Ghost-Bussan’s words echoed in his head for the umpteenth time.
“If you build it, he will come.” Bambi said aloud, rolling over in bed. What were they supposed to build? They’d tried the massage parlor, the Starbucks that wasn’t actually a Starbucks, the burger shop... and none of them had brought Bussan back. “Field of Dreams, was it?” he mumbled, sitting up at scratching the back of his head. Mouko hadn’t been of any help regarding the plot, so maybe he ought to stop dawdling and just go and watch it himself.
The door to the pub swung open, and Mini-mini Ozzy looked over to welcome the customer, before realizing it was just Bambi. The patrons already seated at the counter took notice of the small smile he offered instead, and turned to look over their shoulders.
“Oh, Bambi!” Ani yelled happily. “Listen, listen, me ‘n Master just had another great idea! Don’t you think Bussan would like-” He stopped, half in shock at the utter lack of reaction he got from his friend. His gleeful demeanor falling away in a second, he watched with a pinched expression as Bambi made his way over to the bar counter in a daze.
“Bambi?” Master tried tentatively, eyebrows drawing together in worry. It was strange enough that Bambi was so out of it, and considering Bambi was the one who wanted to bring Bussan back more than anyone, his indifference to Ani’s next proposal could only mean something was wrong. “What happened?”
“This,” Bambi held up a videotape, “Is what Miss Mirei was talking about at Nekota’s wedding reception.” He paused. “I watched it.”
“Did it give you a hint?” Ani asked hopefully.
“You guys need to watch it.” Bambi said, ignoring his question.
“Can’t you tell us?” Master sighed.
“Just watch it, would you?” Bambi yelled, startling his friends. As furious as he sounded, neither Ani nor Master missed the slight quiver of his lips, nor the fact that his hands were trembling. Conceding with a silent nod, they shuffled over to the TV, turned it on, and slid the tape into the VCR.
The television screen flickered to life, and after a bit of fiddling with the remote, the tape came on, starting from a scene where some American stood in the middle of a clearly self made baseball field.
“Oh!” Ani exclaimed. “A baseball field! Bussan wants us to make a baseball field!” He and Master looked to Bambi, expecting confirmation.
Bambi managed a small smile, but shook his head, nodding at the TV, silently telling them to keep watching.
Reluctantly turning their gaze back to the screen, the trio continued to watch in silence until the image suddenly cut to footage of a familiar face, wearing a difficult expression as they fiddled with something off-screen, probably behind the camera.
“Bussan!” Ani, Master, and Ucchii yelped in unison.
Finger coming down to slam the pause button, Bambi whipped around to stare at Ucchii.
“Ucchii?!” they screamed. Their friend gave a sheepish grin.”
“What the hell? How long have you been here?” Bambi demanded.
“Forget that! Ucchii, where the hell have you been?!” Master cried.
“The whole time.” Ucchi admitted, ignoring Master’s question. “But more importantly,” he said, plucking the remote from Bambi’s hand. “It’s Bussan!” Leaning forward, he hit the play button, and everyone slowly turned their attention back tot eh tTV. As interested as they were in finding out where Ucchii had been, there were more pressing matters at hand. Besides, Ucchii had always been surrounded by mystery. One more wasn’t going to kill them.
“Hey.” Bussan’s familiar voice crackled through the speakers. They couldn’t tell if it was because of the shitty speakers on this old TV, or if the audio recording itself was just shit. Regardless, they turned the volume up, and leaned forward eagerly.
“If you’re watching this and I’m not dead yet, stop here!” he warned, glaring dangerously into the camera. “I’m serious, you fucks. You’d better stop. You hear me? I’m tellin’ ya to stop, dammit!” he yelled, doing his best yakuza impression.
Snickering, Ani glanced over at Master and Ucchii, who were both laughing too. Bambi, however, had a much more subdued expression on his face.
Bussan on screen sighed heavily, the tough guy facade slipping away as he stepped back from the camera and settled down onto the floor of his room. Now that they could see more of him, they were caught off guard of how... well, normal he looked. Wearing his trademark jacket and scarf, he leaned back against the frame of his bed. He must’ve set up the camera on his low table, Ani thought distractedly.
“Okay, so if you’re still watching it has to mean I’m dead.” Fidgeting, Bussan ran a hand through his hair, looking away from the camera. “I’m dead, huh?” He sighed again.
An uncomfortable silence filled the pub, and the on-screen Bussan was doing nothing to help diffuse the tension. Coincidence or not, the third anniversary of Bussan’s death was nearly upon them, and yet to have to hear those words from Bussan himself brought home the reality of the situation yet again. None of them had gotten any better at accepting this even after three years.
