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Akira’s phone pings for what feels like the hundredth time since he woke up. Groaning against his pillow, he ignores this message, too. Maybe if he pretends the Miyagi Third Years group chat doesn’t exist, he can pretend he never agreed to join them for today. He doesn’t know whose idea it was to go to the aquarium during summer break or why on Earth he said yes, yet there he is, lying half-dressed on his bed and praying something, anything will happen that will get him off the hook.

Another ping, another groan, and Akira pats the mattress in search of his phone. Maybe his prayers have been heard, after all, because all he finds are texts to cancel their outing. Hinata decided to focus on studying even though they’re on vacation, Koganegawa has to walk a dog Akira knows he doesn’t have, Tsukishima doesn’t want to go. Well, at least someone’s being honest.

Backreading through the messages he ignored earlier, everyone else has canceled too, except Goshiki. Akira considers going through his usual list of excuses but ultimately decides to follow Tsukishima’s example. Only more messages come just as he presses send:

[Kunimi Akira] [09:22]: i was only going because you were dragging me so…

[Goshiki Tsutomu] [09:22]: you still going Kunimi??

[Goshiki Tsutomu] [09:23]: oh

[Goshiki Tsutomu] [09:25]: ok! next time then!

Feeling uneasy, five full minutes pass and he’s still staring at his phone when the screen lights up again, only it isn’t from the group chat this time:

[Kindaichi Yuutarou] [09:30]: don’t you dare cancel on Goshiki on his birthday

Akira frowns. Up until this very moment, he’d been making a conscious effort to know as little as possible about Goshiki. The fact that boiled flounder is his favorite food, Samoyed his favorite breed of dog and purple his favorite color has no relevance to him. He knows just as much about his best friend: Kindaichi likes grilled corn, dogs and… blue? Well, maybe he knows a little bit more about Goshiki than he intended, but he had no idea when his birthday is. That would’ve meant admitting he cares more than he lets on.

[Kunimi Akira] [09:32]: i didn’t know it’s his birthday

[Kindaichi Yuutarou] [09:32]: well now you know!

[Kindaichi Yuutarou] [09:34]: enjoy your date :)

Akira doesn’t bother asking why he’s the only one who can’t cancel on Goshiki’s birthday, and replying to his pointless teasing would be a giveaway of how much it affects him. Instead, he sighs in defeat and texts Goshiki to let him know he’s coming after all. He’s glad he’s alone when the myriad of happy emojis Goshiki sends makes him smile at his screen.

If it takes Akira three changes of clothes and double the usual time to get his hair right before leaving his house, no one needs to know. He gets to the Sendai Umino-Mori Aquarium forty-two minutes late, a half-assed apology ready on his lips when the way Goshiki lights up at his arrival wipes his mind blank.

“Hi!” Goshiki pushes himself off the wall he was leaning against. “I got our tickets!”

“Hey,” Akira greets back, cheeks flushed from the heat, not Goshiki’s overwhelming presence. “Happy birthday… Sorry the others couldn’t make it.”

“That’s okay!” Goshiki’s voice comes out loud even for his standards. “I’m glad you did!” Blaming summer is easier when it comes to the blush on Goshiki’s cheeks—there’s no way Akira’s presence had anything to do with it. There’s nothing overwhelming about him, after all.

There are a lot more people than Akira expected. The worst part? They’re surrounded by couples. Akira keeps telling himself it has nothing to do with them, if it’s just him and Goshiki it’s because everyone else canceled and nothing more. Why did Kindaichi have to put stupid ideas into his mind?

Akira is still regretting most of his life decisions when he realizes they’re already inside the main area of the aquarium. Goshiki doesn’t seem to mind he’s only been nodding and replying with monosyllables to his constant chatter, but he can’t help but feel bad about it. It’s nothing new, it’s how it usually goes when it’s just the two of them. Even if Akira’s never enjoyed being around loud people, it feels different with Goshiki. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t expect him to match his energy. Maybe it’s just because it’s Goshiki.

That only makes him feel worse, though. All of their friends canceled on his birthday, and the only one who’s there with him isn’t even paying attention. The realization feels like a heavy weight on his stomach, but he doesn’t get much time to think about it when a tug on his sleeve makes Akira stop on his tracks to look at him.

“That’s so cool!” Goshiki exclaims, his free arm pointing up.

Curious, Akira follows his gaze to find there are overhead tanks on the ceiling, filled with small sea creatures. Sunlight shines through the water, reflecting on the pale floor of the hallway. That’s not what caught Goshiki’s attention, though. There are houndsharks swimming among the fish, casting shadows over them as they wade across the tank.

