Standard disclaimers apply here.
BENEATH THE PALM TREES
By Caetla Stormcatcher
"Reading again, Mi-chan?"
Tokiya Mikagami lowered the book he was reading and came face to face with the speaker. "What are you doing back here?" he asked, annoyed that his quiet time was interrupted. "Aren't you supposed to be on the other side of the coast with the others?"
"Yeah...well..." Fuuko Kirisawa, wearing a green T-shirt and white shorts, shrugged her shoulders. There was an irked look on her face. "The beach was packed wall-to-wall with people that I couldn't get a decent a tanning spot or take in a nap with all the talking and those radios blaring at full volume. Then Domon started drooling at every girl who wore a bikini _and_ made a lot of comments about them, which totally pissed me off..." She kicked a pebble to express her irritation. "After I threw the baka to sea, I dressed up, picked up my stuff, and left. I came back here, hoping to get a tan and a nap in peace."
Mikagami knew what she meant. The beach house that Kagehoushi rented for the team to stay in for the summer break is located at the southern end of the shore, which isn't open to the general public except for those who leased any of the houses within the property. They have a beautiful stretch of white sands and blue waters just a few meters from their back porch, but nearly everyone in the gang preferred the commotion and camaraderie of the public beach. Only the Ensui master and the immortal woman chose to stay at their private retreat.
"I came across Kagero-san on my way back here," Fuuko continued. "She's going to town to buy some food for supper later. She told me where to find you."
"Uh huh..." Mikagami sounded disinterested, and went back to reading his book. He saw two slender fingers perch at the top pages, and felt his reading material being wrenched away from his hand. "Kirisawa..."
"Mi-chan," began Fuuko, looking at the book in her hand. "We're in a beach--this is a place meant for swimming, surfing, playing volleyball... You know? Having fun, letting your hair down, relaxing."
"My hair is down." Sure enough, Mikagami's silver blue mane is free from its usual ponytail. "And I _am_ relaxing!" He made a sudden grab for the book, nearly causing the hammock he was lying in to swing precariously from side to side, threatening to throw him off.
Fuuko laughed at his predicament, then an impish thought came into her head. "That hammock looks real inviting. Can I have a try at it?"
"No," he answered firmly. First, she stole his novel and now she wants to take over _his_ hammock. Actually, he amended, it's someone else's hammock. But, still, it was the principal of the matter that he was there first.
She gave him a mock scowl. "Suit yourself," she said, tossing back the book.
He caught the book with both hands, relieved that she had given up so easily. But then he felt a shift of balance. "What are you doing?!" he asked in alarm as he saw the wind wielder sit on the edge of the net. "I said no, remember?"
"I heard you," she said, lifting her feet off the sand. "And I'm ignoring it--Whoa!"
The hammock shook violently as its latest occupant added her full weight to its already unbalanced state, causing both occupants to grab on to something to keep from falling.
When the movement subsided, Mikagami became well aware of the warm body lying next to him and found that Fuuko had him in a semi-embrace. She looked up to him hesitantly, half-afraid that he might be upset enough to push her off.
"Was that really necessary?" he asked exasperatedly, eyes closed tightly and faced scrunched up in irritation.
"Just for the look on your face," Fuuko said matter-of-factly, "I'd say yes." She then burst into giggles.
He sighed loudly. "If that's you're main reason for getting up here then I suggest you'd better get off and leave me back to my business."
"Um..." Fuuko looked uncertain. "I don't think I could do that right now..."
"To quote from my dad, after he fell off a hammock many years ago: 'Hell to get in! Hell to get out!'"
"Damn!" Much as he hated to admit it, Mikagami had to agree with that. He was just lucky that no one saw him on his first three attempts to get in earlier.
"Let me try to--" Fuuko moved one leg over the edge and slowly tried to sit up. "Eep!" There was another scary shake and she felt being pulled back in.
"Don't you dare do anything that will make us fall," said Mikagami, holding on to her arm.
