If Ryosuke was given the choice to do it all over again, he would take it, no doubt about it. He’s grateful for the circumstances that allowed their paths to cross, would change their precious few seconds for nothing else in the world.
❄️ ❄️ ❄️
He’s known about the interview for five days, has been corresponding with the journalist about the details for two, but nothing could have prepared him for the way his heart is beating in double time, the flush that crept up from his neck to high on his cheeks and won’t go away, even when he’s metres away behind the counter.
“This is my favourite Autumn blend,” he repeats when he returns, setting a teapot and two cups down in the centre of the table. “It’s rose and mango-infused sencha.”
❄️ ❄️ ❄️
In Winter, Ryosuke looks deep within, calls upon the energy that feeds on the cold. It’s the only way to ignore his stomach churning in unsettlement, the discontent that threatens to rise. He doesn’t want any lingering feelings of regrets.
“Ryo-chan, we’re out of chamomile!” Yuri calls from the back room, signalling the end of his late-afternoon nap.
“Okay!” he shouts to indicate he’s heard, before handing over some coins to the last of today's customers. “Thank you, have a nice evening.”
He finds Yuri surrounded by stacks of boxes and pink and gold tissue paper. “Are these all the orders that are meant to be going out tomorrow?”
“All except one. It just needs more chamomile and then that’s it,” Yuri says, standing up and stretching. "Also, can we order in some white tissue paper?" He lurches out of his circle of boxes but then staggers on nothing, arms pinwheeling out in front of him until Ryosuke puts a hand out to steady.
“Are you okay?” Yuri isn’t often clumsy - that’s his own extra-special department.
Unconcerned, Yuri dusts off his knees and pats him on the shoulder. “Yeah. Just normal growing pains.”
It’s almost the end of Winter. And then after Winter comes Spring, and soon Ryosuke can sleep.
❄️ ❄️ ❄️
Spring is the most colourful of them all, and Ryosuke feels lucky he gets to experience it, even if only for a moment. His pathway to work is lined with marigolds, bluebells and daffodils; everything seems brighter in Spring, from the days to its people.
His heart, though heavy, just needs to push on a little longer. Its moment of rest is soon approaching.
❄️ ❄️ ❄️
Ryosuke stretches on his bed, arches out the kinks in his back, rolls out some of the tension in his neck. The sunlight is already seeping through the fabric in his curtains, beams of light dotting his dark, wooden floor.
Leaves coloured red, orange and gold litter the ground and the trees; Ryosuke lets out a whoop upon opening his front door. Winter will always be his favourite season, but part of Autumn's charm is that thrill and sense of intrigue that the other seasons can't match.
He’s waiting for him at the door. Ryosuke runs right into Yuto’s arms.
“Missed you,” Yuto whispers into his hair. When he lets go, Ryosuke tilts his head up; catches Yuto’s lips between his, and pushes him inside.
This is what he doesn’t get in Winter; Yuto’s breath ghosting over his eyelids; his cheeks; his lips; eyes closed as Ryosuke traces his fingers over the sharp features he hasn’t seen in a year. Yuto pinning him down onto the bed, smirk on his face as he grinds down, firm hand on Ryosuke’s chest that pushes back when he arches.
This is what he misses in Winter; Hearing Yuto cry out when he takes control and aligns them just right; when he takes Yuto into his mouth and enacts his revenge, teasing licks and wet kisses, never breaking eye contact. Waiting until he’s incoherent before straddling Yuto’s legs, performing his solo show, two slick fingers then three, to his enraptured audience of one.
This is what he yearns for in Winter; that moment of bliss when he finally sinks down—a little too fast, a little too slow; losing all sense of time and place at the first upwards thrust. Coming down from the high uttering soft, happy sighs, limbs still tangled together in the afterglow.
“Have you packed?” Ryosuke asks when they've both stirred awake from their early-afternoon siesta.
Yuto presses a kiss to his nose, then his lips. “Yes. I was waiting for your call.” They’ll drive back to Ryosuke’s place in the evening, where Yuto will spend the week. Now that he’s no longer dormant, it’s time to change hands at the café.
“Mmm,” Ryosuke murmurs, smiling, before he’s overcome yet again with the haze that Yuto’s lips provide.
Yuto has an office made of four concrete walls, but at this point it’s more of a storage room than an actual office. “The world is my office,” is what he often quips while making shell-like gestures with his hands, and so it’s not uncommon for Ryosuke to glance towards the far corner of his café in-between drying porcelain to find his favourite mop of messy, black hair sitting by the window, hands flying across his portable keyboard.
❄️ ❄️ ❄️
Kneading out dough onto the silver countertop, a blast of cool air gushes in alongside a familiar, welcoming scent. Ryosuke drops everything to make a beeline towards Yuri, standing with his arms outstretched and a look of resignation on his face that’s just for show, because the arms that wrap around him are just as tight as his own.
