Title: Aimiya Kingdom
Length: one-shot, about 4200 words
Pairing: Aimiya, a tiny bit of Yama
Rating: PG-13/R for language, mentions of bullying
Genre: Summer Camp AU. Angst, nature fluff.
Summary: Nino is not a happy camper. Then he meets Aiba.
Notes: Inspired by the beautiful non-no “secret base” photoshoot with Aiba and Nino and by the movie Moonrise Kingdom.
Nino swung himself up into his bunk. It wasn’t a bunk so much as a high wooden shelf protruding from the wall. When he slept, there was less than a foot between his face and the musty wooden ceiling. But there was a small, high window at the head of the bed, and a little hollow in the wall where he could keep his books and letters. It was also in the darkest corner of the cabin—sometimes the other guys in the cabin didn’t even know he was there.
Of course, Sakurai still kept an annoyingly-close watch on him; he knew that Sakurai had seen him go to bed with his clothes still on, and that he was dying to say something about it. He probably wanted to blow his stupid red whistle and do a full cabin inspection.
Nino couldn’t help smiling to himself--there was no way that Sakurai would say anything to him tonight. A week ago, Nino had been walking back from the outhouse at night when he’d tripped over Sakurai making out with their cabin's other counselor, Ohno, on the porch. Since then, Sakurai had given Nino a wide berth; Nino didn’t have to go to swimming lessons anymore or march in one of Sakurai’s wilderness death hikes. Instead, he sat in Ohno’s office playing solitaire on his ancient computer (he didn’t have any better games) while Ohno napped; the counselor never managed to make more than one lanyard before he started snoring on the ratty couch.
Nino hated camp. Usually he’d spend the summer playing baseball with Jun and going to the arcade. But this summer his traitor of a best friend was vacationing with his family in Paris. The worst part was that Jun kept writing Nino letters with French greetings and including photos of himself bicycling along the Seine and hugging loaves of bread. Nino’s eyes felt hot when he looked at the photos and Jun’s dorky smile, the one that showed all of his crooked teeth. Clearly, Jun was too busy making out with croissants and buying silk scarves to care that Nino had been abandoned in a tick-infested backwoods hellhole.
Nino knew it wasn’t really Jun’s fault that he was here—he knew the real reason he’d been left here was that his dad was moving out of the house this summer and his mom didn’t want him to see it (like he wouldn’t know when he returned in the fall and all his dad’s stuff was gone). But he couldn’t really say anything when his mom drove him to the middle of nowhere with tears in her eyes then gave him a bone-crushing hug and told him “to have a lot of fun.” He just wished his mom had at least felt guilty enough to let him smuggle in his PS.
Nino turned so that he faced the wall and tried to erase the image of his mom’s teary face from his mind. He pulled his comic book out of the wall and shook out a slip of notebook paper, his heart starting to pound as he re-read it for the hundredth time. There wasn’t that much to read—just some numbers and letters in big, messy handwriting—
7. 21. 10. 30. P
He’d found the paper folded up on his windowsill a week ago—he'd known instantly who it was from. It was a code—not a hard one to crack, but then Nino didn’t really get why they needed a code in the first place. It meant July 21st, 10: 30 PM. July 21st was tonight. But what was supposed to happen tonight? Was he supposed to meet him somewhere?
Nino tucked the message carefully back into the wall and flopped onto his back, throwing an arm across his eyes and trying to calm down. He knew that in ten minutes Sakurai would be done blowing his whistle and yelling at guys to quiet down, and then the counselor would definitely go out onto the porch and start drinking cheap beer with Ohno. Still, Nino couldn’t help worrying that Sakurai was going to suddenly invite him out onto the porch for another late night “pep talk” about “adjusting to camp life” and then he’d miss 10: 30 PM completely.
Nino hated the way Sakurai acted like he cared about him, always asking him if he was making friends and looking at him with pitying eyes, like he had the words “broken home” tattooed on his forehead or something. At least Ohno just gave Nino lanyards when he felt sorry for him.
