"Geh... Now I get all sweaty and dirty again..." Makishima said while looking at his now ruined jersey, clinging tight to his body and drenched with his sweats. "I can't go home like this..."
"Wahaha, Maki-chan! It's only normal, right? We just finished our race on the Hakone mountain after all!" Todou said in high spirits, feeling elated after beating Makishima in a very small margin.
"I need to take a bath again, sho! Is this your actual goal to prevent me from going home?!" Makishima accused the headband-wearing boy who was currently riding down the slope together with him.
They both just finished with their race after Toudou forced and dragged him to woke up to challenge him on a match at 4 in the morning, Makishima only went along with it just because Toudou looked so desperate to have a match with him.
Makishima's true intent was to actually repay the favor given to him by Toudou that morning, but now he regretted all of it. On top of him losing the match by a very slim margin (which made him feel a bit frustrated right now), he must pay the whole price for using Toudou's inn services and food that he didn't ask in the first place.
"What? How could you say those mean things, Maki-chan?!" Toudou pouted, folding his arms while balancing his body on the sleek white Ridley bike.
Toudou pointed at Makishima with his usual pointing-style, his voice loud and full of energy. "This is a race to celebrate our coincidental meeting in my hometown of Hakone, you should be feeling happy instead, Maki-chan!"
Makishima sighed, "Keh... You're lucky that we're still on our school holiday season, Toudou. If not, maybe I would already execute you for that."
"Hmm, hmm... It was fate that brought us together today after all, Maki-chan..." Toudou agreed and nodded to himself, pretending he didn't hear what Makishima said just now.
Makishima gave him an incredulous look, "No it was not, sho. It was you who brought me here by force!"
"Wahaha, don't be so considerate about it, Maki-chan!" Toudou laughed happily. "What's the chance of us meeting right after I went home from the dorm for holiday and met you while I helped to work at my inn, Maki-chan? There cannot be any coincidence as great as this! The mountain god is really kind to us!"
"I'll just pretend you never said that, Toudou..."
"So you will be coming to my inn again, right Maki-chan? I'll give you the best service again like yesterday!" Toudou rode down the slope in excitement, his face sparkling bright.
"Just don't be annoying, it can't be helped..."
"Hm? What did you just say, Maki-chan? It sounds like you didn't want to be at my family's onsen inn! That won't do at all, Maki-chan! Take that back right now!"
Makishima grimaced and turned away his head from Toudou, riding his bicycle down faster, "Quiet down, Toudou... I never said that, sho."
'What have I gotten myself into...' Makishima thought to himself, lamenting his fate that brought him here in the first place.
After some time riding down the slope, they could see Toudou's inn on the base of the mountain. Makishima and Toudou both got off their bicycles at the same time, pushing them slowly toward the entrance by hand. The extravagant and gigantic old wooden structure gave off refined and sophisticated aura just from standing on the outside of the gate. A big wooden plank carved with the name of 'Toudou-an' was written on the top of the inn's entrance. How could he not saw that huge sign before he decided to went in yesterday...?
All that was in Makishima's mind that day after a tiring trip and training from Hakone's mountains was to rest, so he hurriedly went into the nearby onsen inn to relieve himself in the hot springs. He didn't have time to look at the inn's name because the outside of the inn looked promising enough for him to actually go inside.
What he didn't calculate for was the fact that Toudou's home is also one of an onsen inn at Hakone. But even though it was hard for him to admit it, Toudou's house was really in his book of aesthetic.
Makishima always liked onsen and took an interest in old Japanese structures; since the huge mansion that he and his family lived in his entire life was a Western-style building that didn't have any kind of influence on Japanese style. He actually wished that his mansion also had a hot spring just like here in Hakone, but it seemed like it was difficult to have that even in Chiba.
"Are you hungry yet, Maki-chan?" Toudou asked him after they arrived at the parking lot beside the inn, "After that intense race between us, I'm feeling quite famished myself... We're using our whole energy in the race just now, after all." Toudou parked his bicycle on the parking slot that was still vacant and Makishima did the same, not forgetting to lock his bicycle in the place to prevent losing it. While locking his bicycle, he took a secret glance at Toudou, he just noticed that Toudou himself was dripping with sweats, he didn't look any better than Makishima.
And now that Toudou mentioned it to him, he was suddenly being struck by the feeling of hunger. With the tension from the race gone, he was feeling exhausted and hungry all of a sudden.
