Notes: Thank you for the reviews and sorry for the wait! I'm
happy you're still with me. Well, there's a cliffhanger in this
chapter, I think. I'm sure you all know who the people who will appear
are even though I don't mention their names. And if you don't, that's
fine too. You will know soon enough. Hope you all will enjoy this! Your enjoyment is what I write for. For mine too, but still.
"You guys," Yohei said gravely as he stepped out of bathroom, "should clean that place before it starts growing mold."
Sakuragi looked up from his plate to give his best friend a confused look. "Huh?"
Yohei gestured behind him. "Your bathroom. It stinks."
"Does it?" Sakuragi scratched his chin, contemplating. Then he shrugged and dug back into his food. "I haven't noticed," he said indifferently.
Yohei sank onto the floor, next to Sakuragi, and suppressed a shudder. Using a toilet unwashed for at least two months ranked high on his list of regrettable experiences. This was exactly the reason why he sometimes disliked coming to Sakuragi and Rukawa's place. Neither was very keen on keeping the place clean. "Have you checked the route now?" he asked, suddenly remembering that Haruko had asked him to make sure Sakuragi had the map they needed.
The four of them had decided to celebrate Sakuragi's 'victory over gods', aka the restoration of his health, by going to an onsen. They had let Sakuragi choose the place, seeing as he was the one who had been sick, and after rejecting a few impossibly expensive suggestions they had all agreed on one. The place seemed kind of shady which made Yohei and Haruko a bit uneasy and hesitant. But Sakuragi was thrilled and Rukawa said nothing due to the pleasure of seeing Sakuragi behaving like himself again, so they had stuck to the plan and set the date for today. They were now waiting for Haruko to come back from work so they could leave.
Sakuragi dug out a map and threw it to Yohei. "I marked the place on that," he managed to say through his food.
Yohei nodded and spread the map in front of him, checking which roads they should take. He was the only one with a licence and also the only one with a car so he would be doing the driving by himself. He figured it would be best to memorize the map since his helpers consisted of Rukawa who would fall asleep the moment he sat in the car, Haruko who understood next to nothing of maps and Sakuragi who thought taking little side tracks was the thing to liven up a boring, long drive.
Doorbell rang and they both looked up.
"It's Haruko-chan," Yohei stated the obvious. "Go and open the door for her."
Sakuragi put aside his plate and stood up, muttering how Yohei shouldn't order the tensai around in his own house, but obeying nonetheless. Yohei was a little surprised by the lack of resistance, he had thought Sakuragi would at least growl and threaten him before going. Perhaps Rukawa had managed to tame him a bit. The thought made Yohei grin.
Sakuragi trudged to the door and opened it, flashing a brilliant smile at the girl standing in the hallway. "Haruko-san! Aren't you a bit early?"
Haruko returned the smile and stepped in through the door Sakuragi kept open for her. She bent down to take her shoes off, at the same time explaining how she had managed to finish her work early and how she had convinced her boss to let her leave. "I'm so excited," she continued, looking up at Sakuragi with shining eyes. "I've been waiting for this trip like no other."
Sakuragi grinned and gave her a reassuring squeeze on her shoulder. "Don't you worry 'bout a thing, Haruko-san! This tensai will make this trip well worth the wait."
Haruko giggled and Sakuragi laughed and they had so much fun that they completely missed the intense look directed at them.
Rukawa had woken up by the noisy greetings Sakuragi and Haruko exchanged and cracked an eye open. His gaze fell immediately on the happy pair and he narrowed his eye into an icy slit. But when they started to turn in order to come to the living room, he quickly closed it and pretended he was still sleeping. It didn't take long for a strong hand to grip his shoulder and Sakuragi's voice to yell he should wake up.
"Get your ass up, Kaede! Haruko-san's here and we're leaving soon."
Rukawa suppressed a shiver. Sakuragi was so close to him that he could feel his breath on his cheek and the sound of his voice tickled, coming so close to his ear. He threw a punch at Sakuragi and revelled in hearing a surprised and pained yelp. That was for being so cosy with Haruko. He sat up and stretched his limbs, looking groggily at Sakuragi who was nursing his cheek.