Nino thought that Sakurai should be more worried about the other campers in this messed-up place, the guys who thought it was hilarious to hold people underwater during swimming lessons while they thrashed around until one of the counselor’s caught them. Nino guessed it was because he’d spent pretty much all of his time around his sister and Jun (whose favorite topic of conversation was his hair), but he felt shocked and sick when he heard guys in the cabin calling people “fags” and talking loudly about the girls they’d felt up (“under or over the shirt?”) and how many times they could jerk off in one night. Was this really the way normal teenage boys talked, or was he in one of those camps from a horror movie where skinny-dipping teenagers got stabbed by guys in hockey masks?
Amazingly, Nino wasn’t even the kid in the cabin that everyone bullied—he was just quiet enough and smart enough to stay out of it. It was the guy who slept on the bunk below him that they made ask permission whenever he wanted to use the outhouse.
Sometimes Nino thought that he was the most disgusting guy in the whole camp—even though he thought it was horrible, he never said anything about it.
That was why Nino liked Aiba. Aiba wasn’t broken, disgusting, or mean. Aiba was so nice that he wouldn’t even hurt spiders or weeds—Nino had seen him step around them carefully when he saw them on the ground.
The second time he met Aiba, Nino had been trying to run away. Not permanently or anything, but he was sick of getting sunburned while watching the girls from the camp across the lake sing “My Heart Will Go On” while doing a sign language accompaniment. So he told Ohno that he was going to the outhouse and slipped into the woods behind the makeshift stage. He’d only gone a couple of yards when he’d practically fallen on top of Aiba; he was crouched in the middle of some dandelions and signing along to the song with a forlorn expression.
Nino was taken aback; the weird guy wasn’t wearing a camp uniform, but he still felt like he’d seen him before. For one wild second, he wondered if maybe he was actually from the girl’s camp—his big, doe-like brown eyes and soft-looking sun-streaked hair were pretty enough to be a girl’s.
“You know sign language?” Nino had no idea why that was his first question.
The guy didn’t look at all alarmed by Nino’s appearance. He nodded, “My grandma’s deaf,” he offered, beginning to smile. Nino felt relieved; his voice was breathy but definitely too low to be a girl’s.
“Why are you crouching behind the stage like a pervert?”
"There’s nothing to do in town. I wish I could go to camp.”
Involuntarily, Nino started crouching down, as though he were addressing a lost child. But he was still careful to keep a few feet of distance between them. “Why don’t you just go to camp then?"
He smiled again, “Last summer when I was playing baseball one of my lungs collapsed.” Seeing the panicked look on Nino’s face, his smile widened even more and his eyes crinkled, “Don’t worry, Nino. I had surgery and I’m fine now, but my grandma’s still scared—she thinks that if I run around it’ll happen again. She won’t let me go to camp.”
Nino felt as if the breath had been knocked out of him. “How do you know my name?” he croaked.
“I heard that counselor whose face looks like a piece of toast calling you that when you were in town.”
The memory of where he’d seen this weirdo before came rushing back: Ohno had gone to town to pick up supplies and had picked Nino as his helper. On the way to the store, they’d passed by a ramshackle old Victorian house. It looked so creepy and haunted that Nino had slowed down to stare. Then he’d noticed a kid with a gorilla on his t-shirt sitting on the front steps, dipping a busted tennis racket into a washing tub; when he raised the racket, bubbles streamed out from between the crooked wires. Their gazes met, and the gorilla guy had started waving the racket frantically in his direction, sending a cloud of bubbles floating towards him.
Remembering what gorilla guy had said about Ohno, Nino started to laugh, “When he puts on sunscreen, his face seriously looks like a piece of buttered toast.”
The weird guy laughed so hard that he fell face-first into the dandelions; Nino realized that this guy must be even dumber than he’d thought. But his reaction was making him laugh. “What’s your name?” The words were out of his mouth before he could bite them back.
“Aiba!” the weird guy cried as he scrambled up. He said his name like Nino had just told him that he’d won an award—his voice all excited and proud that Nino wanted to know his name. Nino started laughing again.
“It’s really cute the way you cover your mouth when you laugh!” Aiba suddenly declared, beaming at him.
Nino felt like he was turning red. He sort of wanted to run away but he couldn’t get his feet to move. “Um, will you teach me some sign language?” he asked, saying the first thing that came to his mind and avoiding Aiba’s eyes.
Nino heard him suck in a huge breath of excitement, but his voice was relatively calm when he finally answered, “Yes. It’s really helpful for secret codes, too.”