When they return behind the counter, it’s Yuri’s turn to sniff the air once. “Is that pastry I smell?”
“Yeah, we’re expanding,” Ryosuke says, and shoves a slice of pie into his mouth. He took some plans up to Victoria last year who, alongside Amber, was also yearning for more. Daytime was spent going over plans; at night they baked, three of them side by side, until in Winter he remained.
Yuri considers this with a tilt of his head. Ryosuke expects Yuri to protest; he’s never been very good at dealing with change. “I think it’d be good for you,” is the response he ends up getting, before Yuri opens his mouth for another bite.
“I thought there’d be more resistance from you.” He takes a bite to sample for himself. If it’s good enough to mould Yuri’s mind, he must be doing something right. Maybe it’s the pecans.
“No. I think this is what you need.”
Ryosuke swallows his bite of pie and eyes his friend. The pie is good, but the expression on Yuri's face is far too placid. It’s gotta be the pecans. “If you say so.”
He’ll have to file this away for future reference.
❄️ ❄️ ❄️
Like it does every year, the temperature begins to heat up; the days blur by, and there’s never enough time.
“You need to rest. I promise it’ll all be finished when you wake up,” Victoria says after she recovers from her fright upon finding him curled up in the pitch black storage room, sketches and scribbles and crumpled pieces of paper scattered around him on the floor. “You’ve done enough. Go home, Ryosuke.”
She threatens to take away his store keys and won’t take no for an answer. Ryosuke ends up getting pushed out of the back door with lavender tea tucked into the front pocket of his coat.
❄️ ❄️ ❄️
“Adequate,” Ryosuke allows after sampling Yuto’s soft-cream. “Limoncello is better than that bubblegum one you had last time.”
Yuto scrunches up his nose at the memory. “Let us never speak of that again.”
“Plain vanilla is still the best though,” Ryosuke continues, waving his own cone around. They’re at the amusement park again, leaning against the railing. It’s his favourite place to view the seasonal leaves. When you only get a few weeks of a season together, routine is what you cling to.
“Plain vanilla is boring,” Yuto says, but that doesn’t stop him from swooping in to steal a bite. He moves so fast Ryosuke isn’t quite prepared, and Yuto comes away from his nosedive with soft-cream on his chin, leaving Ryosuke to stare at him unimpressed as he squawks with protest.
“You can have that,” he tells Yuto, rolls his eyes when Yuto pokes his tongue out at him. “Mature.” But when Yuto leans in for a kiss Ryosuke doesn’t turn away.
Yuto pulls out his camera and makes Ryosuke smile against the backdrop of the ocean, then pesters a random onlooker into taking one of the both of them with a soothing voice and a charming smile. Ryosuke’s only got one eye on the camera—his soft-cream is melting—but at the last minute his eyes snap up to Yuto as he jogs back to his side, slouches against the railing, and knocks their shoulders together with an easy nudge. Yuto seems happy with the photo though, beaming at their impromptu photographer, an added spring in his step.
“We’re not going on the teacup ride,” Ryosuke says later as they approach the giant lookalikes of his favourite ceramic wares, not needing to look up to know that Yuto’s eyes have brightened. “For one, I’m pretty sure you’re too tall. You might topple right out of the cup. I’m not rescuing you if you do.”
Yuto pouts, but continues walking alongside him. “Talk about discrimination.”
Ryosuke doesn’t even deign that with a reply.
They end up making out on the ferris wheel as usual because Ryosuke can’t stomach anything more turbulent, and they don’t really go to the park for the rides, anyway.
“This is for you,” Yuto says before they part ways, pushing a photo album into his hands. “Don’t open it until snow falls.”
❄️ ❄️ ❄️
Snow is usually graceful in her arrival, soft and soothing; a perfect blanket of white, but instead she arrives one morning in a violent rage, crashing down onto the ground without any sort of warning.
People get sick that day; unprepared for the sudden chill, they crumple to the floor. The day Winter crudely pushes Autumn aside, Ryosuke has to send all his staff and patrons home. For a few hours he’s all alone in his remodelled café, cleans it top to bottom for lack of anything else to do.
Then Yuri arrives panting, wheezing, clutching at his knees, still in his pyjamas. “I came as fast as I could.” He looks around at the empty, but sparkling, establishment. “I was going to call Kei for backup, but I guess we don’t need any.”
They lock up early; nobody wants to come out in this blizzard. He and Yuri barricade themselves in the back room; there’s facilities and enough resources there to last them for days. Nobody can call him out on his tendency to overwork, anymore. Yuri sits cross-legged on the floor and makes crowns out of daphne blooms because nobody’s there to see him do it; they often tell their admiring patrons that they're woven with nature's magic.
When the storm dies down, when Winter’s temper abates, Ryosuke opens the leather-bound album to glossy pictures of red and gold.
