The freezing gust of wind hit him full force and Miharu tucked his chin deeper into the muffler. He sneezed when a cold snowflake fell onto his head and promptly melted. Grumbling to himself, Miharu slowly continued walking up the hill.
Miharu never liked winter in Banten. It was always cold and lonely there, before and after he knew of the world of Nabari. The ninjas that he met and the friends that he made all had to go back to their respective families to prepare and celebrate the coming new year.
It's always been like that, and so shall it always be.
So he had taken up walking around by himself around the village. It didn't matter how cold it got or how dark it was. He would always continue roaming the streets, staring at couples snuggling up together, children running around their parents, and friends hanging out together. Sometimes, as he watched the people, he felt like he was searching for something, but he could never find whatever it was.
And since his fourteenth winter, Miharu had started walking around the outskirts of Banten, where there were less people and was a lot quieter. The old inn at the edge of Banten reminded Miharu of himself—alone and silently forgotten.
One night, confused and dazed, Miharu had walked to the old inn. He had tried to remember the person that he had erased, but he couldn't seem to remember. He felt guilty, because maybe the person he forgot was just like him. Alone. So very alone.
Miharu felt sad and guilty then, and had pushed snow and dirt together to form a small hill on the ground, like a roughly built grave. He had pulled some plain, indistinctive flowers from the sidewalk and gently placed them on top of the grave before kneeling soundlessly down.
"Ah, I feel stupid." Miharu murmured to himself. He didn't even know this person's name. But he should at least put a name onto the grave...
When the wind had blown into his red cheeks and stung his frost-bitten nose, Miharu fell backwards and stretched out his body. He stared up at the night sky and blew out a puff of air. "It's nighttime... with a cool breeze... Perhaps I'll call you Yoite. Yeah, that's it. Yoite."
He crawled towards the snow hill he made and clumsily drew the kanji for Yoite on it before rolling next to the grave. Strangely, it was at this moment that he felt the least lonely.
This winter, Miharu once again stood in front of a lonely mound of earth before sighing and kneeling down. With his gloved hands, he shaped a snowy grave once more, and when finished, he clapped his hands together and silently prayed for Yoite.
When he was done, Miharu looked around the sidewalk for any flowers that were still living through the winter. Smiling to himself when he saw a single, resilient yellow flower, he plucked it from the ground and dropped it softly onto the mound of snow. He said, "This is the third winter that I've come, ne? I'm sixteen now..." He trailed off. He didn't know what to say. Miharu silently wondered what was Yoite's age and when was this person's birthday.
"I still don't remember you either, but Kumohira-sensei said that I should stop trying to remember you, since you wished for this nonexistence. I think I'm starting to become convinced by him. But—don't you want to be remembered by somebody? Anybody?"
Miharu sighed to himself, feeling ridiculous for talking to a pile of snow. He fingered the edge of his muffler before unwrapping it from his neck. He folded it and gently placed it next to the flower. "Hanabusa-san told me that this probably belonged to you, because she had made a matching one for me. Now you won't be cold anymore, ne?"
He stayed silent for a while, gazing down at the flower, the scarf, and the snow. "This might be the last time I'm coming here. I'm leaving Banten with Yukimi for work. I think we're going to Tokyo. I... I don't want to come back. There's nothing keeping me here anymore."
Miharu squeezed his eyes shut and breathed in deeply. He quickly went on, "Kouichi is coming with me to Tokyo and Raimei said she's ready to go back to the Shimizu clan. Kumohira-sensei is stuck being Banten Junior High's teacher. And the okonomiyaki store—it—I...
"I'm not staying here anymore. I'm—I'm sorry. Goodbye." He abruptly turned around and sniffled.
His indifferent mask would be useful now, but Miharu didn't bother holding back a few tears. He took small steps away from the pile and wiped his eyes on his sleeve.
Then, a soft "meow" came from the slope of the hill he had climbed. It was Yoite, the black cat that followed him and Yukimi around. Miharu smiled sadly and whispered, "Hello, Yoite. Is Yukimi waiting for me?"
Without waiting for a reply, he walked down the steps towards a familiar car near the bottom. With his back towards the grave, Miharu never saw Yoite stare intelligently at the snow mound or saw the cat slowly pad forward and tugged the muffler off the grave and drag it back down with him towards Yukimi's car.
The snow continued falling, and soon the flower was buried by the snow. A stray cat wandered by and walked all over the grave, trampling it till the pile of snow disappeared.
And Miharu didn't come back to visit.
