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Different kinds of stories

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Different kinds of stories

-Summer 1887-

Kazunari was a few weeks shy of his ninth birthday when he watched his mother and older sister packing their belongings in different bags. He was perched on the middle of the table so that he wasn’t in the way anymore. Earlier that day he had managed to break some of his mother's most loved bowls in his over-enthusiastic effort to help and was thereafter banned for putting in anything else than clothes. Their clothes though weren’t much and it was only a work of a bit less than an hour to pack them - even if a bit untidily - in their designed places. Now he had to wait. Normally Kazunari would ask his mother to go out and play with the children in the neighbourhood but they were either in school or making similar preparations his family made.

“I’m bored,” he whined after what felt like hours but wasn’t even one. His mother rolled her eyes not so discreetly at that. Kazunari contemplated pouting since his mother normally would do what he wanted then when his sister shoved a book into his face.

“Here, you can read those stories. Father told you to practise your reading, right?” she said and he nodded. Indeed, his father had said he should learn to read and write better when he visited them last winter for a few days in between his work. He probably wouldn’t be that impressed if he learnt that Kazunari passed his time catching bugs and playing around rather than doing any extra work. Kazunari remembered that his father had promised him that he could start his training when he was able to read the plays correctly and tried to sit a bit more comfortably on the hard table - quietly bemoaning the fact that his mother had packed their cushions already - and immersed himself in the book his sister had given him to read. Soon he was fully lost in the story of fighting samurai and women in distress.

Kazunari didn’t get what all the fuss was about anyway since the move from Asakusa to Tokyo wasn’t that complicated in his opinion. But he also didn’t really understand why his father had lived there alone until now. He was only looking forward to living there with him and finally beginning his training to become as good an actor as his father.

 

They arrived at Tokyo around midday the next day and Kazunari wanted to greet his father and see their new lodgings. So one could probably understand his disappointment when they learnt that his father was still occupied with the play until the afternoon and would only then have time to greet them. A friend of his father that was free right now led them to a little house a few streets from the theatre and even if Kazunari still was very curious as to see which rooms they would now live in his mother barred the door the moment he wanted to enter it.

“I want to take a look,” he mumbled and pouted when he felt the warm hand of his mother tousling his hair with an amused chuckle.

“I know, my dear. But as long as we need to put our things in order, there is no space for you to run around.”

“I will be careful,” he promised and looked at her with pleading eyes.

She chuckled once more and shook her head. “You will be in the way nonetheless. Do you remember the path to the theatre?” she asked and Kazunari nodded. He was good at remembering ways and paths and such things and he was proud to be such a good navigator.

“Good then I am sure that you will find the theatre wherever you may go and find your way back home,” she enquired and he nodded, a bit offended that his mother might think that he would get lost anywhere. “So I suggest that you’ll be off to look around a bit. Perhaps you can find someone to play with. If not, you could clean the floor,” she threatened and Kazunari shuddered. He hated cleaning, after all. So he nodded - if a bit disappointed to be of no help in the moment - and trotted off to look around the city.

Kazunari soon decided that this was more interesting than staying home after all and helping his mother and sister. A newfound spark lit up in the small boy and he began discovering the new, big city with interest. As this was to be the new capital from now on Kazunari was sure that there must be some big secrets and wonders that were totally different from what he had known in Asakusa.

Kazunari was careful as he sauntered through the streets. There were more people here than in Asakusa and so there were much more people here than he was used to. And everyone seemed to be busy. They were all running - or at least walking very fast - from one point of the city to another. And it was loud. Vendors were loudly praising their goods and Kazunari was soon very confused about it all. He walked from one food stall to the next and looked at the different things they sold here. Many things he didn’t really know - at home mostly his mother or his grandmother cooked for them. They didn’t go out for eating or bought food at street vendors. The exception was for the big festivals they went to together.

But the smells of the food made him realise how hungry he was. They had only had breakfast after all and now it was already past lunchtime - at least Kazunari’s stomach was sure of that. He groaned when he realised that he had spent his last money on some crackers. His mother had advised him to be careful with that allowance but Kazunari had waved her off and told her that he would be fine and not be hungry anyway. The same with the prepared onigiri he had had originally in his pack. He had eaten those already, too. He rubbed his grumbling stomach and decided to ignore his hunger. He didn’t think that anybody would take pity on him and he also didn’t think that the promise of later pay (which he didn’t even know he could truthfully promise) or of one of his mother’s great embroidery pieces would persuade anybody he didn’t know to give him something to eat.

Kazunari looked around a bit more and tried to decide if it was late enough for him to go back home and beg his mother for a snack even if he probably would have to wait for the return of his father and dinner for that. Kazunari really regretted eating those delicious onigiris so soon after breakfast just because they tasted so good even if he hadn’t been hungry then. He groaned when he realised that he was still thinking of food and decided to leave this part of the city to explore the streets a bit closer to the theatre. It was then that he went down when another boy ran into him. He cried out because the contact with the floor was sudden and hurtful and he looked up to glare at the cause of his fall.

“I am so sorry,” the boy nearly shouted before Kazunari could even say anything and he cried in surprise when the taller boy gripped his arm to put him back onto his feet. “Are you hurt anywhere?”

“I don’t think so,” Kazunari mumbled confused and watched the older boy going around him to make sure that he was really unharmed and Kazunari groaned when he hit his back a bit too hard to clean any dirt off his shirt. “I am fine, really. Please stop hitting me,” Kazunari said when a particularly hard hit connected with his shoulder and turned around while similarly take a step back to be out of range of those hands.

“I’m really sorry,” the boy repeated and Kazunari huffed a little.

“I said, I am fine. So don’t worry,” he mumbled and bowed a little. “I didn’t look either so it is my fault as well,” he said in the end because he knew his mother would scold him for not looking where he was going and he didn’t like to be scolded.

“Mother always says you have to make it up if you do something wrong. And I ran you over so I have to do something to remedy that,” the boy recited and looked at him imploringly.

“I don’t need anything, thank you,” Kazunari said a bit unnerved and confused as to if he should have told the other already who he was or not. Before he could even think to say anything else his stomach grumbled again and Kazunari blushed to the tip of his ears.

Kazunari feared that the other would laugh at him but after a confused look the bigger boy grinned and took his hand. “My parents own a restaurant. Come on. I’m sure I can give you something,” he said and before Kazunari could even think to protest he was pulled along by the foreign boy beside him. Shortly after, they arrived at one of the stalls he had seen before and the other bolted through a door - Kazunari concluded that their accident earlier was fully the other’s fault after all because they had only narrowly missed a few more accidents on their way here.

“Masaki!” a stern voice was heard and the boy came to a stop smiling sheepishly. “What did I tell you about running on the streets or in here?” the man asked and Masaki ducked his head.

“Not to do it,” he mumbled and the man rolled his eyes. “I’m sorry. But it is important. He is starving!” Masaki exclaimed and Kazunari snorted a bit. Talk about exaggerations.

“Sorry for the intrusion,” he said then though and bowed in front of the man. “And I am not starving. He ran into me on the streets and said he would treat me as an apology,” he explained carefully and Masaki beside him nodded vigorously. The man sighed and pointed to two seats in front of the kitchen.

