"You need to…"
The English lessons had increased since coming to junior high school. They had a foreign teacher named Mr. Villanueva in the Tokyo school Yuu attended. Once a week, he came to Yuu's class with bundles of English activities under his meaty arms. He was very tall, very stocky, very hairy. To Yuu, the foreign English teacher seemed beyond strange, with his awkward bowing and booming voice. He laughed a lot, showing his white neck and white teeth. Yuu liked him immediately, though his constant use of the word "you" left Yuu confused first, as he mistook it for his own name. But then he recalled it was the English word for "you." It sounded just like "Yuu."
In another language, Yuu's name was used to address another person. With Karasu rattling around in his mind, his memories brushing against Yuu's consciousness, Yuu found that fitting.
Yuu's first name had been rendered in katakana. His mother had once told him she wanted to claim all the meanings of the name Yuu for him, but in essence she rendered his name meaningless. It was just a sound. Like the English word "you," rendered in a phonetic alphabet, only assigned meaning by convention rather than by essence. Yuu continued to stare at his nameplate as his classmates bustled around him, settling in for lunch.
You're taking this for granted, Karasu whispered. In Japanese, the word for "you," "anata," was often unspoken. But Karasu said "anata."
Yuu ignored him and turned to his bento, enjoying the sunlight streaming through the window and spilling over his desk. His seat by the window was one of the few things he truly enjoyed about Tokyo, reminding him of his last summer in Hakodate.
Noein will come back. With infinitely possible universes, any of us could become him. All it takes is one.
The thought troubled him, for he could not deny Karasu was right, yet he had not seen blue snow in years, and Haruka seemed at peace. What troubled him more was the thought of becoming Karasu, filled with pain and loss and anger and regret.
You already are me, Karasu admonished.
Sometimes, Yuu would go out onto his apartment's balcony and watch the sun set. The sky burnt red and orange, and he felt as if he were in La'cryma again. He would reach out over the balcony, expecting to feel his spin weapon rise up inside him, but nothing came. Only blood rushed through his veins. He was not a Dragon Knight. They did not exist here. When he looked down, he saw Tokyo streets and car parks and the trash bins for burnable garbage, not scorched earth.
Yuu had been away from Hakodate too long. High school loomed before him in only a few short months. Yuu turned back inside to write Haruka another email, this time about sunsets.
Mr. Villanueva often liked to play Hangman in English. That day, the word was seven letters, and so far only "a" had been correctly guessed. A half-formed stick figure hung from the chalk-drawn gallows.
The foreign teacher said "you" again, but Yuu had no idea who he was speaking to. Yuu's shoulders suddenly ached from slouching too long. He was no longer in his English class, but in the Reizu Simulator, waiting to depart on a mission. He felt the hum of Reizu and saw Fukurou right across from him, black cloak draped over his large frame, one bright eye peering at Karasu. He hovered over the quantum portal, his blue cord shimmering behind him. His silhouette resembled the hanged man in Yuu's English class.
Yuu started when a shadow over him. Mr. Villanueva peered down at him with a crinkle in his brow. "Guess the next letter, please," he said, gesturing at the chalkboard.
Yuu stared at the Hangman stick figure, two legs away from death, with "a" and "n" and "t" written on the spaces Mr. Villanueva had provided. He thought of Fukurou, hanging from the Reizu Simulator, somehow smiling at him, despite everything. "U," he said.
"Huh?" the foreigner asked. A funny little sound, "huh," different from the more Japanese "eh."
"'U.' The letter, not my name," Yuu slurred quietly, hoping his English was good enough for an English teacher to understand. After a moment, Yuu's studies seemed to pay off, and Mr. Villanueva grinned.
"Good job, Yuu. 'U' is correct," he said, chuckling at his own joke as he wrote "u" before the first "a."
The word was "quantum."
Isami had a bandage over his left eye when Yuu returned to Hakodate. Isami, however, did not comment on it, instead saying, "Sucks that Ai is on vacation for the next couple of weeks."
Yuu nodded. Ai was not the only friend on vacation. Miho had left to visit her grandparents, and Haruka was visiting her father in Osaka. Yuu missed her keenly, but he did not worry about her. He knew she was safe and happy. The same could not be said for Isami. He watched Isami lay down on the grass in the park, tuck his hands behind his head, and gaze up at the sky with his one good eye. His eyes were such a light brown they seemed almost green in the light. Yuu sat next to him and plucked a handful of grass, relishing the fresh smell, a smell denied him in La'cryma.
