, fleeting touches.
“See, this is why you have to leave the clinic every once in a while.” Ogata’s knee jerks, and Sugimoto can’t help it — his smiles giddily. “I read somewhere that operating lights are bad for your skin. You’re so damn pale.”
But no matter which way they liked to play it, Ogata always did pick himself up quickly. The surprised knit of the brow falls away as soon as it’d came.
Ogata takes the hand that’s settled on his knee, suddenly enough that he can’t pull away, and slides his fingers between the gaps of Sugimoto’s. His hands are pleasant and cold, and Sugimoto flinches at the touch, but before he can shrug it off, Ogata closes up around him in a vice-grip.
“Really? It’s never bothered you before.” This time, he flashes his teeth wickedly, and tilts the angle of his neck just right, so the scab of a just-healed hickey catches the sun. Ogata squeezes his hand, hard. “Not when we’re in bed, anyway.
So maybe Sugimoto had dug his own grave, immortal moniker be damned.
He feels the flush rise until the blood is pumping in his ears, and it’s difficult to think, impossible to pretend it’s just the heat of the sun. It’s a small wonder they’re not all over each other, yet, but Sugimoto pulls his hand away quickly, red to the ears.
“Shut up.” It’s a stutter more than anything else, and he isn’t even particularly bothered by losing their little bout, because he finds he desperately needed somewhere to put his hands before they socked Ogata in the jaw.
Gracelessly, he fumbles behind him for the flask of sunscreen, drops it, drops it again, before he finally fits it in his palm. Ogata looks like a cat in the sun. All smug and relaxed.
“C-come on.” He says, “Turn around.”
Ogata raises a brow. Somehow his Cheshire’s grin widens. “Really? Right here?”
“What — no! I just — Sunscreen, you piece of shit!”
Ogata laughs. Sometimes Sugimoto forgets that he could make noises like that —
Small, honest noises, that seemed so impossible in any other context, sincere and tender and unlike him. But he turns around for him without another word, tucking himself between his legs, and Sugimoto thinks this was the equivalent of the cat lying on its back, stomach-up.
His heart bursts.
He shuffles closer, and squeezes a palmful of sunscreen from the tube, a well-appreciated silence falling between them.
He starts high — the stretch of skin between his nape and shoulder blade, and gently smears the cream across his upper back. He feels the shiver that flutters down Ogata’s spine at the cold — subtle, but there. His body is tense, at first, wound up and tight, but Sugimoto knows his way around his body like a well-worn map. By the time he’s halfway down his spine, Ogata’s rumbling and melting under his fingertips like he’s scratching the underside of his chin.
“You know,” Sugimoto says, suddenly — to nobody in particular. “I should leash you, so you don’t go scurrying back to that dungeon of yours when I’m not looking.”
“Hmm.” Ogata purrs. “I’d like to see you try.”
Sugimoto flicks a clump of sunscreen, and Ogata waves his hand dismissively.
“Seriously, though.” With nowhere else to put his hands, he traces up and down Ogata’s back, idly, “You should spend more time at home, away from the clinic. With—“ Me, “Us. It’ll be good for you.” Sugimoto closes the flask. And it’s not a lie — just not the whole truth. “There. All done.”
Ogata doesn’t say anything for a while. So Sugimoto hooks his arms around his waist and coddles him from behind. Ogata leans into it, looks at him over his shoulder, and gives him a long, soft-lashed stare.
Eventually, he looks away and fixes his hair.
“I’ll see what I can do.” He mumbles.
Sugimoto beams, and kisses his cheek.
They stay like that for a while, feet in the sand, batted by the rays of the summer sun.
It’s searing, but Ogata’s body is cold, so Sugimoto clings to him like a popsicle. When Ogata inevitably gets snappy, Sugimoto releases him, and they predictably bicker about nothing at all. When the sun reaches its highest point, even Ogata’s alien body couldn’t fend off the heat, so Sugimoto pads across the bay and buys them shaved ice from a roadside vendor. He doesn’t have enough pocket change to buy two servings, so he returns sheepishly with just a single cup.
Ogata rolls his eyes, says something nasty. But he lets him settle back down behind him, lets him rest his chin on his shoulder, and lets him feed him like he’s tamed him.