“I’m sorry if my son is the cause of any discomfort but I’m happy to treat you in his name.” Kazunari smiled thankfully and bowed his head again in honest thanks. He wouldn’t be hungry anymore and these people seemed to be nice even if that Masaki was a bit scatterbrained, it seemed. He watched the man vanish behind the screen to the kitchen area again and looked around seeing the woman whose smile resembled Masaki’s and bowed his head in front of the older.

“Thank you for the invitation. I am Ninomiya Kazunari by the way,” he added a bit cheekily and grinned when he heard Masaki’s father laughing and saw that Masaki blushed as he realised that they totally forgot to introduce themselves.

“I’m Aiba Masaki,” he mumbled and pointed at his father and mother to introduce them. “Are you new here?” Masaki asked curiously after they got their meal and Kazunari said his thanks.

“Yes, we arrived a few hours earlier. My father is an actor and we finally moved here, too,” he said excitedly.

Kazunari was surprised when after their meal Masaki’s father put a bowl of ice cream in front of them with a small smile at him. “It’s good to see that your folk is coming back,” he said which left Kazunari very confused. But that was soon forgotten when he got to taste that very seldom treat. Masaki accompanied him back later that day and Kazunari was sure he had made his first new friend here in Tokyo when he got home. The future seemed very bright - especially when he was able to greet his father with a happy shout.

 

-Early autumn 1887-

Kazunari’s days in Tokyo were now filled with being trained at the theatre. With the other children, he was taught how to move the stage and change the settings. Kazunari wanted to learn lines already and plays but his father had explained to him that the technical things behind a play were as important as the plays themselves. So he concentrated on the work backstage for now. He did his best trying to move the heavy constructions behind and under the stage. Kazunari was careful not to whine because of the hard work because he wanted to make his father proud of him. His mother mended his clothes and showed him how to sew for when he had to repair a costume or something like that and the happiest moments for Kazunari were when he was allowed to watch parts of the plays when he had a break from his work or learnt how to play the different instruments.

In general, Kazunari was really happy with his life right now, even if he missed the times when he was able to play with his friends at the shore. But here he had Masaki who he would meet normally in the afternoon to play in the streets or backyards of their houses.

Today, Kazunari was waiting for Masaki in front of his house. Masaki was late and Kazunari enjoyed the slight breeze on this hot day. Training had been short - to be honest, it was mostly short for Kazunari but because of school all days seemed to be so long - and Kazunari felt a bit sleepy right now.

“Sorry, Kazunari-kun!” Masaki shouted and Kazunari blinked against the sun to see his friend approaching with another boy who seemed used to Aiba’s antics. “I brought a friend along. He was at his grandparents over the last few weeks,” Masaki explained and the new boy bowed the same time Kazunari stood up to greet him as well.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Sakurai Sho,” he introduced himself and Kazunari nodded.

“Nice to meet you, too. I’m Ninomiya Kazunari, please treat me well,” he added and grinned when Sakurai smiled approvingly. Kazunari curiously looked at his impeccable yukata and played a bit with the belt of his own. He felt somehow inferior to Sakurai. Especially because the older boy behaved so easy around Masaki.

“Masaki told me you are a famous actor?” Sho asked curiously as the boys sat down again and Kazunari blushed a bit before he shook his head.

“I’m not an actor. My father is though. He normally plays the hero in all the plays,” he explained and Sho seemed to be awed by those words which made him more approachable in Kazunari’s eyes.

“But I’m learning to become an actor. Father says that I probably may be able to play some small role or that of a kuroku in the next season if I continue to work hard and learn how to read.” His eyes shone a bit at those words. He liked it when his father praised him as that was a seldom occurrence. The stagehands were much freer with their encouragement to them than the actual actors.

Sho nodded in understanding. Kazunari looked up when his sister came out to them. “Mother prepared some fruits for you and drinks but I need help to carry them,” she explained. “Thank you!” Kazunari carefully took the plate and put it down between them before he stood up and followed his sister into the house to get the promised drinks to bring outside.

The rest of the afternoon they talked a lot and Kazunari got to know that Sho was the son of one of the newly instated congressmen for the government and he also learnt from Masaki that Sho was quite clumsy.

 

-Late spring 1888-

Kazunari felt the eyes of his father on him as he practised his lines on the stage on one of the few days the theatre was closed. They could use those days to practise the plays they performed on the stage, to get a feeling for the roles they might later pursue. Kazunari found it hard to stride across the stage and talk in that distinctive voice his father used and it was frustrating. Not only for him but for his father as well and he was worried that he disappointed his father.

He wanted to make his father proud as well as his family. Kazunari wanted to inherit the stage name of his father just like his father did from his grandfather and his grandfather from his great-grandfather. He cried out when he stumbled over the hem of his kimono and almost stumbled over the edge of the hanamichi if not for his father who caught him before he could fall right down. Tears sprang to his eyes when his father sighed - clearly disappointed now - and struggled to get on his feet.

“Come on Kazunari I’ll help you out of this and then we have to talk,” the man finally said and Kazunari nodded. He wiped at his coloured cheeks and stopped when his father took his hand to bring him backstage. Kazunari was seated on a chair there and his father knelt in front of him and helped him to remove his makeup. Kazunari used that time to calm down. At least his father didn’t seem to be mad at him.

“You are good at memorising the lines, Kazunari and at applying your makeup and helping out everywhere. Don’t think otherwise, okay?”

“Okay… But there is a ‘but’ somewhere, ne?” he asked. He wasn’t dumb after all.

“As smart as always,” his father praised and Kazunari smiled at those words. “So yes, there is a ‘but’. But it isn’t something entirely bad. I have decided to finally take a trainee to teach him everything I know but it won’t be you,” he explained and Kazunari’s face fell and he bit his lips hard to stop his tears that threaten to fall.

“Why?”

“Because you can be one of the greatest. I’m sure of it but not in my style, Kazunari. You are not capable of the wide strides and bright makeup. It looks just wrong on you. And your speech pattern is all over the place. I know that it is partly my fault for being away all the time but that’s how it is. There are other actors who would be glad to practise with you and take you under your wing if you want to continue your training. I would be very proud of you.”

Kazunari looked at him confused for a moment as he couldn’t really understand what his father was talking about. Luckily his father read the confusion right and helped Kazunari out of the kimono the child actors wore - Kazunari had already stood on the stage in one of them for a few times since autumn and liked it.

“You would make a great onnagata if you were to practise with an older onnagata,” he explained carefully and Kazunari’s eyes widened surprised and even a bit hurt. He had always dreamt of something else. His father tied the belt of his yukata carefully and then turned Kazunari around to look into his eyes. “But for now you should think about it, we talk more this evening as our practice will begin shortly.”

“I understand father. Thank you for your help,” Kazunari said a bit formally and then left hurriedly with a wave. Kazunari felt a bit empty when he left the premises and tried to think of any other of the children his father would have taken a liking to while he wandered aimlessly through the city. It would be nice to talk to somebody about his frustrating and depressing thoughts. He never wanted to be an onnagata but he also didn’t want to give up his dream to stand on that big stage. He loved it there. But Sho was in school and Masaki had to leave for his grandparents a few days prior because his grandmother had fallen ill and Masaki was to help them.

Kazunari was so lost in his thoughts that he didn’t realise where he was and only became aware of his surroundings when he stood in front of a wall. He frowned and looked around before climbing up and sitting on the edge. His legs were dangling under him and his heels banged against it in a rhythm that reminded him of the drums he sometimes played for the theatre.