Miharu felt stiff in his new uniform. Kouichi stood next to him, grinning as usual. It was the first day of school, and Miharu put on his indifference face. Yukimi was forcing him and Kouichi to take a picture together in front of the school, and when Miharu asked him how did he intend to take the photo, Yukmi had said he taught Yoite a new trick.
"Why are we doing this again?" Miharu asked Kouichi as he posed for the camera.
Kouichi smiled at him and said, "Because it's fun, Miharu. C'mon, where's your cute face?"
Miharu rolled his eyes at him before complying. He forced a blush onto his cheeks and widened his eyes. He put on a cute smile and tried to stifle the urge to punch Yukimi when he snorted.
When his cheek started twitching, Miharu saw Yoite jump from Yukimi's shoulder and hit the camera's snap button. There was a flash and he was momentarily blinded. When Miharu could see again, he rushed forward and picked up the uninjured Yoite. Angrily, he asked Yukimi, "What do you think you're doing? Yoite could've been hurt!"
Kouichi laughed at Miharu and started pulling him away from Yukimi. Yoite jumped out of Miharu's arms and Kouichi waved goodbye to Yukimi.
"Let go of me, Kouichi!"
"You're showing your feelings, Mi-ha-ru!" Kouichi said in a sing-song voice, enunciating all three syllables of Miharu's name. Immediately, Miharu stopped fussing and pulled on his mask again.
Kouichi felt like sighing and then the bell rung.
"C'mon, Miharu. Let's go check if we have the same classes."
With an expressionless face, Miharu walked down the hall, looking for his classroom. Kouichi and he were in different classes and he didn't know how he felt about that. Pushing aside any possible distracting thoughts, Miharu looked at the name plates on the doors, searching for 1B.
Miharu silently grew frustrated as he passed by numerous doors, but found none with the name 1B. All he saw were 3C, 4A, 2D, etc. Not once did he see the letter B.
Annoyed beyond all belief, Miharu gave up and simply leaned against the wall, sliding down. He distantly heard a teacher's voice and students chattering, but those noises were muffled by the wall. His head started hurting and he quietly groaned to himself.
Miharu closed his eyes before dropping his head to his knees, linking his arms around them. Hopefully the bell would ring soon and he could ask someone to lead him to his class. For now, Miharu would just... take... a little... na—
And he dozed off.
Silently, Yoite the Cat padded around restlessly on the windowsill, the window being the only barrier between him and the small teenager. He was worried about the little child who had such sad, lonely eyes. He was slowly getting worse as the days dragged by. For some reason, Yoite had a strange urge to simply go up to the boy, purr, and rub against his knees, hoping to get some positive response.
With that goal in mind, Yoite began crying and clawing at the window.
But not even ten seconds passed before another, taller male came across the scene and stopped him. From outside, on the same side as Yoite, a dark-haired teenager grabbed Yoite and lifted him up to his face.
With a small, kind smile, he said, "Hello, little one. What are you doing here? Cats aren't allowed in school, y'know?"
Yoite merely gave him a disgruntled cat look before mewling. He struggled in the boy's grip, and the boy released him.
Yoite landed on all his feet, gave another look to the boy, before jumping onto the windowsill again and pawing at the glass.
"Hey, hey! Stop it!" And then the boy noticed Miharu inside. "Oh, is that who you're looking for? C'mon. I'll take you inside and you can see him. But then you'll have to go, okay?" Strangely enough, it seemed as if the cat had nodded.
Miharu was having a pleasant dream about dark eyes, soft and velvet black hair, and a warm hat. There was a word—a name—that teased him, so close and on his tongue, but he couldn't speak it. He didn't know why, but the sight of it all, as well as small, beautiful snowflakes made him sad.
Somehow, Miharu knew he was dreaming about the boy that didn't exist. The name was still teasingly on the edge of his tongue, but he—"Yoi—"
"Hey, little fella'. Wake up! You should be in class, y'know?" Miharu felt his shoulder being shook and the name, the eyes, the hair, and the dream—they all vanished. Miharu breathed in the lonely, empty feeling it left him and then he opened his eyes.
At first, he thought he was still dreaming. Shocked, surprised, and scared, he could only stare at the eyes that were so frighteningly familiar. The eyes that were from his dream.
The boy waved a hand in his face, and when Miharu didn't give any response, he began looking worried. The other boy looked down and said, "Is he okay?"
Miharu followed his sight and saw Yoi—
His headache hit him again, the pain suddenly blaring like a foghorn into his ears. He gripped his head, but it was useless. Unaccustomed to the pain, he blacked out.
"I'm sorry to have to call you all the way out here, Yukimi-san."