He hadn’t — you couldn’t, but the thought of it was nice.
“Hey,” From where Sugimoto’s propped, on his shoulder, he can see the pores in Ogata’s skin. The speck of shaved ice just above his lip. “You’ve got something — right there.”
Ogata gives him a sidelong glance. His lips quirk into that strange, crooked smile of his.
“I know.” He says. A sly grin.” But what are you going to do about it?”
Sugimoto huffs, but it’s more an affectation.
“You’re such a piece of work.” He grumbles.
But he supposes he’s as predictable as Ogata says he is, because he takes his chin in his hand, and it fits like it always has. Ogata stretches lazily, languidly, leaning back against him. Sugimoto isn’t a poet, he’s never been good with his words, and it’ll always be impossible to put into prose exactly how he feels.
But despite it, Ogata closes his eyes — an invitation.
It’s like he never had a choice — Sugimoto kisses him.
The world falls away between them.
They spend the rest of the day wasting time, lounging in the summer sun, and eventually he butters up Ogata enough that he dips his toes in the water, and they slosh seafoam at one another the way they would as children.
It wasn’t sundown, yet, but the sun wasn’t at its highest anymore and the crowds have started to thin, so they dry themselves off. Sugimoto finds a strange looking shell — a thin, elongated thing with whorls up and down its body, but Ogata bets he can find a stranger one.
So they skirt the fray of land by the sea line collecting oddities — a shell in the shape of a heart, the empty husk of a hermit crab, until they can’t carry any more in their pockets and reach an impasse. A circle of rocks tucked away like it wasn’t meant to be found.
Sugimoto remembers the small strip of sand near the junkyard he’d frequent with Toraji and Umeko when they were children, the way they’d kneel by the water's edge and watch keenly for the severed arms of starfish or the see-through, plastic body of jellyfish. It’s a fond memory. But faraway, distant enough he can’t quite make out their young, babyish features. So he takes Ogata’s hand without thinking twice, without caring for the startled noise he makes, and sprints for the rocks like they’re children, again, kicking up sticks and stones for pirates treasure.
By the time Ogata hunches over, bends down over his knees, and catches his breath, Sugimoto is already ankle-deep in the shallows, sifting through the first moss-kissed relics that catch his eye.
When Ogata speaks he sounds a little petty. Still out of breath. He runs a hand through his hair.
Sugimoto shrugs, but continues turning over half-eroded stones. He spots a shrimp, but it darts away before he can reach for it. “Sure, why not?” He brushes his fingers against the jagged edges of the rock, trying to overturn it. “Didn’t your mum take you to one when you were younger?”
Ogata doesn’t reply. Stands in the shallows of the rockpool and crosses his arms across his chest, his half-lidded gaze fixed on the strong line of Sugimoto’s back. They stay like that, for a short while, in a silence that isn’t uncomfortable.
Until finally, when Sugimoto capsizes a rock with a bit too much vigour —
“What are you doing, you moron?” Ogata flinches when the impact sends sprays of sea water his way.
It’s like he can’t help himself. Sugimoto straightens to meet Ogata’s gaze, and wipes the back of his hand against his brow. He grins.
“I’m going to catch an anglerfish.” He says, matter-of-factly. “You like those, right? The — those ugly fish with the sperm growths on it’s head.” Sugimoto goes back to wading, brow set thinly in a determined line. The muscles of his back ripple when he squats down. “I’m going to catch one, and get Asirpa to cook it for dinner.”
Even from the corner of his eye, Ogata fixes him with a look that is almost accusatory.
“Wow. Amazing,” he says, drily. Sugimoto beams. “Amazing how much of an idiot you are.”
“Anglerfish are deep-sea animals. Maybe tropical, depending on the species.” Ogata explains, kicking idly at the surface water, sounding amused. “The chances you’ll find one in a rockpool like this are zero to none.”
He tries his best to ignore him.
“Whatever.” He says, and tries not to sound defensive. “See if I care. I’m catching one for you. Whether you like it or not.”
There’s a beat of silence — then Ogata laughs.
