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he who understands a hero is himself a hero

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The weeks after Christmas are the coldest parts of the year but far be it from Kanata to let that deter him from going to the ocean when he feels the need. Nobody else seemed to notice but the water was different when the air was this cold. It was slower in its undulation, lazy like the fish and turtles got if they got too cold, but also clearer. Even though he couldn't go in, Kanata still liked to watch it even in the middle of winter.

Midori turned him down flat, citing the cold weather and his parents' need for him to work after school today, but upon hearing that Kanata was thinking of going alone, Chiaki immediately offered to go with him. It's the best possible outcome, in Kanata's opinion, but one he never thought to ask for on his own. Chiaki is always so busy, and to ask might've seemed suspicious, which he never wanted. Chiaki was one of the only people who never treated him like he was dangerous just for being himself, after all. Weird, sure, but never dangerous.

From the start they'd been partners, in a way. Two quiet kids--Chiaki had been so quiet when Kanata first met him--who ended up in a unit without direction. Most of the units at Yumenosaki were like that when they enrolled, but it's hard to say things got better when higher standards were imposed. For some, certainly, but for those whom the script decided were the villains of the piece, it was a dark time. Chiaki's not the only bright spot Kanata remembers about those days, but he is the brightest. He never turned away from Kanata even when his own star would certainly have risen by doing so and more than anything that's what makes him a hero in Kanata's eyes. It's more than the theme of their unit and more than just some ideal Chiaki aspires to. He's never been one to take the easy way out and whether that's a deliberate decision or because sometimes Chiaki's just too focused to see another path, it's still something Kanata's grateful for.

He's never gotten much beyond generally being quiet, but he can tell a few minutes into their walk that Chiaki is anxious, fidgety in the silence, so he speaks to beat him to the punch since there's something on his mind anyway.

"Chiaki… do you ever think about what you want to do after school?"

Chiaki's answering grin is all Kanata needs to see to know that his unitmate has not even remotely understood the question. "Tomorrow is basketball club practice, you know, so of course I'll be there, but after that I have a show at the park if the weather stays fair, and then I'll go home!"

Kanata sighs and shakes his head slowly. Connecting, really connecting, with Chiaki has always been superficially easy but painfully difficult on more important things. It makes him ache sometimes, like when you try to warm up too fast after coming in from the cold. "Nooo, I mean after graduation. It's no good to be short-sighted at a time like this when we consider how far we've come. Time is running out, after all, and soon you'll have to make a decision whether you like it or not, to pick what direction you'll go in when the bubble bursts…"

Understanding dawns on Chiaki's face but only for a moment before it's blocked by the clouds of thought. While it's a relief to see that he is actually thinking about the question, Kanata still feels a little bad for challenging him like this. It's not that Chiaki isn't smart; he just doesn't often think very far ahead. "Oh. I guess, when you put it that way, I haven't really thought about it very much! One of the great things about the work we've done here with Ryuseitai is that I've been able to make a lot of connections in the industries I'd like to work in. The live we did with Akatsuki in particular was helpful in meeting people who might be helpful to me in my career later on."

"Mmmm." Kanata scuffs his feet a little then starts a complicated series of steps around some icy patches as they make their way down the hill to the water. How hard does he want to push? On the other hand, though, he won't get to talk to Chiaki like this again and the answer is so very important. "What career, though? Do you think you're going to keep being an idol even after Yumenosaki?"

Chiaki laughs, not his loud chest-expanding hero laugh but something softer and more private. "To leave here and not be an idol… I think Tenshouin would personally find me and make me repeat a year or something. But being an idol without Ryuseitai isn't something I'm sure I'm interested in. Even if I wanted to, the only ways I could would be to wait for Takamine and Sengoku and Nagumo to graduate and join us or make a new group, but then I'd be competition for those guys and they've worked so hard. They don't deserve to have such a serious roadblock thrown up against them. Besides, if Ryuseitai were still heroes and we competed against them, wouldn't that make us the villains?"

Thinking like that for too long would be too much to expect from Chiaki, though, so just when Kanata's starting to worry about him, he looks over to see Chiaki's eyes lit like sparks and looking back at him. "What about you? I can say ‘us' and ‘we,' as many times as I want but that's only presuming you'd be interested!"

"I don't want to be made into a villain again. Especially not against those kids, it was almost too difficult last time." He realizes how that could sound, though--like he doesn't want to go with Chiaki wherever he might go--and continues before Chiaki can get the wrong impression.

"When I first came from the sea to this school, I thought the best thing would be to go back when it was all done. There wasn't any reason to stay on the land, it's hard and inconvenient and going back to the sea would be easy. I wanted it even more later on, to just go back and sink and sink and watch the little bubbles rise up and away from me." He lifts his hand and wiggles his fingers, mimicking the things he used to imagine, the air escaping from him one last time as he went back to the dark safety of the sea.