He only withdrew his hand after she had settled back to lie beside him. Fuuko, lying on her side with her back towards him, could feel her face heat up as she realized how physically close they are. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea after all--jumping into the hammock with him that is. She had only meant to tease him, not get stuck with him.
The two maintained an uneasy silence that lasted for several minutes. Only the sounds of the waves crashing and seagulls screeching kept them from believing that they had gone deaf.
Unable to take the tenseness of the situation (and in an attempt to hide her own discomfiture), Fuuko did the only thing she could think off...act normal.
"So, Mi-chan," she began, turning slowly to face him. "Have you been to the seaside before?"
Mikagami didn't answer immediately. He was facing the other way, watching the waves break on the shore. "A long time ago," he finally said after a tense silence, "when I was seven or eight. Mifuyu was invited by her friends to spend an entire weekend on a beach. Since there was no else to look after me at that time, I came along with them."
"It must've been a really enjoyable time for you, ne?" she asked, and suddenly regretted saying it. It slipped Fuuko's mind that the Ensui master doesn't like to talk about the past--times when his sister was still alive.
True enough, he didn't answer.
Fuuko silently cursed herself for her thoughtlessness. "Sorry about that, Mi-chan," she apologized. "I didn't mean to make you feel bad."
He shifted his head from the view of the ocean to the panorama of the unclouded blue sky partially obscured by the slender fronds of the palm tree. His eyes held no emotion whatsoever to indicate what he is feeling right now. "It's alright, Fuuko," he said listlessly. "I was just reminiscing about the good times I had during that summer..."
*Change the subject, Kirisawa,* she told herself, *before Mikagami starts to feel badly throughout the entire vacation.*
"Doesn't the water look nice," she said, looking at the sea. "Hey! Why don't we try to get out of here and go for a swim?"
"Maybe later. The sun's still pretty fierce and I don't fancy getting sunburned. Besides, I'm comfortable where I am right now..." Mikagami trailed off as the implication of that last sentence seeped in. Fuuko's cheeks were slightly red when he turned to face her. "Let me rephrase that... What I meant to say was: 'I _was_ comfortable before _you_ got here.'"
"Humph!" Fuuko frowned mockingly. "Well... _Excuse_ me for spoiling what you consider as fun, Mi-chan. But really! We've only got two more days left until we go back to the city and you did nothing but lie around and read. Look at you--you're pale as a sheet. I'm starting to think that you don't know how to swim."
"I know how to swim," he informed her. "But only at certain times of the day when it isn't so hot. I have a tendency to burn so easily if I stay under the sun for too long..."
"So wear some sunblock."
"Useless. The water still washes it off after some time."
"Gee, I simply can't imagine anyone refusing a nice, cool dip in the ocean just because they think the day's too hot for them," Fuuko muttered dryly. "Well then, at least try to get a tan. Having fair skin is nice, but really...you could use a little color on that handsome face of yours..."
Mikagami scowled at her. She giggled at his reaction. Oh, how she just loves to tease him like that.
"Anyways," she said. "Since our vacation is nearly at an end, why don't you join us on our next trip to the public beach? There are a lot of interesting things going on there."
"Fuuko..." he began. "Could you imagine the havoc that would happen if I go there?"
She could see it all right. Girls sighing, fainting, and flirting with the water wielder. Yup, same thing that happens at school nearly everyday. Except maybe you could add screaming and chasing to that. With no teachers around, things are bound to get wilder. Good Kami! She could just imagine all the girls in the public beach going ballistic if Mikagami ever decides to take off his shirt before taking a swim in the ocean... Mikagami. Shirtless. Oh, she could see it all clearly...
Mikagami saw Fuuko's face going ruby red as she was looking at his tank-top clad torso. "Kirisawa..." The edge in his voice could cut through stone. "What the _Hell_ are you thinking about?"
Fuuko ducked her head, not liking the tone of his voice. "Nothing, Mi-chan!" she exclaimed quickly. "Nothing at all."
"Yeah, right," he commented sarcastically. With one hand, he tilted her chin so that her eyes met his.