Isami continued to watch the clouds go by, saying nothing. Yuu sprinkled the torn grass back upon the ground and studied his green-stained fingers. He felt uncomfortably warm under the sun, or perhaps it was because Isami's scent drifted towards him. It reminded him of Fukurou's smell, a rich scent that only Karasu would know. Karasu's indiscretions trickled past Yuu's mind's eye. They could be his own indiscretions, just as easily. Both he and Karasu had both loved Haruka, the only sure thing in their lives, but neither of them seemed capable of settling on one gender for anything else. Yuu's thoughts strayed when he watched the basketball players on the court, and Karasu had often shared his bed with Fukurou in La'cryma. "For warmth," Fukurou had claimed, but both Yuu and Karasu knew better.
"Okay, fine," Isami said with a yawn. "I got into a fight."
Isami shrugged and held up a hand to the sky. His knuckles bore scrapes and bruises. "Some creep at school."
Yuu stared across the park. People wandered about, food in hand, happily flocking around with their families. He saw smiles on almost everyone's faces. Fukurou had often smiled, especially for Karasu. As if to remind Karasu what smiling looked like. Karasu had never quite understood what had made Fukurou tick, what had made him able to smile when surrounded by misery. Yuu wondered if it had been Karasu; Karasu himself had never considered that possibility.
"Fukurou had lost an eye," Yuu said idly.
Isami went pale and dropped his hand. He remained silent for a long, painful moment. "Why would you say that, Yuu?" He did not use "anata." He left the Japanese word for "you" unspoken. But he still said Yuu's name aloud.
Yuu didn't say anything else the rest of the day.
The email Yuu wrote Haruka sat in his drafts folder, unsent, in English. "How are you?" "Are you coming home soon?" "Are you having fun with your father?" "Are you staying in Hakodate for high school?" "Do you want to go on a date when you come back?" He didn't know why he wrote it in English, but he suspected it was because he could call Haruka "you." Yuu's. Even though she wasn't really his.
Yuu had grown quite good at English, at least. After deleting the email draft, he stared at the stacks of English books he needed to study. His new high school specialized in foreign languages, and he had to make sure he was prepared for next semester.
Isami appeared in the doorway, lurking, his bandaged face making him seem pathetic as he peered in. Yuu glanced at him.
"Why does it bother you that I mentioned Fukurou?" Yuu asked.
Isami shrugged and looked away. He had already begun to shed his junior high school appearance. He had grown tall, almost excessively so. Though he loped, as ungainly and awkward as ever, he filled out his t-shirt rather nicely, his muscles firm and shapely. Yuu frowned and returned his gaze to Isami's face.
"I don't want to become him," Isami admitted with a sigh.
"Why?" Yuu thought of Fukurou's insistent smile, as he stood on the Reizu Simulator's launching pads, ready to traverse time and space, resembling a hanged man with his cord strung up into the Reizu Simulator above him. Fukurou had handled it the best. Somehow, Isami had adjusted to life as a Dragon Knight in a way nobody else could. And in the end, it hadn't mattered. Noein had killed him just the same.
Not me. Not you, Karasu whispered.
"Because Fukurou died," Isami said, his tone flat.
Yuu glanced out of the window in his room. He had drawn the curtains, but sunlight peeked through the slit between them, determined to warm his room despite his best efforts to avoid it. "Haruka always died in the futures I saw. And we'll all eventually die in this one, at some point or another."
"Not the same thing." Isami stepped into the room and shut the door. His one good eye seemed solemn, a dark brown in the gloom. "What's wrong, Yuu? You haven't been acting like yourself lately."
Of course Yuu didn't act like himself. He wasn't even sure who he was anymore. Am I Yuu? He thought of Karasu, lurking in his consciousness, his memories a constant intrusion. Am I you? He thought of his questions in English and realized they sounded like the same question.
Yes, Karasu responded, though Yuu did not know to which question.
"Yuu!" Isami snapped his fingers in front of Yuu's face. "Hey, Yuu!"
Yuu grabbed Isami's fingers and studied his face. He could see the shape of Fukurou's face at the corners of it. Almost there, but not quite. "Does it hurt you?" he asked in English, studying Isami's face.
"What?" Isami blinked. Though he had taken the same required English classes as Yuu, it was clear he had not taken much from the classes. Most junior high students hadn't, Yuu had discovered.
"Does it hurt?" Yuu repeated in Japanese.
Isami touched his bandage. "Yes."
Haruka would return to Hakodate within a day. Yuu felt lighter, almost himself, until he arrived at Isami's house.
The sun shone bright that summer day, and the scent of flowers floated on the wind. But inside Isami's house, darkness sat like a hungry beast, ready to consume those who lingered too long. Isami sat outside, ice on his mouth, blood dripping down his shirt. No other sounds came from his house.
Yuu stopped in front of Isami. "Got into another fight, eh?"
Isami scowled, and then winced. His lip had been busted open, and it had swollen to three times its size. It made him seem petulant.
"Who with this time?" Yuu asked, hands in his pockets.
Yuu studied the dark and empty house. "Where's your grandmother?"
Isami stared down at his filthy knees. "I don't care."