“… consenting, the hare and the monkey began to wrestle …” Kazunari looked up curiously at those words and his eyes closed in on the lone small figure in one of the backyards who swore when he was stumbling on the words he was reading. Carefully Kazunari stood up and balanced carefully on the edge over to the backyard the boy was seated at. Kazunari sat down silently again and listened to the boy reciting a story in a book. It didn’t take long for Kazunari to recognise the story of ‘The adventures of Kintaro’ even if some of the names were quite different from the ones Kazunari knew. It was pleasant to listen to the calm voice and Kazunari closed his eyes and felt himself relaxing as if under a spell. When the boy stumbled over his lines and groaned in frustration Kazunari giggled a little and got the attention of the other boy who blinked a bit owlishly at him.

“The story is different than the one I know,” he explained and the other frowned a bit.

“It is boring to always listen to the same story after all,” he decided then and Kazunari chuckled before moving his legs against the wall again. The eyes of the boy followed the slight glances of white skin he could see whenever the legs moved. Kazunari watched the strange calm boy and grinned amusedly when the other put a finger to his nose.

“That’s kind of gross. Catch me!” The boy shrugged and then put out his arms when Kazunari moved closer to the edge and let himself fall down and into his arms.

“Hello, pleased to make your acquaintance. My name is Ohno Satoshi and who are you?”

“Ninomiya Kazunari and you are really bad at reading.”

Ohno frowned, then nodded, looking a bit sad at that. “I know but I want to learn to tell stories and therefore I have to read them. But some kanji are hard,” he explained and Kazunari hummed in understanding.

“I may be convinced to help you if you tell me your stories. You made me happy once again after all,” he explained and Ohno frowned a bit.

“Why were you sad?” Ohno looked clearly confused right now and Kazunari shrugged a bit.

“I want to be a hero in kabuki plays like my father. But father says I am better suited as an onnagata,” Kazunari explained and pouted childishly at that. He really hated that his father thought so.

Ohno took a step back and looked the other up and down silently for a moment. “Nino is pretty,” he concluded in the end and Kazunari hid his face before the other could see himself blushing fervently at those words.

 

“I will try to learn all about onnagata,” Kazunari said the next day to his father and bowed down deeply. He had thought about it and he really really wanted to become a famous actor. Ohno had told him he was pretty and it had seemed so earnest that even if he was feeling a bit uncomfortable it helped him to decide somehow. Kazunari didn’t really understand why but suddenly thinking about becoming an onnagata didn’t hurt anymore. He looked at his father whose eyes were shining proudly and decided that he really had done the right thing somehow.

“That sounds good, Kazunari. I will introduce you to a few of my friends who are still in search for an apprentice, okay?” he asked carefully and Kazunari nodded. He knew that his father wouldn’t be able to teach him anything about that.

“Yes, please. I would be happy,” he replied and then squealed in surprise when his father hugged him tightly for a moment. It was seldom that his father showed any signs of adoration towards his children, since he was a very calm man. Kazunari giggled a little and then hugged the man back tightly. His father gave the best embraces after all and Kazunari liked those very much. He was put down to the floor again after a few minutes.

“I have to prepare for the play now. Do you have anything to do today?” he asked and Kazunari thought about it for a moment.

“Not today. Tomorrow I have to play the shamisen in the morning.”

“Then go and visit your friends.” Kazunari grinned brightly at that dismissal and waved before hurrying out of the theatre. He liked free time and wouldn’t want to linger there and make someone think that he was lazy and could do some work instead of playing around.

His feet led him to Aiba’s restaurant and he carefully slipped in. It was still early so that it wasn’t open yet but as soon as Masaki’s mother realised it was him she smiled and beckoned him closer.

“Good morning, Aiba-san,” he greeted politely. “Is Masaki-kun here? We wanted to go to the riverside,” he explained.

“He is still upstairs, I believe. Why don’t you look for him while I prepare you some onigiri to take with you.”

“Thank you.” Kazunari bowed again and then ran up the stairs to look for Masaki. He was often here in the last months so he knew exactly where to find the older boy. “Masaki, come on, you are late!”

“I’m not, you are just early,” Masaki disagreed.

Kazunari shrugged. “Your mother is making us onigiri to take with us. Will Sho come, too?”

“Sho will meet us at the riverside. He said he would bring a friend along so we have to be polite since he is shy and new.” Kazunari frowned a little and thought of Ohno. He had asked the older boy to meet them too if he had free time and promised him to listen to a story so that he could practise.

“I kind of told a boy that we’ll meet there, too. He wants to be a storyteller and do kamishibai and he needs to practise,” he mumbled, suddenly a bit shy. It was strange. On the one hand he wanted the others to meet him and be friends but on the other hand, he kind of wanted to keep him for himself. But that was silly.

“Oh!” Aiba exclaimed and was suddenly right in front of Kazunari. “That sounds really great. I want to listen to his stories. Is he good?”

Kazunari shrugged and then nodded. He had liked Ohno’s voice after all and it was funny whenever he misread a kanji and his frown was really cute when he was concentrating. “I guess.”

Kazunari watched Masaki as he got ready and they walked downstairs together. There they took the prepared onigiri and other snacks before thanking Masaki’s mother. They left the restaurant and walked side by side to the riverside. Kazunari still didn’t really know if and how he should tell the others about what happened yesterday. Sho was always interested in the theatre and everything that he learnt there but Kazunari was a bit scared that Sho and Masaki would laugh at him.

“I will become an onnagata,” he finally said and Masaki blinked a bit in confusion.

“I thought you said your father acts as a hero?”

“He is, but I won’t inherit his name,” Kazunari explained and was happy that Masaki didn’t laugh at him even if he was apparently confused. “Father says, I would do better that way and he is always right.” Kazunari felt his ears burning when he felt Masaki’s eyes on him.

“As long as you like it and do your best. I can’t wait to one day watch you in a play,” he decided finally. Kazunari smiled brightly at those words.

 

They arrived at the riverside soon after and Kazunari looked around for the perfect space to put up their little camp. He grinned when his eyes fell on Ohno who really had come and he tugged Masaki after himself.

“Hello, Ohno. This is Aiba Masaki. Masaki, this is Ohno Satoshi,” he introduced the two boys who greeted each other and then sat down gracefully on the grass. “We are waiting for another friend.”

“Okay.” Kazunari looked up when he saw Ohno’s anxious face and tugged him down beside him.

“Don’t worry. They are nice. Did you bring your cards?” Kazunari asked and Ohno nodded as he sat down and continued to hold his hand in his own. Kazunari was a little confused but it seemed that it calmed Ohno down so he hadn’t had any problems with the older boy holding his hand for the moment.

“Yes, because you asked me to.”

“Show me. I will help with the story.” Ohno looked a bit ashamed at that but took out a few pages of paper to put on the grass in front of him. Kazunari yelled in surprise at the wonderfully drawn pictures and took them without asking.

“Wow! They are beautiful. Who did them for you?” he asked in awe and looked at him wide-eyed after he had looked through the different scenes of the story Ohno would tell.

Ohno touched his nose a bit sheepishly and looked at the pictures for a moment. “I did them,” he told them and Kazunari’s mouth fell open a little. “My father told me that it is a pride of every storyteller to make their boards themselves so I practised drawing since I was little. It’s easier than reading,” he explained.