That dry and grainy chuckle, and that’s how Sugimoto knows the smile reaches his eyes. It’s cute.
He has his back turned, so he hears rather than sees him sloshing through the circle of water. Gingerly toeing over the pointed shells that spear themselves from the sand, the small and bizarre creatures that dart underfoot. He stops in front of him, but Sugimoto has busied himself with combing through the sandbed.
There’s another pause, before he bends down, and helps brush away the kelp from a find. Their fingers touch.
Sugimoto looks up, grins, and can’t help but be pleased.
“What?” Ogata says, blankly. “Didn’t you say you were going to catch me an anglerfish?” He smirks, a subtle one, running his hand through his hair. “You won’t be catching anything at this rate, if you keep ogling.”
Sugimoto rolls his eyes back. “I’m gonna catch one so big we won’t even be able to carry it back,” he says, and puffs out his chest. “We’ll feast on it. We won’t need food for weeks.”
Ogata sounds pleased. “Get to it, then.”
And so he does.
Neither of them said, explicitly, it was a competition, but it doesn’t need to be said.
If there’s one thing unchanged from their high-school days it’s that childish need to constantly one-up each other. And in retrospect it’s immature, embarrassing, even, but without it he never would’ve gotten Ogata’s number; it hurts to think about, the distant prospect of having never known him. He redirects his attention back to the job at hand.
He squats low so he can make out the dark uncertain shapes in the water, and from the angle he’s at he catches sight of an opening in the surrounding rock. Curiously, he sticks his hand in it. To his surprise, it opens up to a smaller cavern, just wide enough for his hand to fit, so he feels around for a bit, finding nothing but sand and smoothed-out pebble.
That is — until he brushes against a soft, amorphous form.
It’s slimy to the touch, slightly slippery, but far more exciting than anything else he’d found, and his heart soars. He’d lost, by their standards, the seashell collecting spat, so he needed this to be something interesting. At least more so than the slightly larger-than-average urchin Ogata had procured.
Sugimoto gets on his knees, reaches in to scrape it out, and brings it to the light. He squints.
His heart leaps to his throat.
He can’t believe it — he’d done it.
He’d found something. Far more interesting than Ogata’s shitty, spiky piece of shit, anyway.
He spins around with both hands cupped around his find, stubs his toe, but is far too excited to care.
Ogata is on his knees, back turned, frisking sadly in the blue-green of the water.
“Babe. B—” He feels his heart drum against his ribcage the same way it would when he’d made a find as a child. “Ogata! Check it out!”
A sigh, a roll of the eye — Ogata rises to his feet and turns around.
His eyes dart — before they finally settle on the form in his open palms. He cranes his neck, at first, looking unimpressed. But when he trods one two steps closer, and gets a better look, his eyes widen — subtly, but enough for Sugimoto to feel smug.
“Yeah, that’s right.” He doesn’t even bother to hide it. “Feast your eyes on this, urchin boy.”
Ogata opens his mouth, but it seems to take him a while to find the words. Speechless, he suspects.
“Sugimoto.” On the contrary, when Ogata speaks he sounds tense. “Sugimoto, put that down.”
Sugimoto didn’t know Ogata was such a sore loser.
“C’mon, babe.” He says. When he takes a step forward Ogata takes one back. “Just because I fished up a cooler find doesn’t mean you have to get all catty.”
Ogata bristles. Sugimoto can't remember the last time he’d seen him like this — hairs on end, tail between his legs, on the defensive. It was just an octopus.
“Sugimoto.” Ogata says, slowly. Inhales. “That’s a blue-ringed octopus. It’s one of the most dangerous animals in the world. It’s poison is lethal enough to kill 26 adults within minutes.” Exhales. He eyeballs it. “Put it down.”
He isn’t sure whether Ogata is joking or not, if he’s just sore and bitter. But when he doesn’t say anything, Sugimoto freezes. With some degree of dawning horror, he looks down, and he scrutinises it closely, for the first time — it’s small, custard body, flaring with deadly blue rings.
Not just an octopus, then.
“Oh, my god.” He says.
Ogata edges towards him carefully, the way you would a wild animal.
“Put it down.” He says, tentatively.