"It's fine, sensei. This isn't the first time that happened." Yukimi's voice sounded sad for a moment, and quieter, as if to himself, he murmured, "I told him to stop forcing his memories."
"Yukimi-san? Is something wrong? Did you say something?"
"Ah, no. It's nothing."
Miharu let out a low groan of pain as he rolled over on the stiff mattress. The voices reverberated and pounded in his skull, throbbing, and the smells of the nurse's office stung his nose to a burning sensation. Blearily blinking his eyes, Miharu made out a figure sitting next to him as he tried to adjust to the new lighting.
"Hey sensei! I think he's awake now!" That voice, oh so familiar, called out.
The pain in his head and in his nose felt fleeting and small, compared to the sudden flare of something in Miharu's chest. He gasped and grasped onto his shirt over his heart. Miharu felt the stranger's hand grab his own and pulled it away. Strange relief enveloped him as he suddenly grabbed that hand with both of his own, never relenting. He opened unseeing eyes and thought he saw the familiar form of Yukimi stumble over to him.
"I-I don't know. He just suddenly awoke and grabbed onto his chest!"
A woman's hand, unfamiliar and cool, held onto him and touched his forehead. She said, "I don't know what's wrong. He doesn't seem to have a fever. Yukimi-san, does Miharu-kun have any heart disease?"
"Not that I know of. He just has a few issues with memories."
"Oh my. Does the poor dear have amnesia?"
"No... It's just..."
When Miharu's gaze refocused, his eyes found an older boy whose hand was trapped within his own. He didn't blush or falter from holding another boy's hand. Instead, Miharu gasped out, "Yoi-Yoite?"
"Yoite? Who's that? My name is Sora." The boy's eyes were so dark, so familiar. But for some reason, it wasn't as lonely as the eyes in his dreams. And that hurt Miharu inexplicably.
"B-but—your name, it's Yoite." Miharu repeated weakly and emotionally.
Yukimi pulled him away from Sora—No, it's Yoite! I know he's Yoite!—and apologized to Sora, whose eyes never strayed from Miharu's. "I'm sorry. He confused you with our cat. I don't know what's wrong." To Miharu, he said quietly, "Calm down, Miharu. You're in school right now. Yoite's in the car. This boy—he's not Yoite."
Miharu protested, but Yukimi gently shook him.
"Calm down. You're scaring him."
Sora interrupted him, without looking at him, "I'm fine, sir. I'll-I'll just—" He stood up and looked away from Miharu. "I'll just go."
That was the moment that Miharu regained his memories. All of them. And it wasn't just Miharu that suddenly remembered Yoite. Yukimi did too.
But the two never approached the boy that painfully triggered their memories, that tugged at their hearts. And he—Sora never talked to them again either. Miharu saw him from time to time in school, but he never dared to talk to him.
He was afraid of what the boy will say. Will he think Miharu a freak? Will he tease him?
This boy, who used to be known as Yoite, now called Sora...
Seeing him those infrequent times made Miharu pause and feel guilty. Guilty because he failed Yoite. He had promised Yoite to erase his existence, make it seem as if he never existed. But he failed. He left a trace of that memory within himself and Yukimi and he chased after these memories relentlessly. And then he remembered.
He had failed Yoite.
And then there was Sora. Sora who looked exactly the same as Yoite. But he didn't act the same. He wasn't sad or lonely or quiet. He didn't live as if his days were numbered. He didn't live as though life had no taste, no color, no sound.
Sora was everything that Yoite wasn't. He was happy, smiling, joking with friends, playing soccer, picky with food, always talking about the latest film and the best of music. He enjoyed life like no one else did. He seemed to use his senses to the fullest, like Yoite never could.
And it hurt. To see Sora do all these things and know that Yoite never did, never could do these things.
Miharu didn't know what to do. He felt guilty for failing Yoite, but at the same time...
He felt relieved too. Because with his failure, he managed to give life to Sora, who took the remaining specks of his memories and reshaped himself. Miharu was sure Sora would never exist if Yoite did, and with his wish, he gave Yoite a life, a good life.
Sora was Yoite. Miharu was sure, but he'll never bring it up with Kouichi.
For now, he'll simply share these thoughts and feelings with Yukimi, sympathizing and hoping and wishing good things for Sora. Yukimi and he could remember the past, but they wouldn't burden Sora.
And maybe someday, Miharu will bring up the courage to talk to Sora, and he'll talk about the many things they could do together, the many things they could experience together. They could redo everything Yoite and Miharu had done before, and then they could do more.
For now, he'll simply hang out with Yoite, the cat, and take pictures with Yukimi.