"Now that you mention it... I do feel hungry right now."
"Ah, just at the right time then, Maki-chan! I have already prepared a special menu only for you today!" Toudou said excitedly.
'Guh... He doesn't mean pasta again, right?' Makishima's face looked troubled, 'Toudou's cooking is delicious, but I can't stand having that for two days straight...!'
"Uhh... Toudou, pasta right now is a little bit—"
"What are you saying, Maki-chan? Of course it's not pasta." Toudou gave him a weird look, "Even though pasta contains a higher quantity of carbs and a moderate amount of protein, you will get bored if you eat it too often. A variety of food consumptions are also important for athletes, you know!" Toudou lectured him.
"Well, if you say so..." Makishima scratched his chin slightly, looking away from Toudou. "Then, what am I gonna eat? Let alone ordering food, I still didn't bring enough money to pay you..."
"Heh heh, you don't have to worry about that, Maki-chan..." Toudou shook his head and grinned, "I will be giving you special treatment for free, but only with one condition!"
"Huh? What condition are you talking about, Toudou...?" Makishima said with his brows furrowed, looking confused by what Toudou just saying.
He had a bad feeling about this.
"It's simple... You only need to work here for one day full with me, Maki-chan!" Toudou declared loudly, pointing one finger at Makishima.
Oh, he should have expected something like this would happen... Makishima needs to wave goodbye to his peaceful and quiet holiday.
"Anddd—after that, we will go for a vacation together tomorrow morning. You and me, we can pick the place you want to visit together!"
"Do all of that, and I'll make the payment bills from yesterday and today free. How about that, Maki-chan?!" Toudou spreading both of his arms confidently.
"Aren't you just misusing your role as the oldest son of an onsen inn now, Toudou..."
"Wahaha! Of course not, I'll pay it with my own allowance, naturally!" Toudou said happily, "If I could make you happy, Maki-chan, then I would do it gladly!"
It was an innocent statement from Toudou, but it's enough to make Makishima blushing slightly from embarrassment.
"Don't say embarrassing things like that out loud, sho!"
"Is it? It doesn't feel embarrassing for me, though."
"It is embarrassing for me!"
"Soo... What about it, Maki-chan?"
"...What about what?"
"Don't pretend you don't hear me, you hear me just fine, Maki-chan! Do you agree with that or not?" Toudou demanded.
"Or, you can just pay it here today... If you have the money for that, of course." Toudou smirked, his eyes glinting evilly.
'He's now forcing me to agree with him! What should I do to refuse him? I can't refuse him, can't I?'
"Grrh..." Makishima contemplated, he was having a conflict with himself.
"Just agree with me, Maki-chan. You don't have anything to do besides cycling and training on your own, right?" Toudou tried to persuade him. "Everyone from your school is busy with their own business, after all. And Glasses-kun who looks vacant is probably having fun in Akihabara by his own right now."
"Urgh... What did you say...? More importantly, how did you know all of that, Toudou—?!"
"Hmph, don't underestimate my connection, Maki-chan! Not only the heavens have blessed me with these looks and athletic skills, but I also have good socials and connection as well!" Toudou flipped his bangs aside, showing his smug expression openly.
"Sigh... Alright then, but note that it was only because I lost to you that I agree with this—Hey, you listening, Toudou?"
Toudou already flew inside before Makishima could actually finish his words, "Now that's decided, I shall ask for the preparation to be made in advance to the inn workers then! Come on inside, Maki-chan!" Toudou said while waving his hand at him, he didn't hide his excitement at all. With a heavy sigh, Makishima followed behind him and entered the inn's front hall.
"Just go and clean yourself up first, Maki-chan. I'll follow you later soon enough!"
'Now that it's too late to refuse him... You should look at the brighter side then, Yuusuke. At least you could go easy on spending your own money...' Makishima consoled himself, even though he knew it wasn't enough.
With heavy steps, Makishima stirred himself towards the room that he just slept in yesterday. He retrieved spare clothes from his bag—a bright green colored t-shirt with a yellow zig-zag pattern on both of its sleeves and a beige khaki pants to match it all.
Luckily he had brought out new clothes from his home in case of an emergency. Makishima already expected that he would change his clothes one way or another when he rode his bicycle yesterday, but it was not supposed to be like this.
(ㅍ▽ㅍ) °˖✧東巻✧˖° ( 순ヘ순.)
