They don't really remember how it started. Or when: it's difficult to say, just as it's difficult to draw the lines of measurement through the long slow gradual unfurling of friendship into something colored like a blossom in the sun, the slant of light that changes dawn into a morning bright with dew and the singing of birds high in dappling leaves. How do you ask -- who reached forward first, was it Tooru who first touched Takashi with wondering fingertips as his smile lit up an evening like a lamp luminous with the trembling glow of fireflies, did he smile because he knew, how did Kaname see that finally, nothing needed to be said or asked or seen, that the reflections of water on the ceiling were more than memory or ghosts, and, shaken with laughter and desire, draw them close?
How do you ask? When did the roots reach down into their hands and connect them to something that was like water and sunlight and air? How is it, to be seen in such a gentle light?
So they don't ask. Instead they spend lazy afternoons together, watching the clouds skim over the mirror of the sky, the multitudes of colors glittering over the river, Tooru's voice rising into the air as if it were woven in threads of sound, her head pillowed on Kaname's chest, Takashi's hands entwined with hers. The wind is soft on their faces. And the hours slip by in a peaceful sort of reverence, as if to say: this is what it feels like to come home.
(They don't really speak of it. How does one say in words: in such a world, you are the ones who carry my heart in your hands? They already know.)
And also, when you look at things through the lens of joy, some sharpen into a clarity that hurts the heart; some fall away. It doesn't matter, a little thing like a date, a story meant to tell others, whens and hows like the bones of trees whose leaves have been stripped away, facts emptied of their meaning. It cannot matter, not in the face of this perpetual wonder, and the look in Kaname's eyes when they kiss, and the tender gratitude of Takashi's hands, and the tilt of Tooru's face, up to them, to the sky. When? you ask.
They have their own dates, of course: the first touch, fingers and then palms; when their mouths met, as easy as breathing. But these are too precious to bring out of the hearts in which they are kept, in the lines in their palms into which the memory and present are sunk, wrapped up in each other's embrace. When?
There are a thousand answers that could be given, and yet there is only one.
Always, they'll say, smiling.
For a time, she is content to look, and more than content: it fills her up, charges her with so much, so much, she feels like she is a vessel overflowing with delight, and it's too much, she must spill into a thousand peals of laughter, one breathless tear. It is too beautiful. To watch them, in whatever light, in the hazy long-lit gold of summer and autumn like a great lantern warming the chill air, and winter's bright white coldness thawing itself into the thousand flowers of spring -- to know (to believe to hope to cherish to want) that these same dear faces will yield themselves again to her seeing, season after season after season, constant in the changing light.
Tooru knows, perhaps better than many, what it is like to balance the cost of seeing against her own wants, and how it is to pin hope on the unseen as much as those few bright flashes of what she can see; she has been careful since then to shape the boundaries of her expectations and desires, to seal her lips against asking. But this, just as it is, so freely given, undoes her. Sometimes she'll wake to them beside her, Takashi in supine lassitude and Kaname shifting in the tides of his dreams, and she'll walk the border of wakefulness and sleep simply watching them, tracing the lines of their faces with her eyes, chin and neck, brow and lid and lash, and unravel herself into committing them to memory at the same time that she finds peace knowing she will never need to remember them as she remembers vanished faces, hands gone beyond touch.
And sometimes she thinks: it's too beautiful, too beautiful. A girl can only hold so much happiness in her body. But she finds that she has more with each day, carrying it like the golden seeds of some fruit of marvel within her chest, and begins to learn that the capacity for happiness is like that for kindness or gratitude or hope, it enlarges the heart, more and more, even as you look to the sky and find its vast laughing span of blue and white not incomparable to your joy.
She doesn't hesitate, as she goes. It is hard to think, there is so much, and sometimes it feels so fragile because of that -- but Tooru is also familiar with the precariousness of loss, the weighted pendulum of it, and it is a small fear, a grave more and more endlessly filled, as the joy she bears expands and expands into certainty and she grows into seeing, lets her fingers follow her eyes into touch. When her fingertips graze Takashi's cheek something in his eyes stills, calms, and when she takes Kaname's hands in her own there is one fleeting moment when his face catches itself between surprise and pleasure: how warm her hands are.
And how beautiful it is, how she can find rest simply in looking at them, touching them in the slightest and most meaningful of ways, her hands tracing the way the light moves around them, and know they are hers, not in the mean selfish sense of possession but the way that people belong, to places they have long loved and laughed and sung and held each other and dreamed in, and with other people, and to the changeless and changing sunlight, and to trees.
It's a benediction. The way the soft light of grass and countryside and trees takes up the sound of the city and wraps it away, stilling it into a mechanical hum and the voices of birds, clouds. Kaname smiles and leans back against it, letting it leach away the noise and the bustle. He isn't counting down the minutes, but he watches them slip by anyway, numbering them in a silent conversation with the landscape, degrees of familiarity and leaf, that particular clump of trees, that open field.