Kazunari looked at them once again. They really were beautiful and the scenes were so easy to recognise.

“I like them,” he decided and showed Ohno a blinding smile who ducked his head for a moment to hide his own smile. Masaki came back from the riverside - he had wanted to test how warm the water was - and sat down across them, clearly curious.

“Thank you,” Ohno said and took the papers carefully before clearing his throat and reciting the story of ‘The bamboo-cutter and the moon-child’ for the other two. He held Kazunari’s hand throughout, who only realised how warm and soft Ohno’s hand in his own was when Ohno let go as soon as Sho and another boy with dark proud eyes and thick eyebrows arrived.

 

Matsumoto Jun, Kazunari learnt a few days later when his father brought the other boy over for dinner, was the boy his father had decided to take as an apprentice. Jun was the son of a widow who didn’t have the money to support her children and herself after her husband passed away a few years prior and Jun had always been interested in learning the art of acting after he had visited a kabuki theatre when he was little.

So he sometimes was at the theatre and tried to get someone to teach him. It was not that easy for children who weren’t sons of the actors to get an education in that occupation so Kazunari wasn’t that surprised he hadn’t noticed him yet. His father had seen him and decided that he probably would strife in kabuki and decided to take him in. After a few lessons, it was apparent that his father was right and the man had decided straight away to take Jun as apprentice and heir of his name.

Kazunari really tried to hate Jun, but on that day at the riverside, he had somehow connected to the younger boy. Jun was proud and confident but at the same time shy and Kazunari liked his wits. Jun could take a sarcastic remark without being confused or hurt and Kazunari liked that in people. So, yes, he couldn’t hate Jun for taking what Kazunari thought of as his place before he had the chance. It also helped that Jun did not mock him when he learnt of his fate but looked at him in a strange sort of admiration.

“Jun will stay with us from now on,” his father explained after their meal and brought Kazunari back to them with those words.

“Eh? Why?” he asked confused and looked at Jun who avoided his eyes a bit uncomfortable.

“So that he can get the best training, Kazunari,” his father explained patiently and Jun nodded. There was something they didn’t tell Kazunari realised but decided not to ask further. It seemed wrong to pry.

“I hope you will make him feel comfortable here,” his father concluded their talk and Kazunari nodded and after their dinner ended he stood to take Jun’s hand and showed him around. He also made sure Jun would know that he would show him the easiest way to the theatre tomorrow morning.

They arrived early at the theatre the next morning and Kazunari waved Jun goodbye at the entrance before hurrying to the dressing rooms to dress for the play. He took his instrument and a deep breath before following the others to the yuka. It was easy to play with the others, normally, but he also got stage fright every time. Kazunari knew he wasn’t the only one and that they played in the background or little roles without text from a young age to get over it but Kazunari wasn’t so sure that it really helped. He was scared he’d be on stage one day and forgetting all his lines or, worse, fall off the stage. He paled at that thought and only calmed down when he felt a hand of a fellow musician on his shoulder. The older man smiled encouragingly and winked at him.

“Don’t be scared - you will do well. You could play the songs the best in practice after all,” he reminded him with a careful tousle of his hair. Kazunari managed to nod and sat down among the others. The other was right after all: He knew all notes and was better than some others with most of the instruments. By the time the curtain was pulled away by a stagehand he had calmed down and was able to play the first notes correctly and forget that there were people in the seats this time around.

 

Just as his father had promised Kazunari he was introduced by his father to three different onnagata. Kazunari watched all of these men full of curiosity since he never really paid any attention to them before. His father was right. They moved around with a lot more grace than the other actors and they didn’t seem to abandon all acting the moment the play was over. Kazunari didn’t really understand why at first.

“We have to uphold an image,” Nakamura-san said and Kazunari tilted his head confused. The man laughed and knelt down gracefully to look into his eyes. Kazunari liked the proud strong eyes of the man. Nakamura clearly wasn’t ashamed of what he did and that was good to see. “Your question. I can just read it on the tip of your nose,” the man said amusedly. “We all have images to uphold. We onnagata more than others so it helps to stay in your role just a little bit longer. Also, you will see that some movements will be engraved in your mind and body. You want to be convincing after all and not just look as if you are a man playing a woman. You want to be seen as a woman during the time you are on stage. Everything else is just not fair for the audience.” Kazunari thought about it for a while and then nodded in understanding. That made sense in a way.

“I would love to teach you if you want,” he said in the end. Kazunari decided he liked the man because of the passion he seemed to have for his role and job so he agreed easily.

“Do I have to live with you?” he asked curiously as he remembered Jun who had moved in with them fully by now.

The other shook his head. “Not yet, later for a few months probably,” he explained and Kazunari nodded. He could live with that and was now very excited to start proper training.

 

-Autumn 1888-

Official training was keeping Kazunari busier than he had thought possible. Now his days were not only filled with school work - mostly learning how to read and write - and the stage with helping whenever someone was needed, but also with the proper training on being an onnagata. Kazunari did not yet study any full plays - even if he had to keep memorising all lines - but how to move and speak well. Kazunari learnt that everything he tried to do earlier when he imitated his father was now wrong and kept him from really shining in front of his new teacher. Luckily his new mentor was patient with him and helped him whenever he was stuck.

Whenever he had the time - mostly in the early evenings - he went to visit Ohno in that backyard they met for the first time. Kazunari was determined to help Ohno with his practice as well as he could and often wrote the stories for Ohno only using easily read hiragana.

“Nino’s writing is really pretty,” Ohno had praised Kazunari the first time he made some corrections in his textbook and even if Kazunari had blushed badly he was happy with Ohno’s words.

“Can you read my text?” Kazunari asked one day and gave Ohno his handwritten copy of ‘The story of princes Hase’, a tale that Ohno was practising right now. He had used the night hours for days now to write the short story tidily on some pieces of paper and hide them from Jun under his futon.

Ohno took the papers, curious, and then sat down on the floor to concentrate on the text. He had difficulties with reading, and writing was even worse since he had never really visited a school. A fact that had shocked Sho so immensely that it had thrown Kazunari into a bout of laughter that day, even if he had felt bad. Ohno had also told them that he was never really bright but that he had always loved to listen to all the storytellers on the street and had decided early that he wanted to be like them.

Kazunari, of course, loved people with ambitions (and especially Ohno) and wanted to help. He also understood that it was not as easy for Ohno to just memorise dozen of stories like it was for him with the plays and hoped that his plan of writing the stories for Ohno on his own would make it easier. Kazunari waited anxiously in front of Ohno and fidgeted nervously when Ohno put the paper down.

“It’s easy to read,” Ohno mumbled then and Kazunari ducked his head shyly at the bright grin of the older. Ohno’s eyes were really pretty when he smiled so happily.

“Then I will write all stories for you,” Kazunari promised and shrieked in surprise when Ohno tugged him down and he landed on top of the older. Ohno’s arms around him were too warm but also very comfortable.

“Thank you. Nino is the best,” Ohno whispered against his ear and Kazunari shuddered a little at the hot moist breath against his earlobe and then stiffened a bit when Ohno’s dry lips were pressed against his cheek. That was the first time any other boy had done something like that to him. Kazunari found to his surprise that he liked the feel of Ohno's lips against his skin very much.