Makishima entered the bath while holding his towel and his spare clothes, there was no one else beside himself inside the huge open bath—the whole place was still deserted and empty from other guests because it was already past 10 in the morning.
'Ah... Good for me, I never liked a large crowd, anyway...' Makishima quickly thought.
Makishima shed his dirty jersey in one motion and folded it into a neat square shape, tucking all his clothes away inside one of the lockers available.
Before entering the hot spring, he went to the shower first to wash away the sweat and dirt from his body and hair. Makishima scrubbed his body down with the most expensive-looking horse oil soap that was provided for free in the bath. Moving on to his long and wavy hair, he also gave extra care while washing his green and red locks with the shampoo—using the tip of his fingers and palm to smooth it down on his hair, he massaged his scalp until he felt it was lathering enough. After Makishima was satisfied with his job, he rinsed all the products out with warm water. He repeated the same process again with the hair conditioner as well.
When he felt squeaky clean, Makishima then tied his still-wet hair in a bun style and entered the hot spring. Makishima submerged in the hot water until it reached his shoulders and let out a long satisfying sigh, releasing all of his pent-up tension for the day.
It felt heavenly, what would Makishima do just so he could feel like this every time he finished hard exercise was probably ridiculous...
Just when Makishima almost drifted away, the bath door suddenly opened wide.
"Maki-channn—! Are you still in here?" A loud and annoying voice shouted; he already knew who was the owner of the voice before he even looked. Toudou entered the bath with a towel wrapped around his waist, Makishima's eyes instantly went up to see his bright face and then downward to met Toudou's toned chest.
Makishima always glanced secretly when Toudou wasn't looking, right when it was during a race or simply when they are off the races together. Makishima knew Toudou had a small built for a cyclist and he was taller than Toudou by a few inches; but compared to himself, Toudou's body was way far more toned than his body ever was. It was actually hard for Makishima to admit it, but Toudou's figure was way more attractive than his own lanky figure... He would never say that out loud, though. Not even if someone rips his mouth open.
"Hmm? Oi, earth to Maki-chan?" Toudou said, waving one hand at him, "Why are you getting quiet all of a sudden, do I have something on my face?"
"Huh? Ah, nothing... There was just—there was a mosquito flying in front of your face earlier..." Makishima turned his head away quickly, he stared for way too long apparently.
"Wahaha, what are you saying now, Maki-chan!" Toudou put his hands on his hips confidently, "My inn would never have any mosquitoes or bugs here, never! We used special aromatherapy with various herbs to repel them, after all!"
'Oh, so that kinda explain why there was a faint citrus smell when I first stepped into this inn...' Makishima thought to himself.
"Well, now excuse me, Maki-chan. I'm going in too!" Toudou took off his towel and went inside the hot spring beside Makishima.
As soon as he stepped inside, Toudou's face contorted with pleasure, he let out a big sigh just like what Makishima did when he first went in.
"Pwah...! Now that's what I call heaven in earth... You agree with me right, Maki-chan?!" Toudou grinned at his way, looking for his agreement.
"You're exaggerating it, Toudou... You must be experiencing this enough in your lifetime already." Makishima murmured.
"Hm? That's weird, did I not tell you yet, Maki-chan...?" Toudou held his chin with one hand and cocked his head to the side.
"Tell me about what?"
Toudou counting with his fingers, "I only went to this place about... Hmm... Counting this one and yesterday when I was bathing with you, 8 times myself?"
Makishima's eyes went wide instantly, "Wh—what? 8 times in your whole life? Did I hear you wrong, Toudou?"
"I'm serious, Maki-chan." Toudou chuckled after seeing Makishima's reaction, it reminds him of his old friend in the middle-school who reacted in the same way when he told him about it. "This area was made solely to soothe the customers, you know? It's not a place where you can enter for free, after all."
"But... But you could still have wanted to use it, right?" Makishima asked him, still quite in shock. "And you could always use it whenever it's empty, why didn't you do that instead? I think your parents wouldn't have any problem with that themselves..."
"Well... When you thought about it and receive people with a hospitality mindset, it was not that bad." Toudou smiled and assured Makishima, "Customers are always the first priority in here, and our policy is to ensure that every customer of our inn is leaving satisfied with our services. It would be bad for the inn's business if I let myself being seen using the services here for free, right?" Toudou said while looking at him, still smiling.
