Sunlight sparkled across the river’s surface, the gentle current tugging at Allen’s legs as he waded into the water wearing nothing but his underwear. He struggled to keep his footing against the slick, algae covered rocks on the river bed, holding his arms out for balance. Ten feet from shore, Alma and Lavi were already waist deep in water and conspiring together.
“Don’t let them pinch you,” Lavi warned, shifting his weight to keep the current from pushing him down river. “It’s not pleasant.”
Alma leaned down, trying to see into the water. “No, I don’t suppose it would be.” He tilted his head before looking back to Lavi. “How do I grab them?”
“By the tail, and don’t let go.”
The water was close to Allen’s chest by the time he joined them. He held the large wicker basket above his head, grabbing Lavi’s arm with his free hand to keep his balance. “Are we catching crayfish or are we just standing in the river for fun?” he asked, smirking up at the redhead.
Lavi grinned back. “Well, I did suggest we take a swim since it’s so hot today. But you’d rather work us all to death.”
“Technically, we are in the water,” Allen countered, elbowing him gently in the side.
“If we want to eat tonight, we’d better hurry,” Alma added, taking a step back to survey the bottom of the river again. “Lenalee is expecting us to bring something home. And who knows if Yuu will be able to catch any catfish.”
Allen spared a quick glance back at the riverbank. Kanda was down stream with a line in the water, quietly fishing. Their surly friend had refused to get into the water with them, and though Kanda had said it was because he didn’t want to get wet, Allen suspected he still wasn’t comfortable enough with the kitsune to leave his katana unattended on dry land. As silly as it was, he understood his trepidation. It had taken a few months for Allen to trust Lavi implicitly, and Kanda was not nearly as trusting as him.
“I’m going in,” Alma said, dipping down under the water and searching the rocky riverbed. Allen watched him from the surface, his form obscured by the play of light over the rippling water. When he came up again a moment later, he gasped for air. “Ugh. It’s hard to see. I almost had one, but it got away.”
Lavi grinned and looked down into the water again. “Let me try.” He dipped under, reaching down as Alma had moments earlier. Allen and Alma watched with curiosity as he moved under the water without fumbling.
“He makes it look so easy,” Alma commented as he brushed back the wet hair from his face, keeping his bright blue eyes on Lavi.
Allen couldn’t help but smile. “You just need practice. That’s why we came out here, right?”
“That and Lenalee needed something for dinner tonight.”
Before Allen could reply, Lavi breached the water’s surface, two crayfish in hand. They squirmed in his fists, snapping their claws and wiggling their tails and antennae uselessly in the air.
“Got ‘em!” Lavi proclaimed loudly, red hair plastered to his face as he tossed the two crustaceans into the wicker basket Allen had at his hip.
Allen shook the basket to keep the little critters from trying to climb out. “Two down, three to go.”
“We need more than that, Al,” Lavi said, wiping at the water dripping off the tip of his nose. “I could eat a crayfish in one bite! If we’re gonna feed everyone, we need at least twenty.”
“I’ll be lucky to catch even one,” Alma replied, paling as he peered back down into the river.
“Don’t worry.” Allen patted Alma’s shoulder, a sympathetic look in his eyes. “You’ll get one. And besides, I’m sure Kanda will get a few fish as well. We’ll have enough food.”
Alma chuckled. “Your faith in our fishing abilities might be misplaced.”
“Either way, we won’t catch anything just standing around, right?” Lavi said, already eyeing another rocky crop of stones underwater. “Let’s get to it!”
As Lavi dove down to hunt again, Allen handed Alma the basket. “I’ll go this time.”
“Good luck,” Alma said, resting the basket against his hip. “And watch out for the claws!”
Allen shook his head before taking a deep breath and dipping underwater.
Kanda sighed, lips pulled down in a perpetual frown as he bandaged Alma’s index finger. “This is why I didn’t want to fish for crayfish.”
Alma winced as the white gauze touched his bleeding finger. “Ow! Be careful, Yuu! It’s really tender.”