“Everything for Ohno,” Kazunari mumbled almost inaudibly and then distanced himself from him. He sat down in front of Ohno and grinned. “Now tell me a story.”

 

-Autumn 1890-

“I can’t do this,” Kazunari said nervously and walked from one end of the backyard to the other. He was frightened as they all could see and nobody really knew why. Nobody but Jun who looked a bit amused at Kazunari’s apparent distress.

“What is even going on?” Sho intervened in the end and Kazunari stopped suddenly looking at them in confusion. He had totally forgotten about the others.

“What?” he asked confused and glared at Jun when the younger began to outright laugh now.

“What can’t you do? What are you even talking about?” Sho said with an eye roll and elbowed Jun into his side so that he would shut up.

“I have to dance tomorrow,” Kazunari whined and let himself fall ungracefully beside the others. He hid his face in Ohno’s shoulder who put an arm around him and shushed him slowly. Sho was always astonished how ungraceful Kazunari sometimes could be when he was normally the direct opposite. The two years of training he already had done as an onnagata had made his posture even more elegant and Sho was sure that Kazunari would deceive some people as a Maiko if he tried the kimono and makeup on.

“I still don’t understand. What is the problem?” Dancing was part of Kazunari’s training as well as acting, after all.

Jun finally took pity - probably more on Sho than on Kazunari - and decided to explain in more detail. “He has to dance in front of the audience for the first time. It’s an interval piece of the big play we start from tomorrow on. He got one of the dance numbers with two other onnagata and he’s been panicking ever since they told him.”

“But that’s good, isn’t it?” Masaki intervened and looked at Jun. “That’s what you want. To stand on the stage in the spotlight.”

Jun grinned and nodded. Of course, they wanted that but Kazunari had somehow gotten really bad stage fright the moment his mentor told him that he would take his place for this one piece. Jun knew that it was mostly because Kazunari was scared to disappoint him.

“But I am in no way good enough, yet!” Kazunari said loudly and groaned when he looked at the confused faces of the others. Of course, they didn’t understand. But dancing was hard. The steps weren’t the easiest and he had to maintain his stance and mimic the whole time so that it would look good. He rubbed his face at Ohno’s shoulder and then rubbed the spot at his yukata when he realised that he didn’t get all of his stage makeup off before the meeting with the others.

Ohno patted his head and stopped his movements by taking his hand and squeezing it softly. “Breath,” he advised.

Now Jun looked at the Kazunari with a frown on his face. “Nakamura-san wouldn’t let you do it if he didn’t think you would do great,” he reminded him with an impressive eye roll. “And you know that. He is very strict in his training and has high standards. So quit it. You are excellent in what you do.”

Kazunari whined a little and worried his lip between his teeth which Ohno stopped with a finger to his lips as well. He frowned and finally concentrated on the older. Ohno watched him with such a soft and loving smile that he finally calmed down and sat down more comfortably.

“You know the dance?” Ohno asked and Kazunari nodded slowly. He could probably do that dance in his sleep since he had been practising it almost daily for the last few weeks. He just hadn’t known that Nakamura had decided to let him do that part for every play.

“Then Nino will the prettiest and most gracious on stage,” Ohno said with so much conviction in his voice that Kazunari could only believe the older boy. He hid his face again at Ohno’s shoulder - now to hide how red his cheeks were - and hummed a little.

“Are you sure?”

“Of course. I would never lie to you,” Ohno promised and made Kazunari smile at those words.

“Then I’ll do my best!”

Ohno grinned and tugged him from his hiding place. “Show us your dance,” he demanded and pressed his lips against his knuckles for a moment, before Kazunari nodded and stood up to go through the dance in front of his friends to make sure he really didn’t forget anything. It also helped to loose some of his anxiousness of performing it in front of an audience.

 

Dancing in front of a crowd that applauded him was exhilarating, Kazunari decided after he vanished the next day behind the agemaku. He managed to not stand in the way of any actors for the next scene and silently thanked Jun who was waiting for him to lead him through the backstage. There he leant against a wall and just breathed. He had totally forgotten to breathe for the few minutes that the dance had taken place and his heart was beating fast.

“Was I any good?” he asked Jun who grinned and helped him to remove the heavy wig in front of the mirror.

“You were very good. There were a few mistakes though,” Nakamura answered and Kazunari looked up at his mentor who had just come back from the stage to refresh his makeup. The next scene was made up by some other actors who were lost in a fight.

“I am sorry,” Kazunari mumbled and looked down ashamed. He felt bad that he had let down the other but the man just laughed and reached for some wipes to hand them over to Kazunari who carefully removed the white makeup from his face. Jun had left them for the moment and Kazunari was kind of glad for that.

“They weren’t big enough that anybody else noticed. I did because I normally do that dance. And I saw them because I know that you can do it flawlessly. But it was good for your first time on the stage. I think you will be able to appear more and more in future,” he explained and Kazunari looked at him with wide eyes.

“Really?”

“Really. But I request that you will live with my family when this season is over. I want to prepare you then to earn the name you are going to inherit.”

Kazunari’s eyes widened and he nodded mutely. He had waited for the time when he was going to live with his teacher to learn even more. He had realised that the training was even harder for Jun than for him since his father even practised with Jun when they were home. Jun’s job was also to help in his family’s household. It was something to build up one's character, Kazunari’s father had explained to him when he had asked once.

“I would be very honoured,” he managed in the end and Nakamura nodded before standing up again to get ready. Kazunari looked at the mirror again to remove his makeup slowly and carefully. His heart was still pounding with excitement. He couldn’t wait for his next performance the next day.

 

-Winter 1892-

Kazunari and Jun, were now more often seen in different plays at the kabuki theatre. They normally didn’t play a whole day since it was still hard to stand on the stage for the whole day, but they were there a lot.

Both had earned a few fans that cried out their names whenever they appeared. It always made Kazunari blush with pride when he was recognised. Kazunari was slowly making his way up the ranks at the theatre and he had fun with it. Sadly, the work also meant that they had less time to meet with their friends and for Kazunari, that there was less he could do for Ohno and his storytelling.

He visited the older boy each time he had a free morning or afternoon, though. Kazunari knew where he would stop with his cart to tell stories to the interested children and Kazunari could be often found hiding at the back of the crowd of children, similarly enthralled by the stories and more even by the beautiful pictures that Ohno drew to make the stories more easy to follow for his audience. Kazunari was just astonished that Ohno never seemed to stumble over his words whenever he was in front of the children even if he still stumbled over them whenever he recited the stories in front of Kazunari alone.

 

“You know that your father will have my head one day?” Jun asked when Kazunari once again slipped out of the theatre in the evening. They were talking in hushed voices to avoid being overheard.

“What are you talking about?” he asked and crossed his arms in front of his chest. Jun sighed and tugged Kazunari with him so that they were out of earshot of the theatre.

“Your father asked me to look after you,” Jun explained and Kazunari snorted a little.

“You mean, he asked you to follow me everywhere to make sure that I don’t do any dumb things,” he corrected and Jun sighed.

“You know, that is not true. He is worried.”

Kazunari deflated at the earnest words and massaged his temple for a moment. He felt a headache coming up. He had this discussion already with his father and even asked Nakamura to help him there.

“Yes, but it is silly,” Kazunari grumbled.

Jun shrugged.