Sugimoto tries to, he does, but his body is in fight-flight, and suddenly he is hyper-aware of how gross the thing feels in his hands.
“Put — put it down!”
“I — I’m trying!” Sugimoto’s body seizes. “I’m trying, it’s just — It’s so gross, I —“
“Oh my god, look, just —“ Ogata’s steps forward, “— hand it over, you —“
“What? No! It’ll kill you!”
“Then put it down!”
“I, ok — slowly, slowly —“
Sugimoto can’t believe this, that this was how he was going to die. On vacation, in his beach shorts, half-naked and on display, from a fucking blue-ass octopus that barely fit in the palm of his hand. Even Ogata lacks his routine composure, and when he speaks it’s bordering maniacal.
“Just —“ Sugimoto, flustered, moves towards him with the octopus still cupped gingerly in his hands like it’s a present, “— wait, don’t come near me, I’ll —“ Ogata steps backwards, once twice, a mad glint in his eyes, “PUT THE OCTOPUS DOWN, SUGIMOTO.”
Sugimoto’s not smart. He doesn’t like to run through finite scenarios the same way Ogata does, never was head over heart, and his body was stretched taut like an elastic band, so —
Sugimoto squeezes his eyes shut and hurtles the octopus without thinking, with all his strength.
The octopus flies forward and out, at incredible speed, and hits Ogata right between the eyes.
It takes them both a moment to register.
Then Ogata is clawing at his face and shaking his head furiously and, “What the hell are you doing!?”
“Holy shit —“ Sugimoto says, “— oh my god, I’m so sorry — holy shit —“
He moves forward in a good-faith attempt to help, but his foot catches in a crag in the waters and he trips, and suddenly he’s lurching forward in a blur of green and grey, arms flailing wildly, and before he can stop himself he crashes into Ogata and they fall and fall and —
They go down in a tide of white froth and seashells.
Skin against skin, limbs between limbs, high disembodied voices ripped from their throats as they go tumbling into the shallow waters. Sugimoto throws one arm out by instinct to catch his fall, but then Ogata’s arms are cradled around him and they hold on, tight, like he’d die if he let go. And so they fall.
They hit the rocky ground, and Ogata’s grunts beneath him as Sugimoto collapses onto his chest. It takes a moment for the world to stop spinning. But it does, so Sugimoto groans, mildly, and picks himself up, sprawled between Ogata’s legs like a stain.
Ogata coughs, curses, and blinks the saltwater from his lashes.
They’re close, so close, a hair's breadth apart, submerged and wet and dripping, and there’s a piece of seaweed in Ogata’s hair, goosebumps rippling up and down his bare arms, octopus guts still bridging over his nose. He’s a mess. But Sugimoto suspects he is, too.
So Sugimoto looks down at Ogata and Ogata up at Sugimoto and it’s like they’ve known each other since they were kids, or long before even then.
It’s Sugimoto that breaks the silence first.
He throws his head back, and he laughs.
A rosy, familiar sound that he’d forgotten exactly how to make — so colourful and raw it seemed so out of place in their dull grown-up lives. Beneath him, he sees the corners of Ogata’s lips quirk, the tension in his brow relax. He props himself up on one elbow, runs a hand through his hair, and he laughs, too.
And so they stay like that, for a lifetime or two, just because they can.
“I won.” Sugimoto says, when they’re both tired and out-of breath and giddy with fatigue.
Ogata scoffs as they sit down on the edges of the rockpool, skimming their toes across the surface. “I could’ve died, you know.”
Sugimoto grins— folds his hand over where Ogata’s are rested, on the steel-grey stone, “Thank god.” He says, “You would be such a dick as a ghost.”
Ogata doesn’t pull away. Somehow he hears his voice soften as the sun drops beyond the horizon line, his eyes fixed somewhere faraway.
“Maybe.” It’s a murmur. He pauses. “I’d bring you down with me.”
Sugimoto turns to face him, and Ogata flashes his teeth, his face scorched in a fiery, autumnal red.
“I’d drag you down to hell with me.”