Fuuko stopped breathing in nervousness. He doesn't look too happy right now.
"I'm not blind, Fuuko," he said. "I've seen that look too many times to ignore it."
"I'm not one of your admirers, Mikagami," she said rather testily. Fuuko would rather die than admit she was admiring his body. "Besides, there is nothing about you that impresses me..."
His stoic expression remained unfazed. "I don't believe you."
"WHY YOU INSUFF--!" Fuuko sat up too quickly and too suddenly, causing her side of the hammock to tilt dangerously and making her lose her balance. When falling seemed to be the unavoidable choice, she closed her eyes, expecting to feel hot gritty sand impacting against her any second now...
There was a vice-like grip on her arm...and the next thing she knew, she was thrown against something warm and solid. But she is safe.
That was scary, she thought as she tried to catch her breath back. Her heart was beating rapidly and heavily against her chest, like it was ready to explode. It took a few minutes before her breathing and heartbeat returned to its normal pace and it was only then that she became aware of a pair of strong slender arms wrapped around her shoulders.
"I, um..." she mumbled, unsure of what to say for her mind went blank.
*Okay...* reason contemplated the current situation. *You fell out off the hammock and Mikagami apparently saved you. Now, what do you say?*
"A-arigato, Mi-chan," Fuuko said almost automatically.
*Very good,* said reason. *And oh yes, you _are_ lying on top of him. Have fun...* Her girlish side giggled mischievously.
Fuuko's eyes widened at that realization, and immediately tried to free herself from his embrace.
"Take it easy, Fuuko," Mikagami said, tightening his hold on her as the hammock shook again.
She only panicked and struggled to break free from his arms.
"Keep this up and we'll both go down," he warned her sternly.
Fuuko stopped struggling and just laid there with her head on his chest. Moments later, his arms went slack and his hands slid down to rest on her elbows. She quickly moved away from him and lay to his right, not facing him.
Never was silence so oppressing nor time was so eternal than the few minutes they stayed that way.
Finally, it was Mikagami who broke the silence. "Fuuko, are you angry at me?"
"Hn?" She turned her head to look at him. "No. Why did you ask that?"
"You were almost fighting to get away from me," he said. "Am I really that bad to you?"
"Not really," Fuuko said. "I'm just still pretty much shook up with your allegations, and I guess I just reacted badly... And I'm just not used to being held like that by a boy..." The last sentence was spoken in a faint murmur. There was a faint flush on her cheeks as she remembered how he embraced her.
Mikagami heard her but did not comment on it for he knew that she accidentally spoke her thoughts aloud at that time.
After a few more minutes of exchanged silence, he asked, "Do you wish to get off, Fuuko? We could give it another try..."
"Maybe later, Mi-chan," she said, her back still facing him. She yawned and her eyes started to close. "You were right, you know. It is comfortable right here..." And she fell asleep.
Now it was Mikagami's turn to be dumbfounded. It was bad enough to be stuck with a wide-awake and talkative Fuuko just minutes ago, but being asleep isn't just as good. How the heck was he going to leave now?!
If he tried to get off the hammock by himself, he might disturb her and wake her up. Or worse, he might just fall flat on his face and she would wake-up and laugh at his predicament, then he'd be forced to kill her just to save his reputation... He shook his head at that thought. Nah, killing her is definitely out of the question. Recca would toast him. Domon would pulverize him. Yanagi would never forgive him. He guessed he could handle the flamecaster and the earth master, but he'd rather commit seppuku than have the healer mad at him for life.
Fuuko's arm fell limply over the side of the hammock and she teetered dangerously to falling. Having heard from Yanagi about Fuuko's constant problem with rolling off the bed, Mikagami gently grabbed her shoulder and maneuvered her towards the middle. Fuuko slowly shifted to lie on her back and somehow managed to pin his arm underneath her head in the process.
This is just great, he thought. Now she is using his arm as a pillow!