“We are not in the old times,” Kazunari sighed and looked at the sky and the few stars that could be already seen. “I’m also not helpless.”

“I know, Kazunari. I think your father was just shocked that some people offered you and him money for a night with you,” Jun mumbled with red cheeks and Kazunari couldn’t help the grin that appeared on his lips at Jun’s shyness. It was seldom that Jun showed that emotion nowadays.

“I was, too. I know that in the old days onnagata were seen and used to be some kind of prostitutes. But not anymore. Besides, Nakamura would have my head if he ever got to hear from anyone that I was offering such services. So no need to worry. And especially not for you to follow me around whenever I leave the premises of the theatre or my home, Jun.” He wanted time alone. And he wanted to meet Ohno all alone. He missed the evenings when he didn’t feel Jun’s eyes on him whenever he visited Ohno in the little shack he had in the poorer part of town.

“Can we meet in the middle? I really don’t want to get killed by your father. And I think he needs some more time to get over his protectiveness. I will accompany you to Ohno-san and then meet with Masaki-kun and fetch you afterwards,” Jun proposed.

Kazunari sighed. “Okay, but I really think it’s silly that I can’t go alone.” Kazunari rubbed his eyes. He was already feeling pressure behind them. It would be easier if Ohno would just come here but Ohno didn’t like doing that and Kazunari had learnt to accept it. So he let himself being led to Ohno’s resident and bowed to the younger man when Ohno appeared at the door to let him in.

“Jun is a scary bodyguard,” Ohno observed and sent Kazunari into a fit of giggles which seemed to satisfy the older very much.

 

-Spring 1893-

“You are still in your stage makeup,” Ohno observed in astonishment when Kazunari left the theatre that afternoon. Kazunari smiled, amused at that look and realised for the first time that Ohno had never seen him like that yet.

“True. But it’s a new task. Nakamura-san wants me to stay in my role for an entire week,” he mumbled and tried hard not to frown or grimace at that thought. He liked his role, yes, but he also liked to be himself when a play was over. “I can understand if you don’t want to spend the afternoon with me,” he said and shrugged.

“Nino is pretty like that. So it’s okay,” Ohno answered and Kazunari grinned happily at that. He was happy that his makeup hid his red cheeks and that Ohno wasn’t ashamed or something like that to be seen with him.

They walked side by side and Kazunari had to concentrate not to fall down on the uneven path. It was very different from the stage boards he was used to walking upon in this style. But Ohno automatically walked closer to him so that he could hold onto the older whenever he stumbled, and they went slowly enough that it was kind of okay.

“So where was your bodyguard?” Ohno joked after a while and pulled Kazunari out of his thoughts this way.

“Huh?” he asked confused and threw Ohno a glance.

“Or more like bodyguards? It was fun to see the others walking you everywhere,” Ohno explained and Kazunari groaned at the memory of Sho and Masaki joining into the ‘fun’ of walking Kazunari everywhere whenever Jun had work to do.

“First: Jun and my father knew that you were to fetch me from the theatre. I’m sure they checked to make sure that you were really outside. And second: They promised me to stop,” Kazunari mumbled sheepishly as he remembered the fit he threw a few days ago. Nakamura scolded him for losing his temper like that, but it was kind of worth the shocked looks on the faces of the others.

“I heard of that. In fact, I think most of the town have heard,” Ohno hummed thoughtfully and Kazunari groaned as he hid his face behind the sleeve of his kimono. Of course, everyone had heard. It had happened in front of the theatre after all and his father had contemplated that he might have been suited to play the avenger of the defenseless.

“Please don’t remind me,” Kazunari mumbled and then thanked Ohno when they arrived at Aiba’s family restaurant and Ohno let him enter first and then helped him to kneel down at one of the tables.

“Welcome!” Masaki said happily when they made themselves comfortable and brought them a pitcher of tea. He looked surprised for a moment at Kazunari’s attire but thankfully didn’t comment on it. Kazunari still had to get used to the looks he was getting right now.

“Hello,” Ohno and Kazunari said in unison and shared a look before ordering themselves some food. Kazunari watched as Masaki disappeared in the kitchen to prepare their food. His eyes then fell on Ohno who was still staring at him with a dreamy expression and he carefully laid his hand on Ohno’s on the table. The older flinched a little in surprise but when Kazunari wanted to take his hand back held it tightly on top of the table. Kazunari felt his stomach doing weird turns but Ohno’s hand felt entirely too warm and comfortable to move.

“Nino is really beautiful today,” Ohno mumbled almost inaudibly and Kazunari realised with a start that Ohno’s ears turned a little red at those words. It was the first time that he had seen Ohno blush at anything and it made him strangely happy that it was because of him.

“Thank you, Satoshi,” he said earnestly and that were the last words spoken between them for the rest of the meal.

 

“I should probably send you home,” Ohno hummed thoughtfully when it got dark slowly and Kazunari looked up. They were currently at the gardens and Kazunari had observed the beautiful kois in the pond without realising that dawn had already come.

“I can manage alone.” Ohno’s home was at the other end of the city and Kazunari didn’t want to trouble the older man, to be honest. Ohno shook his head stubbornly and led Kazunari around the pond to the end of the park.

“It would be my pleasure. So please grant my wish to accompany you home. I want to be sure that you arrive there safely.”

“If you are adamant.” Kazunari took the arm of Ohno to hold on and let the older lead him back to the home of his teacher. He still lived with the old man and helped him the best he could.

The walk back was short and soon Kazunari and Ohno were standing in front of the porch of the house. Ohno looked around and carefully tugged Kazunari a bit closer and into the shadows.

“What are you doing?” Kazunari asked confused and entwined their fingers unconsciously. A giggle escaped him when he collided with Ohno a little and he smiled softly when he felt the fingers of Ohno’s free hand against his cheek. Ohno carefully tugged him closer and then Kazunari felt hot moist lips against his own dry ones that stole his breath away.

Kazunari couldn’t say how long they kissed or how exactly he finally got into his room after Ohno had left him with another smile and a promise of meeting again soon. But he remembered the giddy feeling that made it impossible for him to find any sleep that night and the knowing look of his old teacher the next morning for once didn’t make him uncomfortable.

 

-Autumn 1895-

Kazunari was very nervous when he got ready at the back of the stage and carefully applied his makeup to transform himself into the onnagata he was known as to so many people out there now. The last few weeks he had taken over more and more of his old mentor’s parts and was at least as well known as he was.

Today would be the last day his mentor stood on stage before finally retiring and hopefully spend a few years in happiness before death would knock on his door. Kazunari glanced at Jun who was working on his bright stage makeup just a few seats further away and looked at least as nervous as Kazunari felt. Jun would inherit his stage name today just as Kazunari would do.

They chose - as was the custom in their theatre - the midday break of the play to change into their costumes and appear on stage for the official naming ceremony. And then from the afternoon part of today's play, Kazunari would stand on this stage with his final stage name of Nakamura Shikan.

Jun caught his gaze and Kazunari smiled for a moment in encouragement for him: They could do this. He was sure of it. Kazunari looked into the mirror again to finally finish his makeup and then put the wig on while making sure that it couldn’t slide off when he moved on stage. He took a deep breath and felt his heart pounding inside his chest and slowly climbing up and closing up his throat. He was very nervous.

That didn’t vanish when the chime for the break sounded. The younger ones went onto the stage for the entertainment of the audience while they took their lunch.