“Hush,” Kanda whispered, his touch growing softer even as he pretended to ignore Alma’s concerns. “Just sit here and dry off. We’ve got to head back to the village in an hour.”
Allen and Lavi sat in the grass next to Alma, the three of them still wet from their foray into the river. Alma’s injury was minor, just a cut from one of the feistier crayfish they’d captured, but Lavi watched Alma as if he’d caused the injury himself. He hung his head low, ears flat against his skull.
“I’m sorry you got hurt, Alma.” Lavi’s voice sounded more remorseful than it should have, given the circumstances. Allen watched the kitsune from the corner of his eye, worry pinching at his chest.
As Kanda finished his first aid, Alma looked to Lavi, giving him a comforting smile before showing off Kanda’s handiwork. “It’s fine. See? Yuu’s great at fixing stuff. It’ll heal up in no time.”
“Besides,” Alma cut him off. “It’s not your fault. That crayfish was just a tough one. At least I managed to catch him, though.”
Lavi stifled a whine in his throat and looked back to the river, not saying anything in return.
Allen stood, grabbing his kimono and pulling the thin fabric over his still damp skin. He knew he should wait to dress until he’d dried off more, but he needed to talk with Lavi—alone.
“I think I saw some zenmaki growing down river,” Allen said as he slipped on his sandals. “Lavi, come help me collect some?”
Lavi stood without protest, grabbing his own kimono and dressing silently. Allen grabbed a basket before taking the fox’s hand and leading him along the riverbank. They didn’t speak as they walked, grass and twigs snapping underfoot. It wasn’t until they were out of earshot that Allen turned to Lavi.
Lavi hummed, fingers tightening in Allen’s hand as they continued down the shoreline. “Nothing.”
“Lavi, you’re a terrible liar and an even worse actor.” Allen pulled on his hand to stop him from continuing down the trail, looking up into Lavi’s face. “Please tell me.”
Lavi chewed on his lip, unable to meet Allen’s unwavering gaze. “…Alma got hurt.”
“Yes, I’m aware. And you know it’s not your fault, right?”
He didn’t speak up at first, watching the water instead of Allen’s concerned face. “…It was my idea to hunt for crayfish”
Allen sighed. “Lavi—”
“It makes Kanda hate me even more.”
Allen paused at the admission, taken by surprise. He stared up at Lavi, eyebrows pinched tight. “What?”
“He doesn’t like me. I can tell,” Lavi elaborated, fingers trembling in Allen’s hand. “And now Alma might not either—since he got hurt.”
“You’re being ridiculous.” Allen sighed and pulled his hand free, reaching up to cup Lavi’s cheeks between each palm. He forced the kitsune’s gaze on him, seeing the concern in his dark green eye. Caressing his cheeks with his thumbs, Allen pulled him down for a quick, comforting kiss.
“Lavi, I promise Kanda doesn’t hate you. And Alma definitely doesn’t.”
“Kanda doesn’t trust you.” Allen cut him off, watching the play of emotions roll over his lover’s face. “He’s hard to get to know and it’s even harder to earn his trust. But he doesn’t hate you.”
Lavi’s shoulders slumped, defeated. He leaned into Allen’s touch, pressing his face against his hand and rubbing his cheek across the palm.
When he didn’t speak up, Allen continued. “Lavi, he didn’t even believe in spirits before the incident with the river spirit. Give him time. Lenalee and Alma already regard you as a friend. Kanda takes a bit more to warm up to, but he’ll come around.”
“Positive.” He pulled Lavi down for another kiss, this one lingering longer than the first. Lavi hummed into it, pressing his hands on top of Allen’s as they held his face. Allen felt the kitsune’s energy perk. It was amazing how easily he bounced back with a little reassurance and praise.
When their lips parted, Allen smiled up at Lavi. “Now, let’s go find those ferns. We can’t go back empty-handed, can we?”
He expected Lavi to whine or complain about doing more work, but instead, he took Allen’s hand and continued down the edge of the river. “Okay. They’ll go great with the crayfish.”
Allen nodded, his fingers tightening around Lavi’s. “Yes, they will.”