Manjyome trudged slowly up the path, trying to look as if he weren't going anywhere in particular. Specifically, he was trying to look as if he were more interested in strolling up to the cliffs to have a look at the view, rather than actually going to the Osiris Red dorm, which was where he was going. It would be nice to at least pretend, for a while, that he didn't really need to go back to that rickety firetrap if he didn't want to. Some days he thought he'd rather sleep on the ground than in that broom closet of his that masqueraded as a room.
I really don't feel like shutting myself up in there... and there's no reason why I should. I don't have homework to do tonight. I can go somewhere else for a while.
He was just beginning to consider walking down to the card shop to buy a snack and take a look at the latest booster packs, when he became aware of the sound of footsteps coming quickly up behind him. Before he could turn around, something tackled him from behind and flung an arm around his neck, colliding with him hard enough that he was nearly thrown off his feet. He would have fallen if it weren't for the arm supporting him, but it left him dangling in a rather uncomfortable position.
"Manjyome-kuuuuuun!" called a cheerful - and not unfamiliar - voice in his ear.
"Guck," he said uncomfortably, trying to get the arm unwound from his neck, or at least get his feet back in their proper place. It wasn't easy; whoever had hold of him was trying to march him around in the other direction. He finally managed to fall into step with his captor and force him to loosen his grip. Manjyome turned to face him. "What did you do that for?"
Fubuki - for it could only be Fubuki - ignored the death look he was getting.
"Let's go to the hot springs!" he said happily. He had released his strangle-hold on Manjyome's neck, but he still had an arm around the younger boy's shoulders, and was continuing to march him in that general direction whether he showed any inclination to go that way or not.
"Why?" asked Manjyome.
"Because I like the hot springs," Fubuki answered, with irrefutable logic, "and they won't let me have a pool all to myself."
"That's on the other side of the island," said Manjyome, but without much conviction. After all, he had been looking for an excuse to stay out for a while, and here it was. He'd been expecting to spend that time alone, being unsociable by nature, but he could tolerate Fubuki's company better than he could tolerate most of his housemates. Fubuki was a celebrity, after all, an elite even among the Obelisk Blue students. It reflected well on Manjyome that such a person would want to spend time with him - not the other Obelisk Blues, not Misawa or Juudai, but him.
"So you won't go?" asked Fubuki, looking at him with his saddest expression. He was good at that kind of thing; his untidy hair and slightly tilted brown eyes gave him the pleading look of a shaggy puppy.
"I didn't say that," said Manjyome. "I just meant we should get moving if we want to get there and still have time to spare."
"Now you're talking! Come on!"
Fubuki broke into a run, beckoning Manjyome to hurry up and follow him. Manjyome hesitated a moment, gathering his wits and his air supply; aside from being half-choked, dealing with Fubuki tended to make him feel like he'd just been through a whirlwind. Then he broke into a jog-trot and hurried down the road toward the hot springs.
They reached the building that enclosed the springs and went inside, Fubuki sauntering in as if he owned the place, and Manjyome still a little winded from the run. Fubuki didn't seem to be winded at all, but then, he hadn't looked as if he were out of energy since the day he'd come out of his coma. Manjyome suspected he still hadn't used up all those days of extra sleep yet. There were very few other people around, and most of those were gathering up their things and preparing to go back to their dorms. Fubuki walked up to the reception area, leaned on one elbow, and fixed his gaze squarely on the young woman attending the desk.
"Can my friend and I have a private pool, please?" he asked, giving her his most winning smile.
"I'm sorry," said the receptionist. "The rules are that we can only allow parties of at least three, due to limited space. You'll have to use the main area."
"Oh, come on," he pleaded. "It's the end of the day. Everyone else is going home. There has to be room for us somewhere. Can't you make a tiny little exception, just this once? We won't tell!"
"Well..." said the girl slowly. "I suppose it wouldn't hurt, since there aren't many people around right now..."
She marked their names down on the register and gave them a key card to one of the smaller pools, and Fubuki victoriously sauntered off with it.
"Do you always get everything you want?" asked Manjyome, halfway between exasperation and admiration.
"Usually!" he answered cheerfully. "People just like me. I don't know why."
And that about summed it up, Manjyome thought, as they made their way to the locker rooms to deal with their clothing. There was nothing about Fubuki that suggested vanity, so much as a simple-minded notion that people were just naturally disposed to like him, and he understood this just well enough to make use of it. In some ways, he was such an interfering troublemaker, not to mention completely lacking in conventional social skills, that it was amazing that people liked him at all. He was just so full of a sense of fun and adventure that people were drawn to him and willing to forgive him for anything, as long as they could bask in his exciting presence. As living proof, here was Manjyome, who generally avoided his classmates the way he avoided communicable diseases and asylum escapees, and here we was getting ready to follow this lunatic into a confined space wearing nothing but a towel.