"God damn it! Kitsune! Are you trying to start a fight?"
Rukawa yawned and swung his legs to the floor, stretching yet again and completely ignoring Sakuragi's question. "So we're leaving now?"
"That's right," Yohei answered, folding the map and tucking it in his back pocket. He stood up to greet Haruko.
"You've already packed the car?" Haruko asked, surprised. Although she knew Yohei was a very capable man when he wanted to, she hadn't expected him to exert himself when Sakuragi was there. Sakuragi's company tended to make him lazy.
"Well, me and Yohei did," Sakuragi answered in Yohei's stead, throwing a nasty glare at Rukawa. "While somebody just lay on the bed, snoring away like there was no tomorrow."
"Che," Rukawa snorted. "I do not snore," he then said.
"That's not the point here!" Sakuragi wailed and was about to launch an attack on Rukawa when Haruko stepped between them, seemingly by accident.
"Ah, Sakuragi-kun! You shouldn't leave dirty dishes lying around now! We'll be gone for many days," she exclaimed and picked up the empty plate Sakuragi had left on the floor. She then proceeded to the kitchen where a huge pile of dirty dishes lay scattered around the counter and the sink. It was not an uncommon sight in Rukawa and Sakuragi's flat and she felt the familiar urge to roll up her sleeves and start washing the dishes but before she could start, Yohei came from behind, took the plate and placed it on top of a mug.
"Don't start now. We have to go if we want to get there before dark," he said, guiding her towards the front door.
"Yes...Ah, but I should at least put it somewhere more safe. If you leave it like that, it might fall and break..." Haruko turned her head to see where she could replace it but was firmly dragged out of the kitchen before she could put her plan into action. "Yohei-kun?"
"Leave it," he said and she obeyed without another word.
Rukawa and Sakuragi had settled their disagreement and now stood side by side on the living room threshold. Sakuragi was watching Yohei and Haruko while Rukawa leaned against him, dozing off.
"We're not in that much of a hurry," Sakuragi mumbled sullenly, "You should've let Haruko-san wash them." It wouldn't have been the first time, nor the tenth for that matter.
"Yes, I can..." Haruko started, but was cut off by Yohei reminding Sakuragi that she was not their servant and that they should take care of such stuff by themselves.
"Easy for you to say," Sakuragi muttered.
Yohei grinned. It was indeed easy for him to say since he rarely had to do any of that stuff. Haruko liked doing the house work. Living with a girl like Haruko was completely different from two lazy guys sharing a flat. He looked around. "Yeah, you're right. But seriously, you guys...You really suck at keeping house. Ever thought of using a vacuum cleaner? You can soon start making sand-castles out of all of this dust."
"Ah, shut up," Sakuragi groaned. "You sound like my mother. Besides, we don't have a vacuum cleaner."
Yohei laughed at that and then they all put on their shoes and grabbed their jackets and prepared to leave.
"Hey, Hanamichi," Rukawa said as their descended the stairs, "Did you go to toilet before we left?" he asked.
"Stupid kitsune, don't talk to me like I'm a kid," Sakuragi answered irately.
"It's not like I have to take a piss every other minute."
Rukawa raised a brow. Yohei and Haruko pretended they didn't hear anything.
"Yes, you do," Rukawa stated.
"No, I don't! God damn it, kitsune! I think I know how my bladder works better than you do."
"Obviously you don't."
"How could there be anything wrong with this tensai's bladder? I'm perfect, you can't find a single flaw in me."
"Do'aho, I could write a book on your flaws."
"Make that a trilogy."
No words were needed to convey Sakuragi's feelings after that comment. Sakuragi had always been good at non-verbal communication. He was especially gifted in expressing his anger.
Yohei and Haruko went ahead when the two young men started to swing their fists. Haruko glanced back at them worriedly but left anyway, because she knew she couldn't do anything even if she stayed.
"I hope they're okay," she muttered.
"They're fine," Yohei said, waving his hand dismissively. "It takes more than a few punches to hurt them."
"Besides," Yohei continued, throwing a glance at the two figures, "They hold back nowadays. They don't hit each other with all they've got."