When he alights at the station he sees them there on the bench, waiting for him. Takashi's gaze meets him and holds him in its warmth, and for the first time since his trip Kaname relaxes. Against Takashi's shoulder, Tooru, her hands wrapped around Takashi, slack with sleep, her hair falling across her face. Around them the air hangs radiant with a welcoming silence.
She was up all night again, Takashi mouths, as Kaname approaches to kneel before the bench and take them both into his arms. Kaname makes a face -- studying? -- and Takashi nods, managing to look sheepish; Kaname smiles and brushes his forehead with a kiss, presses another kiss to his palm. It's easy, now, the way the words come, the way the closeness comes; the comfortable hush they draw around them feels like another embrace, like shelter. In their presence the quiet is nothing more complicated than quiet; the last remnants of the city drain away into that simplicity.
In their shared embrace, Tooru stirs, half-opens her eyes. Smiles, seeing Kaname, and the swift brightness of that smile has him cupping her face in one hand, kissing her with the same tenderness with which one says: I'm home. Or, more than that: thank you for being here.
"Welcome back," she whispers, her voice still husky with sleep. I'm sorry I fell asleep, her eyes begin to say, but Kaname presses another kiss to the back of the hand that has come up to trace his brow, and her next breath surrenders a hushed giggle instead. We missed you, they could say, but they don't. It doesn't matter now that he's here. For long moments they just stay like that, arms twined in each other, Tooru and Takashi and Kaname, as the late afternoon sun pours red warmth over them and the bench and the station and air suffused with birds, leaves, the beginnings of a breeze, a wordless gladness.
It's Kaname who stands up first, holding his hand out to them. When Takashi and Tooru stand it's with less grace and more soft laughter, Tooru pretending to tuck herself under Takashi's chin before taking both their arms in that comfortable, familiar gesture.
(They laugh more now; they breathe more easily, open to the air. Kaname recognizes the change in the sound -- there are many names for it, but it is all the same, in the end. The silences in between breaths and words and heartbeats no longer belong to strangers; that quiet space has become a friend.)
"Come on," he says, "Let's go home."
He tastes like evening, Takashi thinks. Kaname tastes like the dark velvety shadows with which the air is hung after dusk; an evening soft and chill, in a garden of quietly blooming plants and the sleep of grass. They are sprawled together in a warm, lazy pile, backs to the ground, looking up at the stars, save for Takashi, who is bent over Kaname, raised up on his elbow, mouth a gentle seal.
They kiss slowly, softly, heartbeat and breath, as if they need never hurry, as if they have all the time in the world. It's a certain kiss, one that asks no questions because it has all the answers it could possibly need, here in this circle of embracing arms sheltered within this garden, in the tenderness of these hands. When Takashi draws back for air Kaname looks at him for one long wordless moment, his gaze bright and spangled with reflected stars.
Tooru is beside them, body curled around them, her eyes luminous, and when she lowers her head to touch Kaname's lips with her own a murmur escapes her and Kaname's hand comes up to tangle in her hair. Her hand reaches out, seeking, and Takashi catches it between his, kisses her fingertips, her palm, the pulse at her wrist.
She lifts her face; her mouth is wet. "Takashi," she says.
And Tooru, Tooru tastes like autumn air.
It is also like this: there are stories that go without telling, not because they are secrets but because they are so completely their own that they need only exist, remain, inhabit lives the way light inhabits the sun and heat dwells within the halls of summer. Like the stories about how to grow, about the assembly of birds and the soaring chorus of branches, that have sunk into the veins of old trees; the tales asleep in the petals of flowers, the brief gentle lives of grass, sunlight draping gold over your beloveds' faces.
So they are not told, only lived. Words are indistinct; the heart sees truer, more sharply. And this, isn't this what clarity really means, not memory but the air about them, alive with the hum of insects and the breeze strumming its great hand through a multitude of leaves, Tooru's bright gaze and the unexpected gift of Kaname's smile and the curve of Takashi's brow, and the intaglio of their limbs, and the bridge above water, the beauty of its shadow? And the way the light softens and darkens, in a diminuendo called night, or grateful surrender. So much meaning, in so little.
Like kindness, you say. Like love.
Or like the certainty spanned in the silences between them, feathered only with the sounds of their breathing, the soft murmurs about everything and nothing turned infinitely precious by the voices that carry them out across the river, into the night. It does not need to be said or spoken aloud, not really. Because it already resides there, in the spaces created by the warm speech of the body, hands and legs and the curve of the spine, at rest, content; and it is brilliant even in the night, clear and visible, all harsh edges smoothed away in learning and growing and stumbling and still somehow holding together, a lamp to see beloved faces by. Like heartbeats. Like promises held in an open, gentle hand.
Always, their smiles will say. Always.