Oishi wakes up to one very sad fish.
The reason for its distress is readily apparent -- its silvery gold mate is belly up at the top of the tank, and the bereaved fish is lagging behind the rest of his school. Zebra Danio mate for life -- they get attached, and they don't let go.
Oishi sighs, and scoops Miho-chan out of the water. He wonders what went wrong -- maybe she was overfed, maybe she was sick. Maybe she was stressed from some environmental factor that Oishi hasn't made allowance for yet.
He knows perfectly well that some fish have short lives, and some fish will die no matter what you do, but Oishi gets attached to the things he takes care of. He knows he needs to get on with his day, feed the other fish, and get ready for school, but he's still kneeling on his floor in front of the fish tank, Miho-chan's little body cradled in his hand.
"I'm sorry," he says, though he's not sure if he's talking to Miho-chan or her mate or both.
He wraps her body carefully in tissue paper and flushes her, and goes down to eat breakfast. He's not really hungry, but it will make his mother worry if he doesn't eat breakfast, so he eats anyway.
It's drizzling outside, so he takes an umbrella from the stand near the door. He makes sure to take the clear plastic one -- it's slightly bigger that most, big enough to share comfortably, and Eiji likes to look up through the plastic to the raindrops falling from the sky.
He's busy thinking about the things he has to do today, the student council meeting he has to attend, and the likelihood that practice will be cancelled if the rain keeps up. The train, as always, is cramped and quiet in the early morning, with the added misery of water everywhere, since the station neglected to put out plastic umbrella slip covers. He puts on his headphones and clicks on his MD player, but none of the songs seem right, and eventually he turns it off, and stares out the window.
Eiji is waiting at the station exit, his umbrella properly covered with plastic. It's blue with monkeys on it, and Eiji has proclaimed it the cutest umbrella in existence, possibly only rivaled by the dearly departed orange umbrella with rubber duckies -- an unfortunate victim of the combination of slippery pavement, a pole, and Eiji on a bicycle. Despite that, Eiji always ducks under Oishi's umbrella, leaving his own to hang from his wrist, swinging as they walk.
Eiji is holding a can of milk tea -- it's the kind that Oishi likes best, and it isn't at any of the vending machines at Oishi's home station. He cracks it open, holding it carefully to avoid burning his fingers, as Oishi approaches.
"Morning!" Eiji says, and offers him the can and a still-sleepy smile.
Oishi takes a long sip, and the warm liquid feels good, after all the rain and cold. He hands it back to Eiji, who sips it noisily and with a contented little sigh. They swap the can back and forth a few more times before it's empty -- eventually, the caffeine will kick in, and Eiji will be his usual chattering self. But in the morning, before school, Eiji is like this -- quiet and drowsy and liking nothing better than to share tea with Oishi.
Oishi slips a fifty yen piece into the pocket of Eiji's uniform trousers. It's half the price of the milk tea, something that Eiji has stopped complaining about, although he used to bat at Oishi's hands when he tried to offer his fair share for their morning tea. It used to be a game, when Oishi would distract Eiji long enough to sneak the coin into Eiji's school bag, but they've been meeting every morning for school since junior high, and now Oishi drops it in Eiji's pocket, almost without thinking.
"Let's go," Oishi says, and opens his umbrella.
It's a short walk to school, but Eiji walks under the umbrella with him, their arms brushing, Eiji keeping pace perfectly. When they get to school, Oishi puts his umbrella in its plastic sleeve, and Eiji slides them both into the umbrella stand, right next to each other, and ties the handles together with a blue ribbon so that no one will mistakenly walk off with Oishi's clear plastic umbrella.
Oishi only realizes that he's been lost in his own thoughts when Eiji grabs Oishi's elbow, and says, "Oishi, are you okay?"
Oishi looks at Eiji's concerned eyes, and says, "I'm fine. I'll see you at lunch?"
Eiji doesn't look at all convinced, but then, Oishi's a terrible liar. "You'll tell me then," Eiji says, and only Eiji can make that sound like promise and a threat at the same time.
Morning classes pass steadily, no slower or faster than usual. Fuji stares unabashedly out the window, and Oishi would contemplate doing the same if he were in the habit. Which, of course, he is not. Calculus is soothing and Oishi is absorbed for awhile in integrals and limits, and the sweeping curves of the hand-drawn graphs of his homework.