That had been a month ago. Since then, Nino had learned a lot about Aiba, though he hadn’t told Aiba much about himself. Aiba lived with his grandparents in town. Aiba didn’t just want to go to camp, he wanted to be an eagle scout. His grandfather was teaching him to whittle. He knew sign language, Morse code, and twenty-four different bird calls. Sometimes he took a canoe out at dawn and paddled around the lake, watching the campers on shore. He had three best friends and now Nino was his fourth best friend. He thought Nino was one of the nicest, smartest people in the world. Sometimes he went up to the attic and looked at pictures of his parents but he didn’t really remember them. He’d had a secret base of operations in the woods since he was seven and did Nino want to see it?
Sometimes they were able to meet in the woods, but mostly they exchanged letters. Nino’s replies were usually short, but that didn’t seem to discourage Aiba—almost everyday he found a letter (and usually a couple of rocks and flowers) shoved into his mail cubby. And for the past week he’s been coming back to the cabin after playing Solitaire all afternoon to find a tiny wooden robot tucked underneath his blanket. Aiba was making them with his grandpa. After three days of the robots, it had been a Rubik’s cube, then a cup-and-ball game. And today it was the note on his windowsill. Nino had no idea how someone so noisy could sneak into the camp—let alone into the cabin—without getting caught. Then again, he’d seen Aiba hold perfectly still for five minutes after a butterfly had landed on his shoulder.
The lights in the cabin had been out for almost half an hour now—some guys were starting to snore. Nino slowly reached for his backpack hidden near his feet, praying that Ohno had his tongue down Sakurai’s throat right now and that the counselor wouldn’t notice any unusual noises in the cabin or whatever it was that Aiba had planned. He’d thrown stuff that he thought he might need into the bag earlier that evening, hesitating before finally including Aiba’s letters, the robots, the Rubik’s cube, and the cup-and-ball. Now, he pulled out the cube and tried to work on it in the dim moonlight, hoping to calm himself down as 10:30 PM approached.
Nino was close to getting a row of green when he noticed it: a small, square patch of light flickering on the ceiling just above him. Then the light disappeared, but just as quickly the square of light returned.
Nino rolled onto his stomach and peered out of the window, almost hitting his head against the ceiling when he discovered Aiba standing underneath his window holding some kind of old-fashioned lantern; he was lowering and raising a sort of door in front of a candle, causing the light to flicker in and out of sight.
Seeing Nino’s face pressed against the window, Aiba grinned ecstatically and blew out the candle, carefully setting the lantern on the ground. Nino saw that Aiba was wearing the most gigantic backpack he’d ever seen, with a long pole with a blue net sticking out of it. It looked terrifying.
In the moonlight, Nino could see Aiba signing to him: Come out the window.
Nino shook his head frantically, but Aiba just kept signing: Come out. I can catch you.
Nino heard the blood rushing in his ears as he painstakingly pried open the small window. This is so stupid, he thought. He stuffed his bag through the open window; Aiba caught it easily. Now it was Nino’s turn. Stupid, he thought again, screwing his eyes shut as he pushed his body through the tiny window, I’m going to get stuck and Aiba will probably try to whittle me out.
But then he was falling into Aiba’s arms and Aiba’s hand was on his mouth, muffling his cry of surprise. He slapped Aiba’s hand away. What, he signed, unable to remember anything more complex.
Aiba’s eyes sparkled, I want to show you something. A surprise.
In front of Nino were the dark night and a potentially-disturbed amateur eagle scout. Behind him was early adolescent hell.
Then his heart jumped into his throat because Aiba grabbed his hand and pulled him into the forest.
Even with their flashlights, the darkness of the woods was oppressive. Nino had jerked his hand out of Aiba’s when the other had started fumbling for flashlights. Now he wished he was still holding it—Aiba’s hand was big and rough and kind of sweaty, but it was warm and felt safe. Now, Nino was shivering as he followed Aiba’s back, trying and failing to stop himself from tripping on roots and stones. Aiba kept glancing back at him every few steps, holding out a hand that Nino ignored every time he stumbled.
“Shouldn’t we be on a path?” Nino whispered. He didn’t know why he was whispering—the forest wasn’t quiet at night, the way he’d thought it would be; it was alive with the humming of insects and the calls of frogs and birds.