Before Akira can even react, Goshiki’s already hurrying him to go through to the next section. Akira does his best to follow him, but there are so many people he ends up losing sight of him, only to find he got distracted with something in the way. It’s not like he can blame him when there’s so much to see. And even if it only takes Akira two minutes to spot him, Goshiki spends ten more apologizing, a look so worried on his face Akira can’t find it in himself to mind it so much. He doesn’t mind it the second time it happens, either, or the third.

By the fourth, maybe Akira is starting to get tired of it.

It must be written all over his face because Goshiki’s apology is even longer this time. “I’m sorry I keep getting carried away,” he says, shoulders slumping down. “We can call it a day if you want.”

There it is again, that sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, reminding him Goshiki would probably have more fun with someone who could keep up with him. Akira hates that it bothers him so much. He wants Goshiki to have a good time with him, not someone else.

“No, it’s your birthday,” he shakes his head, looking away as he wraps his fingers around Goshiki’s wrist. “Just don’t get lost again.”

Akira can see from the corner of his eye that Goshiki’s lips are moving but no words are coming out. Good. He’s sure if they talk about this, he’ll combust on the spot. If Goshiki’s flushed cheeks are anything to go by, it seems to be the same for him.

It works, though. Even after Goshiki is back to normal, excitedly dragging him everywhere, they don’t get separated anymore. Only now it’s Akira who keeps getting distracted, wondering how it would feel to slide his fingers down Goshiki’s wrist to hold his hand. He doesn’t allow himself the chance to find out, letting go of him when they get to a small, artificial rocky beach. There aren’t that many people around here, and they’ll need both hands free if they want to touch a starfish. That’s what he tells himself, at least.

“Kunimi, look!” Goshiki’s excited voice pulls him from his thoughts. He’s been doing this all day, calling for him every time he sees something cool. It never fails to make Akira’s heart do something stupid inside his chest, and he hates it.

He hates it because he loves it. The way Goshiki’s eyes seem to light up when he’s showing him something, the way his smile grows when Akira agrees, “Yeah, I guess it’s pretty cool.”

What he loves the most, is how Goshiki wants to share all of this with him, that childish overexcitement guiding him around and making sure he doesn’t miss anything. It makes him feel special in a weird, new way he hasn’t felt before. The overthinking part of his brain tells him Goshiki would probably be the same around anyone else. The selfish part of his brain tells him it doesn’t matter. It’s Akira who gets to see this side of him today, and he’ll make the most of it.

Taking a deep breath that does nothing to help with his blush, Akira kneels next to Goshiki. They’re on the edge of the water, close enough to see the creatures living there. It doesn’t take him long to see what it was Goshiki wanted to show him this time: there are bright colored starfish all over the rocks they’re leaning on.

“Can we touch them?” Goshiki asks, eyes so big and curious Akira can’t imagine how anyone could ever say no to him.

“That’s what the sign says,” Akira nods, pointing somewhere to Goshiki’s left with a tilt of his head. Pressing his lips on a tight line to stop himself from smiling at Goshiki’s excitement, he reaches for the starfish closest to them. It’s different than he expected, not even reacting to his touch as he runs careful fingers over the bumps on its hard shell.

“I thought they’d be squishy,” Goshiki echoes his thoughts, shifting to touch Akira’s starfish as if it would feel any different.

Akira opens his mouth to agree, but nothing comes out when he feels Goshiki’s hand brush against his. It’s stupid to blush when Akira had his fingers around Goshiki’s wrist just minutes ago, but his face feels on fire. The fact that Goshiki falls quiet but doesn’t pull back doesn’t help at all.

And when Goshiki links their pinkies together, Akira forgets how to breathe.

He doesn’t know how much time passes, he doesn’t dare move a muscle lest it scares him away. It’s probably only been minutes, but it feels like hours before Goshiki speaks again. His voice comes out shy at first, slowly gaining confidence until he breaks into a ramble about starfish facts. Listening intently as if he hadn’t read the same sign moments ago, Akira wonders if this is how Goshiki always sounds when he’s nervous, blushing and tripping over his words. It’s adorable, and somehow the realization doesn’t feel like a surprise. It makes his heart ache for something he didn’t know he wanted, though.

Goshiki is pure energy and excitement and noise. He’s everything Akira is not, everything he’s supposed to hate.

Akira can’t look away.

Blaming everything on Kindaichi and his dumb text would be easy, but by now he knows he can’t. Maybe this is why his cheeks always felt a little bit warmer when their eyes met across the net, or why he always felt a little bit prouder after blocking one of his spikes. Maybe refusing to learn Goshiki’s birthday wasn’t more than a futile attempt to deny himself this… Whatever this is.

Wishing he could un-realize it, Akira stands up. “We should go see the main tank before the aquarium closes.”