Speaking of which...
Far be it from Manjyome to be jealous of anyone. He knew, even if the rest of the school might get confused on the issue from time to time, that he was an elite duelist. He was, in fact, the best and would get around to proving it sooner or later, once he'd sorted a few little details out. He was from a powerful family, and had a great deal more disposable income than the average student, or the average person in general. On the other hand, he was still a slightly gawky fifteen year old boy who hadn't completely filled out yet. He suspected that even when he was fully grown, he still wouldn't have that kind of athletic build, the kind that actually looked good in that skin-tight surfer's suit. He'd probably never be able to manage the surfer's tan, either. Any previous attempts at tanning had usually led to sunburn, and hadn't looked all that good on him anyway.
No wonder the girls fall all over themselves to get a look at him.
"Ready to go?" asked Fubuki cheerfully, as he checked the knot on his towel.
"In a minute," said Manjyome.
He shoved the last of his personal possessions into a locker, making sure his deck was secure.
"You stay here this time," he muttered quietly, and shut the door before any Ojamas could get out. He didn't particularly want a repeat of what had happened last time he came here.
Thus properly attired, the two of them made their way to the hot spring that was reserved for them. One of the advantages of living on a volcanic island was that there was an abundance of natural hot water. Much of it was channeled to the dorms to be put to practical purposes, but this corner of the island had been given over to pleasurable pursuits. The water had been collected into lots of pools of varying sizes, and covered over with a greenhouse dome, allowing a number of tropical plants to flourish. The sound of running water pervaded over everything.
Particularly when it was dripping down the walls, because Fubuki had just taken a cannonball dive into the spring. He came up spluttering and shaking water out of his hair, grinning from ear to ear.
"Come on in! The water's fine!" he called.
"I noticed," said Manjyome, who had been standing nearby, and thus had been liberally splashed. He debated performing a similar stunt just to pay Fubuki back, but refrained. For one thing, Fubuki would probably enjoy it. For another, Manjyome would probably end up losing his towel somewhere in the process if he tried it. He entered the water in a more decorous fashion.
He had not really been anticipating a particularly social visit. The point of hot springs, as far as he was concerned, was to relax and unwind, and that was something he did best in silence. He probably shouldn't have expected that Fubuki would think the same way. He probably should have figured out that Fubuki didn't think the same way anyone did. However, he wasn't used to giving other people's motivations much thought, so he had just settled down and closed his eyes when he heard Fubuki splash over to his side.
"Thanks for coming with me," he said.
Manjyome half opened one eye. "I had nothing better to do... but you could have talked them into letting you in even without me."
"I could, but that's not what I meant. I wanted to hang out with you, that's all."
"Why do you want to hang out with me?" The words came out more snappish than Manjyome had intended, but Fubuki didn't seem bothered.
"Because you're cool!" he said.
"I don't see how you can say that, seeing as how you really only met me a few days ago, and I spent most of that acting like an idiot."
"Ah, ah, ah!" said Fubuki, shaking his head and waving a scolding figure at him. He looked like a teacher who had just been disappointed by a prize student. "I've seen you duel! I looked in on you the other day while I was supposed to be in study hall, while you were in Chronos-sensei's class. You've got style! You know, with your trench coat and your 'Ichi! Jyuu! Hyaku! Sen!' and all that stuff. And I like your deck. It takes guts to play an Ojama deck."
"I don't play with Ojamas," Manjyome muttered. "They just want to play with me."
Fubuki considered this seriously for a moment before offering a decided, "Whatever! Same thing."
"Okay..." said Manjyome, thinking that this conversation was going nowhere fast.
However, Fubuki seemed determined to press on. He took a deep breath, frowned, and made a valiant effort to gather his thoughts. In that serious expression, with the steam rising up around his handsome face and shadowing his eyes, he looked like a young god on the verge of creating his first planet.
"See, the thing is," he managed at last, "I like you because you make sense."
"You mean, in comparison with other people?"
"No! Not exactly. I didn't say it right." He looked a bit hurt at Manjyome's inability to understand him, or else with his own inability to make himself understood. He was a man of action; explanations didn't come easily to him. "I'll start over. You said earlier that people like me, right? It's true, right?"