So Sugimoto laughs and kisses his neck and bets, that he could make it back to the cabin before him. Ogata puts his hands in his hair, and he kisses him back, long, and slow, and sultry. And then he’s up and about and halfway across the sprawling sands, already a good distance back to the beach house, and Sugimoto curses, because he’d already lost the moment Ogata laid hands on him.
He’d never thought about it before, as a child.
The kind of person he’d become when he grew up — stubborn and kind, or violent and raw. If he’d become like his father, if he’d become like his mother, if he’d become like both or neither. It wasn’t in a child’s place to dwell on if they were heaven or hell-bound. He guesses it didn’t really matter.
Sugimoto thinks that hell — should it exist — couldn't be half so bad.
They make it back just before sundown, covered in sand and grime, to the beach house overlooking the bay.
Predictably, Ogata skulks away to the washrooms as soon as he’s dismissed, but Sugimoto knows how long he liked to spend in the shower, grooming every stretch of skin thrice-over. So he doesn’t wait up — joins Asirpa in the open kitchen as Shiraishi and Tanigaki watch the football, the window cruising in a pleasant breeze.
Evening falls and it’s a starry night, silver speckles just-barely reflected by the sea. It’s still humid, though, so they turn on the electric fan and suck on sweet-sour icy poles that taste just like the ones back home. Shiraishi and Tanigaki are basically useless culinarily, so it’s Sugimoto who helps Asirpa with dinner, doing simple things — skinning vegetables, cleaning cutlery.
By the time the shower faucet finally, finally squeaks closed, they’ve already cleared a circle by the lounge room, just in front of the TV, and set plates in a crescent around their food. Asirpa didn’t like eating on the tables — said they were too distant and less intimate. Sugimoto doesn’t notice until she says it.
He settles down cross-legged next to her — Shiraishi and Tanigaki across from them, the TV turned down to a low drone, and they wait.
Ogata emerges five minutes later.
Hair damp and uncharacteristically down, face towel strewn across his neck, cheeks still-flush from the steam rolling out the washroom. In a pair of shorts and an oversized t-shirt Sugimoto realises is his.
Ah, he thinks.That’s where it went.
“Hey.” Ogata says. He pads over, and dabs the washcloth to his cheek.
“Hi.” Sugimoto says, and grins. He jabs at the pot in the center of the circle, still-simmering. “Check it out, I caught one.”
The rounded pot is lifted on an electric stove, it’s contents frothing over the lick of flame. Tofu gone plump from simmering, golden-brown carrots fresh from the market, mushroom and cabbage splashed across its surface. Anglerfish diced thinly and flowered along its edges, the head speared in the nabe like a trophy.
Ogata’s eyes clear.
“He didn’t.” Shiraishi rocks back on his ass, and flashes teeth. “He went to the fish market downtown while you were in the shower and haggled for it.”
Sugimoto shoots him a dirty look. “Dude, c’mon!”
But there’s a softness in Ogata’s features as he skirts around and settles down next to Sugimoto. He crosses his legs.
“Anglerfish is a meal that’s meant to be eaten in the wintertime, you know.” It’s more a purr than anything thing else. They’re sitting so close they may as well be touching.
“It’s a meal that’s meant to be shared.” Asirpa smiles, slightly impish, slightly tender, in the way only children could. She lifts her bowl high, and higher still, till it’s edges catch the breeze of the ceiling fan. “Come on, let's eat!”
It’s sundown. And so they do.
It’s not something Sugimoto has ever had before, but it tastes like home.
Not in the same, painful way dried persimmons did — it was softer, more mild, and indescribable in the same way a colour was, or maybe a distant emotion. It tastes like adolescence, he supposes. Like falling asleep on a mother's lap and waking only when summer came, feigning sleep so she could run her fingers through your hair for just a while longer. She’d know, of course, a mother had a knack for that sort of thing. But finally — when the sun was out, and the sky was blue, and the grass was green, she’d pass a bowl, and you’d eat.
It was that kind of taste, he supposes.
Without meaning to, his eyes stray to Ogata. His bowl is filled to the brim, steaming in the space between them, but his chopstops are suspended, like he doesn’t quite know what to do with them. It’s not a look he sees often. He almost looks wistful.
So Sugimoto slips his arm around his waist and brushes against the strip of hip skin there. “What is it?”