Kazunari raised from his seat when his teacher and his father came to them and stood beside Jun.

“And are you excited?” his father asked and Kazunari nodded. He had realised that he couldn’t speak in the moment. Kazunari worried his lip between his teeth. He hissed a little when he felt a hard hit on his shoulder for this.

“Don’t smudge your makeup,” Nakamura scolded and Kazunari looked down while apologising softly. There was no reason to be this nervous and Kazunari knew that. He just couldn’t help himself. The two older men left them to refresh their makeup and get ready for the ceremony.

Jun grinned at Kazunari who scowled a bit. “I know why you are so nervous,” he teased Kazunari, rolling his eyes. “Today will be the first time Ohno-san will watch the play.”

Kazunari blushed a bit and then looked down again. His heart seemed to jump at the reminder of Ohno in the audience. It was true that Ohno until now never had watched a play where they had appeared. Ohno told him that he didn’t have the money and Kazunari accepted this easily. But today Sho had bought them all tickets for the play and most importantly for their ceremony. Masaki even closed the restaurant for today just to see them.

Kazunari wanted to retort when they had to move to the side as the next bell chimed and the short break was over. He felt the hand of his teacher on his shoulder and looked up.

“Come on take your seats,” he said and Kazunari nodded while he followed Jun onto the stage behind the curtain and knelt down. He bowed his head deep when the curtain raised and then lifted his head when his name was called. His eyes almost immediately found his friends and he was caught by Ohno’s intense stare.

Kazunari went through the motions of the ceremony automatically but in the end, he almost couldn’t remember anything of importance from that day because regardless of what he did on the stage, for the rest of the day his mind was occupied by Ohno.

 

-Summer 1897-

It was late in the evening that Kazunari finally found Ohno at the riverside. The older man was sitting at the waterside with a fishing line in hand and a serene look on his face. Ohno seemed to be so relaxed that Kazunari didn’t know if he should disturb him right now. But just as he contemplated leaving Ohno alone the older looked up and grinned up at him.

“Good evening,” Kazunari mumbled and sat down carefully next to him.

“Nino!” Ohno declared and Kazunari laughed a little.

“Yup, it’s me. What are you doing?”

“Fishing,” Ohno deadpanned.

Kazunari giggled a little. He leant against Ohno and laid his head on his shoulder. “How was your day?”

“It was good. I told the children the new story I worked on for the last few weeks. They loved the pictures and I might take it into my repertoire,” he explained and Kazunari hummed in understanding and agreement. He liked all of the stories Ohno told. The classical ones and the new ones.

They stayed quiet for a while Ohno was humming under his breath and concentrated on the fishing line. When something tugged Kazunari carefully lifted his head so that Ohno could reel in his catch. Kazunari watched happily as Ohno’s face scrunched up in delight with his catch and put the fish and his equipment into a basket before putting his things on his shoulder. Then he helped Kazunari up to his feet once again.

“Come on. Dinner’s on me now,” he said and Kazunari giggled a bit.

“Is it perhaps some kind of fish dish?” Ohno grinned in answer and tugged him along to the little shack that Kazunari loved so dearly now. It was small and broken in parts but the furniture was lovely.

 

They didn’t talk a lot during dinner and after they did the dishes together - Kazunari insisted on helping the other after Ohno had made them dinner - they sat together on the floor to look out of the door.

Ohno had his arms around Kazunari’s stomach while Kazunari leant against him, watching the sun go down slowly.

“Stay with me?” Ohno whispered in his ear and a shudder went through Kazunari’s body when the hot breath hit his neck. A gasp escaped his lips when shortly after the hot lips were pressed against a spot right behind his ear. “You are allowed now to move out, right?”

“Yes,” Kazunari whispered and closed his eyes.

“Then stay with me tonight - and forever?” Ohno repeated, continuing to press kisses along his jawline. Another shudder went through Kazunari when he felt fingers on his belt and himself being dragged further into the house again when he mumbled an almost inaudible ‘Yes’ against the lips of the older man.

 

-Spring 1900-

“What are you doing?” Kazunari asked when he came out of their home to the little garden Ohno had painstakingly made last year. It was nice, with all kinds of plants so that there were flowers blooming at almost every time of the year. Kazunari really liked this kind of idyll even if he only could appreciate it in the evening when he came home from the theatre.

Not so the last few days though, since there had been a fire in the city near the theatre. Since it was made of wood it didn’t take long for the theatre to catch on the fire. Kazunari probably will never forget the haunted look in Ohno’s face when he came running to the site as soon as he heard of the fire. Kazunari felt bad for him. It had taken a bit until Ohno had found Kazunari since he had taken it upon himself to help the slower and younger people out before rescuing himself.

Ohno had been pale and Kazunari was sure that there were dried tear tracks on his cheeks and it was then at that sight that Kazunari had remembered that Ohno had lost his whole family to such a fire years ago.

Neither of them had cared then when Ohno, as soon as he got sight of him, had run up to him and took him in a tight, almost suffocating embrace. Kazunari had hugged him tightly in return and had let Ohno weep against his neck for as long as he needed to calm himself down. After that Ohno had helped with putting out the fire.

Kazunari would have almost forgotten Ohno’s reaction if not for the eyes he felt on him the whole time since the fire. Even now, days after, Ohno often just looked at Kazunari or held his hand tightly while he was home.

The theatre still needed to be rebuild. Until then, the actors could use the time for a break or getting to know other kabuki theatres. Kazunari, of course, had taken the offer of a break, to spend time with Ohno at home or follow him around town to the places where he would gather the children to tell his stories and sell a few sweets to them.

“I’m preparing our second oven,” Ohno explained as he cut the wood down and Kazunari lifted one of his eyebrows at that.

“And why, my dear husband, would you do that?” he asked ironically and grinned when Ohno blushed. They were, of course, not officially married - other than Jun, Sho and Masaki - but they had lived under one roof for long enough to feel as if they were.

“The others will come by this afternoon,” Ohno finally explained bashfully and Kazunari giggled a little. Right, he had almost forgotten the meeting arrangement they all made a few days prior, wanting to spend a relaxing afternoon and evening at their home. Kazunari couldn’t hide his happiness of meeting his dear friends and their children once again. The only person he met regularly was Jun and that only because they worked at the same theatre and often in the same plays.

Masaki had a restaurant to run and seldom the time to close it to meet with the others. And when the restaurant was closed, Masaki often found himself spending time with his wife and four children instead of with his other friends. Kazunari didn’t feel any disappointment because Masaki liked to spend his time with his family rather than with his childhood friends but he couldn’t deny that he missed the time when the five of them would spend hours at the river without a care in the world.

Sho, on the other hand, was often travelling across the country to meet with important people, the old samurai class or the old daimyos, trying to make them agree to decisions the tenno made. Or he had to travel to another country to see how things were done there. Kazunari was astonished about the rapid growth of Japan in the moment and was sure that whatever it was that Sho actually did, was the right thing.

“I forgot, sorry. Do you need help?” Kazunari finally asked but Ohno shook his head.

“I’m almost finished. But you could come with me to the market to buy things for our meal this evening,” Ohno offered.

Kazunari nodded after a moment. “Of course, but then I should get ready,” he realised and with a kiss to Ohno’s lips, he left their garden to dress in order to be presentable outside.