Makishima was perplexed. He never thought that Toudou—the son of an onsen inn—who always bragged about being one, never had any chance to enjoy the facilities in his own home. If it was Makishima, he would probably be abusing his rights and using the services here leisurely all day, no matter if there were any customers who felt disturbed by him or not.
Toudou always looked serious when he was working and doing his job, Makishima noticed. He knew Toudou was not the kind of person who will abandon his duty in the middle of the way and ran away from it, no matter how heavy his responsibilities were.
But right now at this moment, Makishima looked at him in a different light.
Toudou's self-control was really out of this world.
"It was nothing special really, Maki-chan. As the Toudou family heir, it was already expected from me in the beginning..." Toudou said, leaning his back on one of the hot spring's sides and closed his eyes, his face looked solemn. "I never once thought of it as a burden or anything, you know? Instead, it was the total opposite. I only feel a great sense of responsibility from it."
Makishima didn't say anything back to that. And now the two of them are sitting together in silence, where only the sound of the wind and flowing water are making the noises around them.
After some time passed with them sitting in silence together, Toudou spoke up and called his name quietly.
"Hm...?" Makishima murmured, still focused on the water's heat and the steam that came out from it.
"Do you know what would you do after you graduate, Maki-chan?" Toudou asked him.
It was coming so suddenly. The question that was so simple and innocent, but yet also unbearable to answer at the same time.
"Wha-what do you mean, Toudou...? Of course I would get into a university." Makishima stammered a bit, his gaze traveled to everywhere but the man beside him.
"Oh..." Toudou said, his solemn face gradually changed to an excited one, "I see, yes... That would be great, Maki-chan! So it means that we could still be racing together even after we graduate!"
Makishima's heart squeezed inside. Why he must have felt guilty all of a sudden? Should he tell him now, of all times? Was it the right timing?
"Ah, yeah... About that, Toudou..."
"Hm...? What's wrong, Maki-chan?" Toudou asked with concern as if he sensed something was wrong with Makishima, he always could tell what Makishima was feeling in times like these.
"Is there anything you want to tell me?"
Makishima just stared at Toudou blankly for a fleeting moment, his heart beating fast inside his chest.
No, he could not afford to tell him now, at least not until the Inter-high is over...
He could not tell him about it, no matter what happens.
"Kuha! No, I just can't imagine you as a university student, Toudou..." Makishima said in a mocking tone, "I bet you will be as loud as usual that the teachers couldn't handle you at all..."
"What! How can you say that, Maki-chan!" Toudou was appalled, "I'm not loud at all, I'm only loud when someone acknowledges my beauty and talent!"
Makishima snickered, "Yeah, yeah... I believe in you..."
"What about yourself, Maki-chan!" Toudou pointed at him, "I believe that the teachers would be surprised when they saw your behavior and attire! Only I can accept and put up with you, after all!"
"That is not something to be proud of, Toudou..." Makishima sweated.
There was a silence gap between them before Toudou spoke up again, his voice quieter now. "Well... Truthfully, I was getting a little bit worried, Maki-chan..."
Makishima's heart skipped a beat.
"After the Inter-high race is over, I mean. I don't want our rivalry to end just like that... You must also be thinking the same thing as me right, Maki-chan?" Toudou looked at him hopefully, Makishima never felt any barer than this.
Makishima gulped, it was getting too hot suddenly. He didn't know if it was him or the water temperatures, but what he really wanted to do right now was to drown himself in the hot spring and hide until Toudou couldn't see him anymore.
"—Also think the same..." Makishima continued quietly, not looking at Toudou but the vast steaming water in front of him. "Like what I said before in our last match, I’ve never experienced anything else as fun as our race together. So, you know..."
"I would like this relationship of ours to continue for as long as we can..." Makishima finished his words and scratched his cheek nervously.
With no reaction given from Toudou, Makishima raised his head to glance at Toudou; an action that he regretted almost instantly.
"...I know you will be saying that, Maki-channn!" Toudou got teary-eyed and leaped at him in one single fast movement, hugging him tight and almost dragged him into the water.
Makishima tried to balance his body upright in the water with Toudou clinging on to him. He was lucky that he was tall and strong enough to do that, or otherwise they would both be drowning in the hot spring for real.
"H-hey, Toudou! Let me go, sho!" Makishima panicked, Toudou was getting too close for his comfort. "I almost drank the hot spring water, you idiot!"