Ogata tilts his chin. “Nothing,” he says.
Then he’s inspecting him, in the careful, meticulous way he always did. His eyes have always had a strange, wondrous quality to them, stolen from a picture book — infinitely dark and impenetrable. But today he can see the deep-olive coils of his pupil. Ogata sets down his bowl.
Then he reaches out, sudden and startling, and runs his index across the broken skin bridging his nose, so gently Sugimoto can’t breathe. It’s feather-light and fleeting. A lovers touch.
Ogata grins. He brushes the pad of his thumb against his cheek.
“Just thinking how your scars look like shiitake mushrooms.”
The rest of the week passes them by, slowly.
They do much of the simple things — sunbathing, watermelon smashing, sandcastle building, writing their names in the sand and watching the tide come in until there’s nothing left but scribbles. The weather is consistently pleasant like some higher power was watching over them, and most days they’re so exhausted they fall asleep in each others arms.
And then it’s the evening of the last day and Sugimoto finds himself, inexorably, where they started.
At the end of the bay, just inches from the waters edge, folding children’s origami as the sun droops lazily beyond the horizon line. It isn’t the end of summer, they’ve got months ahead of them yet, but it almost feels like it could be.
When Ogata approaches, he says nothing. Simply knees him in the square of his back, and settles down next to him, legs crossed in the sand. Sugimoto reels from the impact.
“Hey to you, too.” He says, reaching back to nurse his head, but he’s grinning.
“Sure.” Ogata spaces the cigarette between his teeth, lights it by instinct. He leans back on the back of palm, taking another light drag, and as he does, he peers into his lap, at the crumpled origami paper tucked there. “What are you doing?”
Sugimoto tries to remember the next step. The memory of his mother, her long tender fingers guiding him through the motions. He remembers.
“You know.” A pause, a fold. “The usual.”
Ogata doesn’t say anything for a while.
And then —
“Fold it sharper, right there.” His head is cocked so close to his shoulder he may as well be resting it there. He filters smoke from his cigarette. “It’ll hold better.”
Sugimoto looks at him fondly. He does the fold.
And then another, and another, until it becomes something familiar. He tucks the final strip of paper into place, and when that’s done, he turns to Ogata, expectantly.
“What are you gonna wish for?” He waves the boat in front of his eyes.
Ogata lets his head fall, until it’s fully propped against his shoulder. His blinks up, lazily. “Huh?”
Sugimoto resists the urge to kiss him until they both fall apart.
“Remember?” He says, and grins. “If it makes it out to sea, your wish’ll come true.”
Ogata scoffs. But he turns his cheek so he can look out across the oceanline.
“Like I said before.” He says it like he says most things — over-confident, sure, but the way he nestles into him is fond. “It won’t make it further than 5 meters.”
“Sure.” Sugimoto hesitates. “But if it does, you move in with me.”
Ogata’s chest rises and falls as he inhales, but he says nothing, so Sugimoto continues, heart on his sleeve — “You move in with me, and you sleep in my shitty bed, and eat at my shitty dining table, and we grow old and adopt a cat and do all that romantic bullshit you love to hate so much.”
A laugh— incredulous and sweet. When Ogata looks up at him, he makes a face like he wants to be kissed. So Sugimoto presses his lips to his temple. “That’s mine.”
Ogata rolls his eyes back, and buries his face into his shoulder, but Sugimoto can still see the quirk of his lips, anyway.
“That’s stupid.” He mumbles, “You’re so stupid.”
Sugimoto — he knows.
And Ogata is right — it doesn’t make it 5 meters.
It makes it much, much farther than that.
It’s small, sleek body rocking gently in the waves, carried away by the tide. Farther, and farther, and farther still, until it touches the golden line of the horizon, and then, until they can no longer make out its edges.
Sugimoto wants to say something snarky, or maybe something sweet, but Ogata still has his head against his shoulder and it’s selfish, but he wants to stay like this, infinitely.
He doesn’t say anything.
Turns his eyes to the open bay, the lazy startled cries of gulls, the reflections on the water's surface, and he holds him like that, in his arms, several lifetimes over, wreaths of smoke reaching higher and higher into the auburn sky.