He contemplated on forcibly jerking his arm away but the look of serene contentment on her face made him think otherwise. He frowned. Since when did he show consideration for Fuuko? She was forever teasing him, calling him those cutesy nicknames, and giving him those occasional "friendly" jabs (her last one left a bruise on his shoulder that took days to heal).
Mumbling unintelligibly in her sleep, the wind girl casually draped an arm over Mikagami's chest as she unconsciously snuggled closer to him.
Unused to such intimate contact, the Ensui master felt his whole body tense up in alarm and all forms of thought flew from his mind. He also didn't realize how long he was holding his breath until he saw colorful, dancing spots before his eyes.
For a moment, he entertained the thought of pushing her away but another part of him dismissed that. He felt _something_ long forgotten leach back into his near frozen soul. It was a feeling that he missed as a child: The warmth and closeness of another human being.
An intense debate raged on inside his head with one side telling him to remove himself from Fuuko before something happens, and the other side feeding on his loneliness and physical need for comfort. All it took was another small movement from her and he knew he was lost.
Wrapping the back of her shoulders with same arm that she earlier used as a pillow, Mikagami pulled the sleeping Fuuko closer to him.
*You're good as dead, Tokiya,* he thought. Should Fuuko wake-up to find herself in his arms, she'd strike first and ask questions later. Of course, he would remind her that she started the whole thing by forcing herself where she wasn't invited in the first place...and also if she doesn't want any certain _rumors_ related to this incident flying around school, she'd better keep her fists to her own.
It wasn't long before the salt-scented seabreezes and the non-stop monotonous roar of the waves made the water wielder feel drowsy. Feeling strangely peaceful with himself and the world in general, Mikagami closed his eyes to sleep.
Yanagi Sakoshita came across them half an hour later.
The rest of the team decided to head back to the beach house earlier than usual because Recca wanted to watch the big baseball game. While the boys positioned themselves in front of the TV, Yanagi went to look for Fuuko and Mikagami-sempai. Not finding them on the beach within range of the house, the healer trekked to one end of the shore until she found them.
She rubbed her eyes in an effort to try to erase the sight before her. A mirage. Yeah, that's what it was...nothing more than a mere figment of her imagination caused by too much exposure to the sun.
Yanagi opened her eyes again...
Fuuko was _still_ nestled comfortably against the water master, her head resting on his chest right near his heart; and Mikagami _still_ has one arm around the wind wielder's waist while his other arm hung limply over the side of the hammock they were sharing.
It wasn't a mirage...oh dear.
Partly scandalized, and not knowing what to make of the situation, Yanagi automatically turned on her heels and walked away quickly--she doesn't want to be there in case they wake-up and start a war.
As she made her way back to the beach house, the healer made up her mind to keep the discovery to herself. Kaoru, Ganko, and Kagehoushi would probably take the news without a fuss. Recca, on the other hand, would probably taunt the two and might just end up as the target of a combined wind and water attack. Yanagi sighed. She definitely didn't want that to happen to her ninja. And Domon...
A shiver ran down her spine at the thought of what Domon the Oni might do. It's for the best interest of everyone that she keep herself quiet. Besides, it would be interesting to observe how Fuuko and Mikagami might get along after this...that is, if one doesn't kill the other when they come around.
Then a gentle smile touched Yanagi's face as she recalled the look on Mikagami's face as he slept. Having caught sight the older boy napping several times before, she couldn't help but notice the permanent frown and the guarded expression on his face as if he was ready to wake-up the moment an enemy sneaked up on him. Or was he guarding himself from the nightmares of his sister's death? There was none of that when she just saw him.
Instead, there was peace. Totally disarmed and without a care in the world. The sleep of the innocent--one free of nightmares and responsibility.
*I wonder if Fuuko's presence has anything to do with it?* Yanagi mused. Then a rare naughty thought came to her. *I wonder if I could convince Recca spend the day with me in that hammock? I feel envious of those two...*
I wrote this fic right after Change of Season, but left it half-done when I got the urge to write the Xmas fic. I also sorta neglected it when the gaming bug bit me once again and I dedicated myself to playing Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy IX for days.