"We went over this ten minutes ago," said Manjyome. "You said you didn't know why. I'm starting to feel the same way."
"That's the point," said Fubuki. "I don't really know why. It's like I told you when we met. I'm not good at understanding people's feelings. I like for them to be happy, and I like to make them happy, but I don't really understand what people are thinking."
"Ahh," said Manjyome, beginning to catch on. "But I make sense."
"Right!" Fubuki beamed, pleased that his companion had gotten it at last.
Fubuki deflated. "It's hard to explain."
"You made it through the first explanation. Do it again!"
He frowned again, idly stirring the water with his hands and staring at the ripples as if he thought they might tell him something. Manjyome was a bit surprised to see that the light reflecting off the water was not sunlight, but moonlight. The sun must have gone down while they were loitering here. The spinning glints of light reminded him of stars. It was as if the two of them were once again out in deep space, surrounded by infinite points of light...
"You remember when we were in those bubbles?" asked Fubuki at last.
"Just a little," answered Manjyome dryly.
"I remember. It was amazing," said Fubuki dreamily. "We could feel each other's feelings, remember? It was really something... I didn't know anything about you, then. We'd barely even met. But while we were there, I knew you. I understood you. For the first time in my life, I really felt like I understood somebody else - knew exactly what they were thinking, exactly what made them who they are. It was... special."
Manjyome made a wry face. "You can't have understood me very well if you still think you like me."
"But I do!" Fubuki protested. "We're alike."
Manjyome gave such a sudden jolt that he slipped and went underwater. Fubuki reached down and hauled him up again, while Manjyome spluttered and tried to wipe his hair out of his eyes.
"What happened to you?" asked Fubuki. "Did a fish bite you or something?"
"There aren't any fish in this pool," Manjyome said. Getting back to the subject at hand, he added, "And we're not alike. We're nothing alike."
"That's not true," said Fubuki. "Remember, I saw you dueling in class yesterday."
"What's that got to do with anything?" Manjyome asked. "I lost my duel yesterday. You don't do that. You're one of the elite. Everyone says so."
He had lost. He hadn't been intending to, but he'd made a mistake in his play, and his opponent had taken advantage of it. He couldn't really help that - he'd just been tired. His dreams that night had been plagued by uneasy images of Juudai wielding the three Demon Cards against him. Nobody ought to be obliged to concentrate after a night like that.
"That doesn't matter," said Fubuki persistently. "I'm talking about the people watching you. People get all excited when they watch you duel. It doesn't matter if you win or lose. It doesn't matter even though you're grouchy all the time. People just..."
"...like me," said Manjyome with dawning understanding. He smirked a little. "The same way people just like you even though you act like a complete idiot."
Fubuki beamed. "Now you've got it!"
Manjyome gave his companion a serious look, silently comparing himself with the handsome, popular, athletic, elite older student, and tried to adjust himself to the fact that this person considered him practically a brother, for some reason.
Well, whatever. He's a hell of a lot better than my real brothers. They don't know me and they don't want to know me. If he knows everything about me and likes me anyway, that's just more proof he's crazy, but it's not my problem.
"So, what about you?" Fubuki continued. "You were in the bubbles - you must have learned something about me, too. Do you think you understand me?"
"I think I'm starting to figure it out," he said slowly.
There was a knock on the door to the pool.
"Are you two ready to leave?" the attendant called. "We're about to close for the night."
"Be right there!" Fubuki called.
"Looks like it's time to pack up and go home," Manjyome commented, beginning to climb out of the water.
"Guess so," Fubuki agreed. "This was fun! We should do it more often."
"Humph," was all Manjyome said. "I suppose it's one way to pass the time... but you aren't going to make me change my ways."
"I know," said Fubuki cheerfully.
They dried themselves off and dressed again: Fubuki in his blue and white uniform, Manjyome in his tattered black coat. Side by side, the trudged up the path that would take them back to their dorms.
"So, I guess I'll see you around," said Fubuki.
"You might," Manjyome allowed.
Fubuki laughed. "Sure I will! I mean, think about it. We must know each other better than anyone else. We've felt each other's feelings. That makes us friends, right?"
"Humph. That's a stupid question," said Manjyome. "Really, you act like such an idiot."
"Right," said Fubuki. "See you, then."
He waved and sauntered off in the direction of Obelisk Blue. Manjyome didn't bother to return the gesture, but instead turned and walked silently in the direction of his humble home. Anyone else might have felt a little uneasy about being so insulting, but then again, anyone but Fubuki might have actually been insulted. However, neither of them felt anything but contented. They both knew exactly what he'd meant.