“How’s life been?” Bussan asked suddenly, sounding like he actually expected an answer from them. “You guys better be keeping the Kisarazu Cat’s Eye legacy alive.” A smile tugged the corners of his lips upwards.
“So like, you guys know that I’m no good at the sad, mopey farewell shit. And knowing myself, I know that I probably won’t be able to tell any of you bye bye properly, so... y’know. This is that.” Bussan cleared his throat. “It’s my bye bye.” His eyes were looking anywhere but the camera, but the guys watching felt nothing but honest sincerity coming from Bussan.
“Wait!” Bussan yelled, eyes wide and suddenly staring at the camera. “Are you part of the Kisarazu Cat’s Eye? ‘Cuz if you’re not, you’d better not even be watching this!”
There was a collective exasperated sigh - how like Bussan to only realize such a thing now.
It took a while for Bussan to stop trying to dissuade potential viewers from watching any further, but once he was done, he finally got into it.
“Thanks,” he began quietly, “For everything. For playing baseball with me, for being reckless with me, for-” His voice seemed to catch in his throat. “For being my friends.” He took a shaky breath. “These past several months have been rough - not just for me, but on all of you too. I’ve had some pretty close calls, and you guys have been really supportive every time, and it's kinda been unreal.” he laughed. “I don’t know for sure just how much time I have left, and it's come to the point where not even my doctor knows how I’m still living. So I figured, it wouldn’t be weird if I just like, died all of a sudden. It could be tomorrow, or - hell - it could even be today. And I don’t wanna die with regrets, and I feel like if I don’t tell you guys this, I’ll regret it.” He took a deep breath. “Bear with me, okay? I’m gonna get real sappy.”
“Ucchii, I-” He caught himself. “No,” He started again, “Uchiyama.”
The temperature of the pub dropped ten degrees. Bussan...was going to use their real names to address them? All of a sudden, Ani, Master, and Ucchii weren’t sure if they could handle what was to come.
“Thanks for always reminding me to take my meds. I bet it’s thanks to you I’m still holding up so good.”
“Bussan.” Ucchii whimpered.
“Oh, and it was cool of you to show me your house and introduce me to your family.” Bussan continued, and suddenly all eyes were on Ucchii.
“Ucchii, you took him to your house?” Master breathed, looking absolutely betrayed.
“I can’t believe you!” Ani whined.
“When?” Bambi demanded.
Ucchii bit back a smug smile, and just shrugged. They clicked their tongues in frustration.
“Thanks for keeping me company when the other guys couldn’t.”
“Okabayashi,” Bussan said, “Thanks for sticking around, even though you’ve got a wife and kids to take care of.” He grinned. “You’re the one with the most responsibilities, but you still made time for us, and let us fool around in your bar, and I’m really grateful for it, okay?”
“Kizashi,” Ani felt his chest ache, “See? I know what your name is. Idiot. You’re not allowed to complain anymore, got it?” Snickering, Bussan offered a glance to the camera, his smug expression making it obvious that he didn’t realize his open yearbook was visible atop his bed. Still, Ani felt the hot sting of tears. It didn’t matter anymore that Bussan hadn’t known his name off the top of his head - the fact that he’d cared enough to look it up and pretend to know it one last time before he died was more than enough for Ani. “Make sure you take care of the school team now, you hear?” Bussan said.
“Futoshi...” Bussan trailed off, seeming to be at a loss for words. “I’m glad we reconciled. Thanks for hanging out with us even though you’re probably actually busy with school and all that.” He paused, thinking for a moment. “Take care of Mouko, would you?” And then he cracked a small smile. “Ah, what am I saying, I’m sure you’re taking care of her just fine, aren’t you?”
Ah, the irony of it all.
Bambi didn’t have much time to think on it -- Bussan continued on.
“Thanks to you guys, I got to live out my days doing what I wanted with the people I cared most about. And I’m really grateful.” Bussan went quiet all of a sudden, eyes trained squarely on the ground, and they stayed that way as he spoke again. “‘Cuz like, y’know, you’re all idiots. So there’s stuff you probably won’t be able to understand unless I tell you.”
No one could hold back a grin at that. There it was: Bussan’s awkward and shy side, trying so hard to hide his embarrassment.
“Well, that’s it for me, I guess. So uh,” Bussan mumbled. “See ya.” He reached for the camera, and then the image flickered before it went back to the American film. No one moved to turn it off, unable to shake off the emotion that this video-Bussan had left them with.