Lunch comes, and he realizes abruptly that his lunch is still sitting at home on the kitchen counter. He sighs and resigns himself to standing in line for bread, which just makes him feel further out of sorts.
When he goes to find Eiji at their table to tell him that he has to go wait in line, Eiji says, "Sit down, Oishi!"
"I forgot my lunch --" Oishi begins to protest.
"I know," Eiji interrupts. "You weren't carrying it this morning, so I skipped out at the end of class and went to buy bread early."
"Eiji!" Oishi says, vaguely scandalized. "And they don't even open before class is over."
Eiji leans forward conspiratorially. "Izumi-san -- the lady with the short hair -- let me buy some early. She thinks I'm adorable."
Oishi tries to summon a frown but fails, because Eiji is adorable.
"See, we'll share lunch -- you can eat some of mine and we'll both eat anpan and it'll be good, right?" Eiji says. Oishi is reminded that even though they still have the occasional quarrel, he and Eiji are attuned to each other in a way that sometimes surprises him. Only Eiji would have noticed if Oishi forgot his lunch, or remembered that he had a deep-seated, inexplicable dislike for melon bread and would rather eat anpan any day.
Eiji sets his bento between them, and keeps up a lively recounting of the morning's events -- apparently, Tezuka has once again driven their math teacher to monosyllables by correcting him in the middle of class. Oishi and Eiji don't quite eat off of each other's chopsticks, but sometimes it's close.
Oishi knows that Eiji has not forgotten his promise to talk, but when Momoshiro sits down at their table, triumphant with his spoils from the bread line, Eiji just gives him a look that says, later.
Later turns out to be much later, following afternoon classes and a deadly dull student council meeting. Eiji pounces the minute Oishi walks outside the door.
"I could have just called you," Oishi protests. "You didn't have to stay."
"Did," Eiji retorts. "Our umbrellas are tied together."
That, apparently, is that. It's a measure of how long he's spent around Eiji that his logic doesn't really faze Oishi anymore.
The continuing rain meant that practice was indeed cancelled, so they huddle together under Oishi's umbrella as they head off toward the station.
All things considered, Eiji has been remarkably patient, but then, this is the way it goes with them: Oishi worries about everything, and Eiji worries about Oishi. Still, Eiji's held out all day, so Oishi isn't overly surprised when Eiji pulls him into a little alcove off the street, populated by an aging vending machine that only ever seems to have Pocari Sweat stocked. It's not as good as their dumpster, but they have talked here before.
"Oishi is down today," Eiji says.
Oishi nods, even though he feels kind of dumb for admitting to it.
Eiji is nearly the same height, just a few centimeters shorter. So when he wraps his arms around Oishi, Oishi can actually lean his head down onto Eiji's shoulder. Eiji's tall enough, strong enough, that Oishi can let go for a few minutes. He mutters into Eiji's neck, "One of my fish died today." He still doesn't think that he should be depressed over one fish, but he can't help it.
"Which one?" Eiji asks, concerned. Eiji has named more than a few of Oishi's fish.
Oishi sighs. "Miho-chan."
"Awww, the pretty gold-silver one who was married to Tatsuya?"
The fact that Eiji knew right away makes Oishi smile a little bit. "Yeah, that one."
"That's sad," Eiji says, and he's sincere -- he's fond of Oishi's fish, and finds them cool, although not as cute as, say, Ryoma's cat. "She was a pretty fish. Smart, too."
"Yeah," Oishi says finally.
Eiji pulls back a little and finds Oishi's lips with his own -- it's a comforting kiss, gentle and sweet. Eiji's been through a few fish deaths now, so Oishi knows what he'll suggest before Eiji even says it.
"Tatsuya will be lonely," Eiji says, curled up with Oishi on his bed. The only light in the room is the one in the fishtank, and they watch the fish swim in mesmerizing patterns.
"I'll have to get another one," Oishi says, stroking his fingers idly through Eiji's hair. "Not supposed to have schools less than six of that breed."
"Hnnn," Eiji replies. "We can go to the pet store tomorrow after practice. We'll pick a nice girl."
He sounds so serious, and Oishi cracks a smile. "Matchmaking my fish, huh?"
"I just want everyone to be happy," Eiji says.
Oishi finally gets up to turn the fish tank light off, and when he crawls back into bed, he snuggles up to Eiji, who is sleepy and pliant. Oishi remembers a school of six in silvery gold, swimming in convoluted paths, and slowly drifts off to sleep.