“Don’t worry,” Aiba whispered back, “I’ve been coming here at night with my grandpa ever since I was a little kid. I know the way.”
They’d been walking long enough that Nino was almost starting to miss his shelf in the cabin when Aiba halted; Nino ran into his back and bumped his nose painfully against one of his shoulder blades.
Aiba reached back for his hand, and Nino’s eyes were watering so much from hitting his nose that he couldn’t stop Aiba from taking it and squeezing it tight in his own as he dragged him into the clearing.
“This is what I wanted to show Nino,” he whispered.
Nino wiped the tears from his eyes, then stared as the clearing revealed itself. The entire clearing was illuminated with what looked like hundreds of fireflies, all flickering in turn as if by some design. Nino thought it looked like rows of Christmas lights floating on the air.
“Now look up,” came Aiba’s low voice. Nino did, and he saw the stars thick and bright in the dark sky. When he stared up past the trees, it was almost hard to tell where the fireflies ended and the stars began.
“When I was a kid, I thought stars were fireflies in the sky,” Aiba whispered, sounding sheepish.
Nino laughed and stared at the sky until he felt dizzy, like the ground was falling away from his feet and he was the smallest thing in the universe. Taking a shaky breath, he looked down at their intertwined hands. He felt like if Aiba let go of his hand, he’d float off into outer space.
He realized slowly that Aiba was looking at him with wide eyes and biting his bottom lip. Then Aiba licked his lips before beginning in a nervous voice, “Uh…Nino…we can just go back to camp if you want…but…I thought maybe…you’d want to see my base too?” he trailed off.
Nino didn’t know why Aiba looked so unsure. He’d just shown him one of the most beautiful things he’d ever seen in his life. It suddenly flashed across Nino’s mind that he wished his mom was here to see this, too, but he pushed that thought away as quickly as he could.
“Stop muttering and just take me already,” he whispered, trying to sound annoyed as he started swinging their joined hands.
The fireflies surrounded Aiba like a halo. “Okay,” he mumbled, looking down, but Nino could tell that he was happy.
Aiba led him out of the clearing, and they began to skirt the base of a large stone outcropping. Nino was close enough to hear Aiba’s breathing, and a cool breeze from the lake swept over them as the moon came back into view; it occurred to Nino that he had never felt so free in his entire life. His hand was warm and tingling; it felt like his whole body was filling with Aiba's strength. He smiled, knowing that when he went back to camp he would tell people to fuck off when they hassled the guy who slept in the bunk below his. He’d tell the guys that said “fag” that they were homophobic assholes and jump in the lake when he saw someone being held under water. He’d write his mom a letter saying that he missed her and that he loved her and that he thought of her when he saw fireflies. He’d tell Sakurai that he was starting a band with Ohno. Feeling the steady beating of his heart in the night, Nino knew that he could do these things.
They came to the end of the stone barrier, and Aiba led him around the corner. “This is the base,” he said, turning his face away shyly.
Nino was stunned. It wasn’t just a campsite, it was like someone had transplanted a (really weird) living room into the wilderness. Or maybe it was like looking at the inside of Aiba’s head. There was a tent tucked into a wide, shallow cave, and a fire pit, but there were also wooden chairs and tables (ones set with a game of checkers), lanterns, a guitar, colorful tarps spread across the ground, paintings, and a flag that read “Masaki Aiba” planted in front of the tent.
Aiba had let go of Nino’s hand and was babbling while gathering twigs for the fire, “Uh I know it’s kind of childish but I thought it would be fun if we could play games and you said you could play the guitar, I’ve been bringing stuff out here for a few weeks and I guess it got kind of out of hand…” Aiba glanced up at him from where he was crouched in front of the fire pit, blushing.
“It’s awesome,” Nino answered truthfully. “It's the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” He pointed to the flag, “Can I make one too?”
“Sure!” Aiba cried, his face breaking into a huge smile of relief as he reached into his enormous bag for some cardboard and markers; Nino couldn't stop himself from smiling too.
Nino worked carefully on his sign while Aiba worked on starting the fire, which eventually flickered to life after a lot of sneezing and mumbling; Aiba was soaked in sweat and his face was streaked with dirt when he finally came to help Nino affix his name beside Aiba’s.