Haruko smiled. She had also noticed that Rukawa and Sakuragi had been more gentle with each other lately. Perhaps it was because of Sakuragi's illness and would fade soon. But it was nice to look at.
"Ah, but those converstations they have," Yohei continued as they reached his car.
It took several minutes for Sakuragi and Rukawa to settle their differences. By the time they reached the car, Yohei had already sat in the driver's seat and Haruko had taken a seat in the back. Sakuragi was about to open a door to sit next to Haruko when Rukawa grabbed his arm and held him in place.
"Gah! What is your problem now?" Sakuragi asked sourly, still a bit annoyed by their previous argument.
"You can't sit there," Rukawa said.
"And why the hell not?"
Rukawa didn't bother answering, he merely stared at Sakuragi and tightened his hold.
"Look, I want to have some company on this drive," Sakuragi explained, trying to hold back his temper. "Yohei will concentrate on driving and you're no company since you won't do anything but sleep, so Haruko-san is the only one who won't bore me to death. Your sleeping face isn't that interesting."
Rukawa raised a brow; so Sakuragi thought his sleeping face was interesting?
Immediately picking up the meaning of that raised eyebrow, Sakuragi blushed, but recovered quickly and repeated he had no intention of sitting anywhere but next to Haruko. Haruko had the food, too.
Before the second argument could arise, Yohei interrupted them. "Hanamichi, I need you to read the map for me."
"Huh?" Sakuragi turned to look at him, already a bit tempted but still holding onto his resolution. "Why can't Kaede do that?"
"You just said it yourself. He's going to fall asleep the minute his ass hits the seat," Yohei explained, grinning. "And Haruko-chan doesn't understand the first thing about maps."
Haruko pouted but couldn't retort since she knew it was true.
"Ahah! Okay, I understand. You need the tensai's skills. Can't be helped then. Kaede!" Sakuragi said, freeing his arm from Rukawa's grip. "You go sit in the back, you useless sleepy kitsune. Leave everything to me."
Rukawa frowned again but assented. He had gotten what he wanted anyway.
Rukawa was roused from his sleep by Sakuragi's voice demanding Yohei to stop the car. He sat up straighter in his seat and looked groggily out of the window. They had left city behind and instead of buildings made of concrete and glass, trees flashed by them. Rukawa's quiet character appreciated the beauty and silence nature offered as well as the privacy it provided. However, he had been born and raised in a city and most likely he would tread the rest of his life on the crowded streets of some big city. But perhaps, after he retired, he could buy a house from some desolated place in Hokkaido, and keep Sakuragi under him all day long. Outdoors and indoors. No neighbours bothering them. He had strong faith in his virility.
"Yohei! I told you to pull over. I can't hold it in for much longer!" Sakuragi said.
Rukawa sighed. Perhaps it would be best to dump Sakuragi and take a girlfriend who would be quieter and more intelligent.
"I can't stop here," Yohei tried to explain.
"Fine. But pull over as soon as you can. I'm about to pee in my pants here."
Rukawa felt an almost irresistable urge to say 'I told you so' but managed to fight it down. He rested his head against the window and drifted back to sleep.
Rukawa woke up again when something was thrown at his face. On closer inspection, it proved to be Sakuragi's shirt.
"Ah, shit!" Sakuragi said, fanning himself with a map. "It's so damn hot in here. Yohei, never thought of investing in air conditioning?"
Yohei just shrugged. With his income, the car he had now was already at the limit he could afford to keep.
Rukawa tossed the shirt aside and sat up straight again. His neck ached and as he moved, he felt stiffness in his muscels. He yawned widely. "How long until we're there?" he asked.
"What, Kaede? You're awake?" Sakuragi said and turned in his seat to look at Rukawa, flashing a brilliant smile.
Instinctively Rukawa returned the smile with a subtler version of it. Immediately after, he chided himself for his lack of self-control.
Sakuragi crossed him arms on the back of his seat and then rested his chin on them, looking at Rukawa with his smile still intact.
Rukawa forgot to breathe. An incredible feeling rose from the pit of his stomach as a response to the warm light flickering in Sakuragi's brown eyes, and made him want to squirm. He let his eyes travel to the upwards curved lips and then back up to meet Sakuragi's soft gaze.