 

The others arrived soon after Kazunari und Ohno had finished cutting the meat and vegetables for an easy and fast stew in the evening. Ohno left to put the wood into their outdoor oven to prepare the stone dishes for the food.

Kazunari greeted the children with tight hugs and grinned when he took the youngest of Masaki and Becky on his arms. The baby was cute and Kazunari was happy that it didn’t cry the moment it was in his arms.

“Satoshi is outside,” he explained and grinned when, with a cry of joy, the older children ran outside. He smiled at Jun who helped him with the drinks before going outside.

Kazunari was careful to not drop either the glasses or the baby in his arms and was glad when he was able to set the dishes down on the table outside. He could hear the laughter of his lover and the children and motioned for his friends to sit down.

“Is Satoshi-san okay?” Jun asked worriedly and Kazunari shrugged.

“He is used to children. Even if he normally has them sit around him while he’s telling stories. But he didn’t cry for help, yet,” Kazunari answered with an elegant shrug and a little grin when he felt Jun’s hand connect with the back of his head.

“How are the repairs going?” Kazunari asked after a while.

Jun hummed a little.

“We were in the city today but I couldn’t convince Satoshi to have a look there,” Kazunari explained.

Jun sighed. “You will have a hard time to get back it seems,” he said after a while.

Kazunari shrugged. He was sure that he could talk to Ohno about it in a few days. “He won’t force me to stay at home when it reopens. I’m sure of that. So tell me.”

“It will take at least another week before we will be able to at least practice there again.” The damage was the biggest at the centre stage and all helpers were more worried about the houses where people lived than the theatre. Kazunari had been one of them so he only nodded.

“That’s okay. I think I will manage to talk with Satoshi until then,” Kazunari agreed and gave the baby back to Becky when it slowly fell to sleep in his arms.

“I can’t wait for Jun to be able to work again,” Mao moaned from her place and Kazunari giggled at the look Jun shot her. “He is driving me crazy. I am not used to having him home that much.”

Kazunari nodded in understanding and smiled when Ohno finally came to them. The children apparently had had enough of him for the moment and were gone to play.

They spent the rest of the day talking about their different kinds of work and in the evening Kazunari watched Ohno telling the children a few of his stories. Kazunari never lost his love for Ohno’s stories and wished that he would never lose this.

 

-Summer 1902-

Kazunari watched sitting the children in front of Ohno this evening and felt a pang of hurt inside his chest. The majority of them this time around were orphans of the orphanage just around the corner. Of course, none of them had the money to pay for the sweets Ohno offered, so Ohno had decided to give them away for free just to see the happy smile on the faces of those children who had so little.

In the midst of the story of ‘Momotarou’ Ohno looked up and discovered him at the back, just hovering inside the shadows, and smiled for a moment. He made a ‘come here’ gesture and then continued on with the story. Kazunari shook his head in amusement before walking up to his lover and sitting down just to the side to listen more closely to the story without being in the way of the children.

His day had been long and tiring but he didn’t want to stop Ohno and go home with him just yet. It was fine to just sit here amongst the children and listen to the warm voice of the older man. He startled when he felt a small hand on his arm and big eyes looking at him. He needed a moment before he recognised the boy as one who had been lurking around the theatre for a few days now.

The boy had vanished though before Kazunari could ask him why he was around. “You are the onnagata Nakamura-san right?” the boy asked curiously and Kazunari frowned in surprise at that direct question. He felt Ohno’s curious eyes on them and glanced at him to show him that everything was okay.

“Yes, I am. Why do you ask?”

“We were allowed to watch one of your plays. And I loved your dance in the middle the most,” he explained with an excited glimmer in his eyes and Kazunari chuckled a bit. He remembered the performance they did for those children. It had been a fun play and for once an adventure kind of play. It was nice to do other things from time to time even if the classical plays were Kazunari’s favourite. He never got used to the plays that were about mundane household scenes. Perhaps because he never experienced that kind of life.

“I am happy you liked it,” he said softly and hushed the boy a bit when he realised that he was too loud for the children right beside them. “We can go over there and talk a bit if you would like - and are able to leave this exciting stories,” he offered then. The boy nodded with a happy glint in his eyes. Kazunari stood up and offered the boy his hand to help him to his feet.

They walked the few steps and Kazunari sat down on the edge of a well in the middle of the market square. He helped the boy up it as well and then looked at him curiously.

“I saw you in the theatre the last few days. But you stopped coming,” Kazunari began and to his astonishment, the boy blushed madly.

“There was a scary man that said I shouldn’t linger around paying people,” he explained sadly and Kazunari tried hard not to growl at that statement. He hated the people who thought themselves better and tried to get rid of boys like this one in front of him.

“That was not nice of him. I will talk to him that that attitude is unacceptable. You are free to look at what you want,” he explained. After all, they offered training for all kind of boys who were interested in their art.

The boy looked at him with wide eyes he seemed to have expected another kind of answer but then his face brightened and he took hold of Kazunari’s yukata suddenly.

“May I learn?” he asked eagerly and Kazunari frowned confused. He couldn’t follow what the boy was talking about. “The matron explained that if we are interested and find someone who would teach us and such things even orphans like us are allowed to become actors. I want to become an actor just like you,” he explained.

Kazunari was surprised. Yes, people had already asked him what apprentice he would take on to teach him everything he knew and have an heir for his stage name. But he never really thought about it. He was still young with twenty-four after all. But he knew that he had to find someone if he didn’t want to let his stage name die with him. And that was something that he didn’t want to let happen.

“You don’t want me?” the boy asked sadly and Kazunari felt a pang of guilt at that crestfallen face in front of him.

“That’s not it. But I don’t even know your name,” Kazunari said and the boy blushed again.

“Shota and I are almost nine,” he mumbled and Kazunari tousled his hair.

“That’s a good name. Shota-kun, I haven’t thought about taking an apprentice, yet. So your question surprised me a bit. I would be honoured to teach you. But I should talk with my partner first and then have a talk with you and the matron as well, ne? You probably will have to stay with me and Satoshi then. It will be easier to teach you that way.”

Kazunari knew that was a lot to take in so he waited patiently for Shota to answer. The eyes of the boy wandered to the storyteller that was now slowly packing up and shooting them questioning looks. Kazunari waved him over and smiled when Ohno automatically took his hand in his own when he arrived.

“May I introduce Shota to you, my dear?” he asked and watched the boy from the side of his eyes. “He asked me if I would like to teach him the art of an onnagata at the theatre,” he continued and Ohno’s eyes twinkled in understanding.

“Nice to meet you, then.”

“You live together?” Shota asked directly and Kazunari chuckled a little, before agreeing softly.

“Yes, so you would live with us when you decide to go through with your wish. I think you should sleep this night and think about it and tomorrow in the afternoon I will visit you in the orphanage, okay?” Kazunari asked softly and Shota nodded thoughtfully. Ohno helped the boy from the well and then took Kazunari’s hand when he stood as well. Both of them watched Shota getting home safely before going home as well.

“What do you think he will do?” Kazunari asked curiously and Ohno shrugged a bit deep in thought.

“Shota would make a great onnagata and you could teach him the best.” Kazunari blushed a bit at those earnest words and jostled him a bit.

“You are hopeless,” he decided and Ohno chuckled while he helped Kazunari into their home.