“It looks better this way,” Aiba smiled brightly as he ran his fingers over the sign, “I mean, the base looks better with two flags together like this. We should think of a new name for it.”
They sat in chairs in front of the fire; Aiba pulled a bag of jumbo-sized marshmallows out of his backpack and they roasted them using sticks that Aiba had gathered (Nino made Aiba clean the dirt off his stick several times before he admitted that it was acceptable).
“How long has this been your secret base?”
“My grandpa’s been taking me here ever since I can remember, I guess it’s really his base. But he can’t walk this far anymore, so I started coming here by myself a few years ago. When I felt sad or when I needed to think.”
Nino couldn’t imagine Aiba being sad. Then he remembered the lonely look in Aiba’s eyes the day he’d found him crouching in the dandelions.
“Did you ever have a secret place, Nino?”
Nino turned his marshmallow and thought for a moment before shaking his head, “No. I just played games.” Sometimes all evening and all night, when he could shut the door to his room and pretend he couldn't hear his parents fighting.
Aiba’s face lit up at his words, “I was trying to bring you games that you might like! So that you would have more fun at camp. But it was hard to find games for one person to play.”
Nino stuck his marshmallow in his mouth and bent down to open his bag. He pulled out the Rubik’s cube, the cup-and-ball, and then all three robots, carefully setting them on the nearby table. “Thanks,” he said softly after he had finished arranging them, unable to look directly at Aiba. Then he thought about pulling out the lanyard that he’d made for Aiba, but at the last second he couldn’t do it. Instead, he pulled out his baseball glove, setting it next to Aiba’s on the table. “Wanna play catch tomorrow?”
“Yeah,” Aiba replied, his voice thick. Nino snuck a glance; Aiba’s eyes looked watery.
They sat in front of the fire until it burnt down to glowing embers, and then they crawled, shivering, into the tent. Aiba brought a small, yellow plastic lantern in with them, and when he switched it on the tent filled with a warm orange glow.
Nino had been afraid that he’d be cold even with his sleeping bag, but within seconds of being inside the tent he realized that wouldn’t be a problem. Sleeping next to Aiba was like sleeping next to a big warm dog. Nino inched closer to the warmth, listening to Aiba’s breathing. Even his breathing seemed stronger than other people’s—Nino thought it made sense that Aiba had four best friends, since he probably had as much life as four normal people combined inside of him.
Nino was starting to drift off when Aiba’s voice pulled him back. “Nino?”
“I wrote my grandma a note telling her that I was going camping with you.”
Nino’s heart jumped into his throat again—did Aiba’s grandparents know about him?
Aiba’s voice was soft and apologetic as he continued, “I told her I’d come back Monday morning.”
Nino opened his eyes; Aiba was lying on his side, watching him. He felt like crying. Stupid, he thought, you already knew that you couldn’t stay out here with him forever. “Okay,” he said, not trusting himself to say more without choking.
Aiba’s eyes were anxious, “But maybe next weekend we could…”
Nino shook his head, “I’m not going to be able to get away with this more than once without getting kicked out.”
Nino’s breath caught at the expression on Aiba’s face—he looked heartbroken. It made Nino keep talking, “We’ll come back here again next summer.”
Aiba looked torn between hope and concern, “But…Nino…" he hesitated, "don’t you hate camp?”
“It doesn’t matter.” I love you. Nino made the sign beneath the fabric of his sleeping bag, where Aiba wouldn’t be able to see his confession.
Aiba’s eyes were shining again. “Will you still write to me? Even after you leave camp?”
“Yes. All the time.” Nino swallowed, “Now stop asking me dumb questions and go to sleep,” he grumbled.
Nino shut his eyes tightly, so he didn't see it but only felt it: Aiba’s lips—warm and soft and a little chapped—on his cheek.
By the time he’d opened his eyes, Aiba had already switched off the lantern and was settling back into his sleeping bag.
“Goodnight Nino,” Aiba whispered, his voice all proud and excited again, like the first time he'd told Nino his name.
“Goodnight Aiba.” It would be okay, Nino thought, if he gave Aiba the lanyard that he’d made for him in the morning. He could always just say it was a friendship bracelet.