Sakuragi blushed suddenly. He cast his eyes down but then glanced furtively at Rukawa and gave a weak grin.
Rukawa reached out to grasp Sakuragi by the neck. He felt Sakuragi's rough tresses slide between his fingers and then the sweaty, hot skin of Sakuragi's nape. He leaned forward, his skin tingling with anticipation, and then pressed his lips against Sakuragi's. They were chapped and dry but delicious, and when Sakuragi opened his mouth, Rukawa could taste the orange juice with which Sakuragi had quenched his thirst. Rukawa brought his other hand to caress Sakuragi's cheek and smiled when the redhead moaned into the kiss.
Suddenly they were shaken apart by Yohei hitting the brakes and turning to the left. Rukawa hit his head to Sakuragi's seat and Sakuragi, who had been kneeling in his seat, fell first backwards and then into Yohei's lap. The car stopped.
"What the hell!" Sakuragi bellowed, looking accusingly up at Yohei. He turned on his back, crossed his arms over his chest and continued glaring, his head still resting on Yohei's thighs.
Rukawa shot a nasty glare at the dark-haired man.
Yohei grabbed Sakuragi's head and forced the redhead to sit. Then he started to step out of the car. "We're going to take a swim to cool your heads," he said, looking slightly nauseated.
"Swim?" Sakuragi repeated. He looked around and noticed they had stopped at a small lake. A huge grin spread across his face. "Great! I was about to die from dehydration or possibly from a god damn heat-stroke." He stepped out and without a second thought took off his denims and ran towards the lake in nothing but his briefs.
Yohei grinned and soon followed suit, not hearing Haruko's weak cries warning him of possible passers-by.
Rukawa took off his shirt and emptied his pockets. He was wearing shorts and was going to swim in them. He had no intention of running around in his underwear. It was enough that Sakuragi embarrassed himself, no need for him to do the same.
Half an hour later, the men returned to the car, dripping wet and shivering in the light evening breeze. Sun sent orange and red rays over tree tops, glimmering on the water and setting Sakuragi's hair on fire. The road was empty and only the sounds of insects and birds broke the silence hanging over them. Haruko smiled at the men. She had dipped in the cool water but decided to leave when the men started a water fight. She had taken out towels for them and fixed a little snack.
"Aah, thanks, Haruko-san," Sakuragi sighed as she handed him a towel. He rubbed himself dry and then grabbed a sandwich, sinking his teeth in it with a satisfied sigh. "This is life," he said, closing his eyes and smiling widely.
"Heh. Yeah," Yohei agreed whole-heartedly.
Rukawa said nothing but the look in his eyes as he gazed at Sakuragi made Yohei fear for another intimate moment taking place in front of his eyes. To prevent this, Yohei said they should quickly get dressed and take a bite and then continue driving. It would take another two hours before they ould reach their destination. Everyone agreed to this. And so, ten minutes later, they sat in the car, on their way to the onsen Sakuragi had chosen. And a little over two hours later, Yohei parked the car in front of a shabby looking building.
Sakuragi looked at it with sparkling eyes. "It's just like in the picture," he announced excitedly.
Rukawa glanced around. It seemed the place was pretty quiet. This suited him fine. He didn't like crowded places.
"Well, at least it's cheap," Haruko said hesitantly.
"Let's go," Yohei said, opening the door, "I already reserved rooms for us so everything should be in order."
When they fumbled for their bags from the trunk, a conversation reached their ears.
"Did you forget anything?" asked a girl's voice.
"No, I have everything here," answered a man's voice reassuringly. There was something familiar in the eager tone of it.
"He went through the list at least ten times after you asked him to check it," said another man's voice mockingly.
A short silence followed and then angry murmurs broke it. A soft man's voice tried to calm everyone down.
Sakuragi looked at Rukawa, they both glanced at Yohei and Haruko. Then, as if they were of one body, they turned around. Further down the parking lot a group of people stood beside a red Toyota.
Sakuragi walked towards them. "What the hell are you doing here?" he asked, flabbergasted.