“Ah—yeah!” Goshiki jumps to his feet, “I hope there’ll be fewer people this time…”

With a nod as his only answer, Akira is about to reach for his wrist again when Goshiki moves first. Only he doesn’t go for his wrist; instead, he takes his hand. Goshiki’s palm is warm, clammy, and he’s holding him a little bit too tight. It should feel weird, too familiar, but it feels just right. Letting go isn’t an option anymore, so Akira gives his hand a little squeeze and when Goshiki squeezes back, he intertwines their fingers together.

In comfortable silence, they make their way back to the main building, where Goshiki’s enthusiasm comes back full force. By the time they get to their destination, Akira’s long lost track of how many times Goshiki made him stop, constantly finding new things to gape at, from the jellyfish room to the penguins’ enclosure and back to the jellyfish room. Nothing compares to the expression on his face when his eyes land on the gigantic tank.

It’s no wonder this is the greatest attraction of the aquarium. The tank goes from wall to wall, floor to ceiling and all the way up to the second floor, filled with different species of sea life, from tiny sardines to huge stingrays and sharks. The room would be in complete darkness if not for the sunlight coming from the surface of the roofless tank. It feels like being at the bottom of the sea, standing in front of what must be thousands and thousands of fish.

There’s no one else with them, but even if there were, Akira doesn’t think he could look at anyone, anything but Goshiki. He’s been quiet since they got there, eyes wide open as he stares at the tank in amazement. Pale light reflects on his face, accentuating his features. Akira’s never seen a prettier sight.

“Wow…” Goshiki finally says, voice barely above a whisper. “That’s… beautiful.”

“Yeah…” Akira agrees, his eyes never leaving Goshiki’s face. He used to mock cheesy movies filled with cliches. Now he feels like he’s in one, breath held as all he can think about is how he really, really wants to kiss him right now.

Looking away at the tank as if it would give him some kind of courage, he takes a deep breath and then another, and then a third one for good measure before turning back to him. “Goshiki—” he starts, and that’s all he gets to say before Goshiki’s lips crash against his.

Akira blinks. His heart must be about to beat some kind of world record, pounding so hard against his ribcage he’s sure Goshiki can hear it. Time feels like it’s slowed to a stop and then starts moving too fast and when Akira realizes he wasn’t kissing him back, Goshiki is already pulling away.

“I’m sorry!” Goshiki says, letting go of his hand. “I thought—”

Whatever he was about to say dies on his throat as Akira curls his fingers on the collar of Goshiki’s shirt and pulls him in for another kiss. Soon enough there are gentle fingers running through his hair, a firm hand holding his waist; all Akira can do is lean into the touch. Goshiki kisses as he acts, eager, just a little bit clumsy, and so, so sweet Akira doesn’t want to ever pull back.

He does, though, when someone clears his throat behind them.

“We’re about to close,” the man says, giving them a stern look before leaving the room.

Akira couldn’t tell who snickers first, but the moment his eyes find Goshiki’s they both burst into laughter. He’s never been so embarrassed before, but he’s never felt so at ease, either. Interlacing his fingers with Goshiki’s when he takes his hand feels like the most natural thing in the world now.

“Do you think they did it on purpose?” he asks when his phone vibrates in his pocket.

“Probably,” Goshiki says, rubbing his nose with the back of his hand. It’s adorable he thinks he can hide his blush at all. “I—uh, might have mentioned wanting to ask you out…”

Akira can’t help but wonder why me, are you sure, wouldn’t you prefer someone else?

But then their eyes meet again and all he can see in them is adoration and maybe he doesn’t need to ask. How could he doubt him, when Goshiki’s looking at him in a way no one’s ever looked at him before?

His cheeks burning up, he’s almost grateful for the distraction when his phone buzzes again. There’s a “Did it work?” from Koganegawa and when everyone else messages echoing his question Akira’s first instinct is to send a reminder he has dirt on all of them. Yet he can feel Goshiki vibrating with excitement next to him, and he knows it won’t stay a secret for too long. It’s not like he minds it, though. He wants the whole world to know he’s the one putting that smile on Goshiki’s face, and the group chat might be a good start.

Switching to the camera app, he lifts his arm and that’s all it takes for Goshiki to hug his waist and press a kiss to his cheek. Hoping his blush isn’t too noticeable, Akira sticks his tongue out at his phone and takes a picture. He doesn’t wait for their friend’s reactions; he stuffs his phone inside his pocket and takes Goshiki’s hand.

“Let’s get out of here before they kick us out,” he says.

Maybe, just maybe, later he’ll send a thank you. First, there’s a cute birthday boy he wants to take on a dinner date.