"Remember and listen to this, Maki-chan!" Toudou said, looking at him with a serious expression. "Nobody else could satisfy you like me, Toudou Jinpachi, Hakone Academy's Sleeping Beauty!" Toudou declared loudly, pointing at himself and then at Makishima.
"And no rivals out there could rival you like me. Your opponent is me, and me alone!"
"You're truly an embarrassing guy, sho..." Makishima said with bowed head and cheeks as red as a tomato, "And why are you still hugging me, anyway! What are you, a girl?!" Makishima struggled and tried to push Toudou away, but he didn't budge a single inch. How strong was this guy?!
"That won't do at all, Maki-chan! I must ensure that my position as your rival is certain first!" Toudou pouted.
"I don't like it if there is even a single possibility of someone else competing with me for that position!" Toudou said possessively, "The spot at the top of the mountain is reserved for only the two of us!"
"Geez... Okay, okay, I get it." Makishima closed his eyes and grumbled, "You can be so annoying sometimes..."
'Toudou won't shut up until I went along with it. Why is he so insecure, anyway?' Makishima pondered.
"I'll only say this once, okay? Don't make me repeat myself again..." Makishima muttered slowly and quietly, "...My best rival is only you and you alone, Jinpachi. No one else could replace your position. Not even the guy rider from Nagano, Kumamoto, Saitama, or whatever."
"There, done. How's that? Are you satisfied now?" Makishima said. "It's embarrassing... You don't have to worry about trivial things like that in the first place, anyway. We're always—"
"...MAKI-CHANNNNN!" Toudou yelled in Makishima's ears and hugged him more tightly than before, Toudou's head was buried down on Makishima's shoulder.
"Geh—Why are you yelling now?! Shut up, Toudou!"
"I DON'T KNOW! BUT I CAN'T STAY QUIET, I'M JUST SO HAPPY RIGHT NOW, MAKI-CHAN!"
Makishima was bewildered by Toudou's sudden change of mood. One time he would be so quiet that it was too awkward, and then out of nowhere, he would be back to being loud as usual. What a bothersome guy...
'Oh well, maybe only this once then...' Makishima thought to himself, sighing and putting a hand on Toudou's back. 'If it's only this, I can still keep up with him. I am indebted to him in some way anyway...'
'But still, it would be bad if we are being seen like this by the other guests, isn't it?'
"Hey... Don't you think it's also time for us to get out, Toudou? Other customers would be coming in soon," Makishima looked at the door to outside, he wanted to leave this place as soon as possible to avoid an awkward situation. "We are here for quite a long time, it's noon already."
"Oh? You're right, Maki-chan... That's no good, it means that my break time is almost over. I also need to prepare the meal for you too..." Toudou said, finally letting go of Makishima.
Just when Makishima breathed a sigh of relief, Toudou suddenly held him by his arms.
"...Huh? Toudou? What are you doing?" Makishima cluelessly asked.
"Okay... Let's go then, Maki-chan! We don't have all day with us!" Toudou rose up quickly, dragging Makishima out from the hot spring by sheer force.
"W-wait a minute, Toudou...!" Makishima staggered and almost stumbled, "Let go of me! I can walk just fine by myself!"
"Oh. Sorry about that, Maki-chan. I'm just too caught up with myself!" Toudou said sheepishly, his face lit up like he just remembered something important. "Ah, that's right. I also forgot to tell you something!"
"I have prepared our inn's worker coat for you, Maki-chan!" Toudou said cheerfully, "I put it on a locker beside yours, so you would find it immediately if you check the inside!"
"If you're working here, you must always wear it, otherwise the customer wouldn't know if you're a staff or not." Toudou explained to him, "But it's okay if they don't recognize you though, Maki-chan. Just stick with me all the time, and I'll be helping you with that!"
Makishima's shoulders slumped and resigned in defeat just by hearing that, Toudou's voice seemed to be in a far distance for him now.
'Oh God, why did I agree to do this in the first place...?' Makishima massaged his temple, he wanted to hit himself in the head because of his blunder. 'If only I could beat Toudou this morning...'
And what's more, he also didn't know what would be in store for him tomorrow. Didn't Toudou say they will go somewhere together for a vacation? Heck, where would they even go, anyway? Makishima couldn't even think up a place aside from their race events and mountain locations! And never mind that, there is a limit to his energy and patience as well.
Makishima sighed and walked slowly toward his locker, it would be a long (and tiring day) for him, after all...