❄️ ❄️ ❄️
Kota’s been coming by more often, this time carrying a giant crate of apples. He sits on the wooden stool behind the counter, gazing around the store with his sunflower smile while Ryosuke rolls up his sleeves and shows his crew how to bake his mother’s apple pie.
He leads Kota to the table framed by the arch window and the wooden bookshelf, where they dig into their slices in silence. With Kota, Ryosuke lets himself dream, allows his eyes to flicker to vacant spaces. Kota’s getting better, but this is what they both need. There are consequences to be dealt with the actions they've taken; this is far, far from new.
If they did speak though, if Ryosuke could sit Kota down in Spring and Hikaru in Autumn, he’d tell them, “You’re both doing fine.” Maybe one day he won't have to. He tells himself this, because he needs something to believe.
❄️ ❄️ ❄️
With the way they’re clinging to each other on the doorstep, there’s no way they’re leaving Yuto's flat tonight.
“Here,” he says, unwrapping his scarf around his own neck and looping it around Yuto’s. “I guess you don’t have one of these, huh.”
“Never needed to until now,” Yuto admits, shutting the door behind them, one hand clutching at this extra layer of warmth.
Yuto’s clingy tonight, not letting him get more than two steps away, plastering himself to Ryosuke’s back to oversee the cooking preparations. He claims it's because he's bored and wants attention; Ryosuke doesn't call him out on it.
Ryosuke takes care of him tonight, Yuto on his back amongst soft sheets and pillows. His mouth doesn't tease tonight, diligent in working Yuto off, fueled by low moans and keening whimpers that Ryosuke gets lost in. Later; much later, Yuto touches his face as Ryosuke comes with a cry, a vulnerability in his gaze that he never lets anyone see. Ryosuke kisses him in the deafening silence, and somehow, for a moment, everything seems like it'll be okay.
“I got a promotion,” Yuto murmurs into his hair right when Ryosuke’s on the verge of nodding off.
Twisting in Yuto’s arms, he sits up; punches a bicep for good measure. “Congratulations!”
“Creative Director. I’ll have input on all the shoots now, and when they launch the online segment I’ll be able to film documentaries, too.”
Ryosuke’s smile is so wide it hurts. Something else hurts too, but he’s ignoring that; it’s his natural instinct. “I’m so happy for you.” He hugs Yuto so tight he almost feels numb. Numb is preferable to being torn away from this elation. Yuto brings their lips together like it's a question; for once, Ryosuke answers it with one of his own.
❄️ ❄️ ❄️
He opens his door to knocking one day to see Misaki beaming on his doorstep; doesn’t let her take a step inside before he lifts her up into a hug.
“I had a feeling you’d be around today,” she tells him happily, ponytail swinging in the wind as she bounces on her feet. “It’s been so long, nii-chan.”
Misaki leaves him pink, red and white camellias every season, but the last time they’d seen each other was back when she was still in school, and he’d already started hibernating.
“Nee-chan’s going to be so jealous I got to see you,” she says, placing her elbows on the table while arranging her assortment of camellias in a tall, glass vase. “I kept telling her I’d see you soon.”
“I actually saw her the year before last,” he recalls. It’d been a surprise on both their parts, meeting at the shopping district—neither had expected it in the second half of Autumn. “She’s always coming by when I’m sleeping and leaving clothes on my sofa.”
Misaki giggles. “She misses fighting over clothes with you.”
They end up cooking together in his kitchen while catching up, curl up together on the sofa with mugs of cocoa just smiling at each other until Misaki has to leave for university.
“We’ll probably be seeing each other a lot more now,” she says, hovering on his doorstep. “But are you going to be okay? With… you know.”
Chihiro must have told her, then. He closes his eyes. He just has to believe. “I’ll be fine as long as I have you, Misaki-chan,” he tells her instead. She rolls her eyes, but he’s the one that has to nudge her towards the gravel pathway. “Don’t be late to class.”
❄️ ❄️ ❄️
The interview’s over, and all the pictures taken, but the journalist is still sitting there by the window, teacup and saucer in hand. Ryosuke hates that he’s not right there with him.
He’s not outright watching, but when he’s reaching up to select two boxes of dried chrysanthemum, out of the corner of his eye he sees Nakajima pick up his bag of camera equipment and head towards the counter. Ryosuke steels himself for the inevitable.
“You’re busy,” Nakajima says, and Ryosuke still can’t meet his gaze, face burning even more underneath this stranger's kind scrutiny. “I don’t want to disturb you, but is it okay if I come back again sometime?”
❄️ ❄️ ❄️
There’s a book of pressed, white polyanthus that's been collecting dust on his bookshelf. When the last of the crisp leaves fall from their branches, Ryosuke wakes up to it lying open on his bedside table, joined this time by stems of pastel dahlia.