"Have you ever seen the sunlight from deep under the water, Chiaki?" Kanata's looking at his hand but he chances a glance to the side and feels his face warm when he sees Chiaki's looking at him. "It's thin and cold and diluted, broken up by the waves. When you're down deep you can't feel the warmth or see what the light is really like. It all looks blue. That was what made me happiest for a long time, a world where all my sea friends were different but everything else was always the same. No matter where you went in the water, it was still wet and it still pressed in on you the same way. Then I came to the surface and everything was different all the time. People are all so strange and chaotic and cruel for no reason. I didn't want to stay and I made a promise to myself that I would go back as soon as graduation was over.

But now… the sunlight is different when you're not in the water. You can feel it on your skin and it warms things, even the water. To lay in cool water while still feeling the warmth of the sunshine is a great thing. And you were the one who taught me that, you know. Morisawa Chiaki with the burning heart!" Kanata stops on the path, close enough to the water to hear it, and does his best impression of Chiaki's Ryuseitai slogan. His voice is so different from Chiaki's that it's immediately hilarious, at least to him. He keeps himself under control, however, and the performance lets him continue with a smile.

"Even when you burned me it just reminded me that the world could be a warm place and I've come to enjoy that so I don't think I want to go back where it's cold and dark anymore. I think I want to stay here, and I want to go wherever you go, Chiaki. So it's not presumptuous for you to say ‘us,' and ‘we.' It's just one more way you make me warm."

It's possibly more words than Kanata's said to Chiaki the entire time they've known each other and he's feeling absolutely spent at the end of it, especially when he looks over at Chiaki and his friend is just looking back at him with stunned eyes and a slightly open mouth. Kanata told himself he'd be all right no matter what Chiaki's reaction was, that the words he used weren't even that provocative (he wasn't sure he'd ever be able to tell Chiaki all of his feelings, but perhaps someday), that it would all be all right in the end, but he's suddenly not so sure.

At least, not until he feels a vice-like arm wrap around his shoulders and pull him in close. Kanata leans in, letting his head drop onto Chiaki's shoulder. It's a natural extension of the way Chiaki's tugging him in, after all.

"Kanata! If you were cold, you just needed to say so. My burning heart will always have a warm place for you in it." Chiaki's voice is unexpectedly soft and when Kanata tilts his head up, he can see a tinge of redness on Chiaki's face too. It's decidedly not from the chilly sea breeze, either. Kanata lays his head down again, wrapping his own arms around Chiaki and giving him some privacy with whatever feeling he has that's made him so gentle.

At least temporarily. When Chiaki resumes speaking, his voice is booming once again. "I've been considering a proposal about a hero who is an idol by day and who fights for justice by night! Or, well, not just by night but whenever he needs to! I think it's a show that could appeal to a broad audience, you know, maybe even get girls more interested in tokusatsu by bringing in idol performances. You'd have all kinds of opportunities for rivals, both on stage and off, and maybe the hero's biggest rival as an idol is also his biggest rival as a hero! Then I could keep performing without being a challenge to the rest of Ryuseitai while they're still growing, but I could also find a way to be a hero for all the people."

"So you'd want yourself to be the hero, Chiaki?" It's easier to have a conversation with someone he can see, so Kanata lets go and steps back until he can see Chiaki's face. It's still red but his eyes are shining and he looks every inch the hero to Kanata.

"I had thought so… do you think that's premature? I've been working for a long time, after all, and I'm probably one of the only people who could bring stunt specialization and idol practice together in this particular way, but maybe--"

"Ryusei chooooop!" Right to the middle of Chiaki's bangs. How was it that Chiaki never saw these coming? Kanata's gentle about it but it seems to do the trick of getting Chiaki's attention. "I think you are the only hero who could do the job and the only one I'd want to watch. Do you think your idol hero might need someone else with him, though, or is he the kind of man who takes everything on by himself?"

"Taking everything on by yourself is dangerous! It's how you get worn out, and especially for someone working two difficult jobs like that, you'd burn out in no time." Chiaki seems almost uncharacteristically aware of the potential irony in what he's saying, but it's been a long year for all of them so maybe it's not so surprising that having a producer, at least once in a while, has made things different for him. "Besides, if you're going to come with me then we'd at least have to be a duo. If you don't want to be a villain then I certainly wouldn't want you as my rival. Not if I could have you beside me."

At some point in his speech Chiaki'd reached out and taken Kanata's hand. As ever, his touch is warm, steady, solid like a sunbaked stone. With one little tug Chiaki starts them walking again and Kanata's grateful. Even if things had gone very differently than he thought they might, he does still remember the original intention of this errand. The water's so close, it'd be a waste to stop now.