"Did he hit you?"
Isami didn't say anything. He didn't have to.
"C'mon. You're spending the night at my place tonight."
Yuu waited outside for Isami to grab some things, memories of Fukurou inviting himself into Karasu's room rattling around in his mind. Whether he was walking home in Hakodate, or walking to the Reizu Simulator, he had Isami (Fukurou, Karasu whispered) at his side.
Fukurou, Karasu insisted.
The sound of Isami's breathing was oddly soothing, despite being louder than the barely audible television set. The television had been a gift from Yuu's mother, a reward for passing his high school entrance exams, but he hadn't watched it even once until Isami came over. Yuu didn't even know what was on—he was far more keenly aware of Isami next to him, lying down, facing away, likely asleep. It was difficult to tell in the darkened room, lit only by the television screen. Isami smelled of soap, Yuu's soap. Stomach knotting, Yuu's fingers curled around the remote control, and he thought of Karasu and Fukurou. It had never been Isami and Yuu, not in Karasu's memories. He shouldn't be thinking so much of Isami.
Isami felt warm against Yuu's thigh, too warm. Yuu shifted on his side of the bed, and when he did, he saw the light of the television reflecting off Isami's good eye. Yuu paused, considering that gaze, a gaze that in Yuu's darkened room could easily be mistaken for Fukurou's gaze while lying in the bed next to Karasu.
Tentatively, hand trembling, Yuu rested his fingers on Isami's arm and stroked the skin. He could feel Isami's firm muscles, tensing beneath his fingertips. He wondered how someone so strong kept getting hurt. Isami stirred, and Yuu withdrew, but Isami grabbed his hand before Yuu got too far. He tugged Yuu closer until their bodies slid up against the other, t-shirts riding up to reveal bare skin. Yuu could barely breathe, and heat shot through his entire body. Karasu had never felt like that when Fukurou touched him.
"You want to?" Isami asked, leaving both the "anata" and the act unspoken.
Yuu nodded once. Isami did not give Yuu time to be shy or awkward. Fukurou had given Karasu plenty of time to wriggle free the first time, but Isami wasted no time in sliding Yuu's hand across his bare belly and inside his pants. Yuu gasped, his fingers brushing through wiry pubic hair before stopping at Isami's hot, hard cock. Touching Isami's cock made his own just as hard, and Yuu wriggled, his trousers uncomfortably tight now.
Isami's mouth hovered near Yuu's ear, breath rapidly escaping his swollen lips. It was the only thing that seemed similar between him and Fukurou at the moment, how they both liked to keep their mouth by Yuu's (Karasu's) ear. Fukurou had always been gentle, almost hesitant, but Isami was rough and demanding. He knew exactly what he wanted as he guided Yuu's fingers, though Yuu did not.
Karasu knew, though, well enough that Yuu could not play the innocent for long. He took control for a moment, knowing all the steps, all the ways Fukurou had enjoyed being touched. But Isami didn't want what Fukurou had wanted. He wanted it faster, harder, now. The impatience confused Yuu, though Isami took it for innocence and took control again until both boys were left panting, sticky, sweaty, on opposite sides of the bed.
Yuu soon fell asleep, his mind wildly turning over how it took two of the letter 'u' to spell his name in English.
When Haruka finally climbed the hill to Yuu's seat on the grass, Yuu had already finished his lunch. His bento sat to the side, only a few grains of rice clinging tenaciously to the side. Wind sent the pages in Yuu's English books fluttering. It threatened to storm, but the rain had yet to fall. The smell of it carried on the wind, the smell of anticipation.
Haruka beamed, her green dress flapping against her pale legs. She glanced at the books as Isami hurriedly stuffed them into his bag. "Have you decided what you want to be yet, Yuu?"
Yuu swallowed, thinking of Isami, who had gone home to get more clothes. He had planned to stay at Yuu's house until Yuu left for Tokyo again. Yuu's mother had not said anything. She had not noticed the look of guilt on Yuu's face when he shuffled out for breakfast. And Isami had acted like nothing had happened.
When Haruka speaks, you should listen, Karasu admonished. Yuu winced and studied Haruka again. She seemed more grown-up than ever. More unreal. He loved her so much. He wanted to touch her, to be with her, but even when standing in front of him, she seemed like half a phantasm. Shouldn't he have waited for her? He cared for Isami, and he had enjoyed last night, but Isami wasn't Haruka. And Yuu wasn't Ai. This wasn't the way the future was supposed to happen. It had never been Isami and Yuu in Karasu's memories.
Haruka crouched down in front of him, her skirt bunching together over the knees. "It's okay, Yuu. Whatever you decide. The future could be anything, and no matter how things work out, we'll always be friends. I promise." She reached out and touched his forehead, and the world went white and quiet. Yuu shivered violently for a few seconds, then sagged where he sat, feeling an odd sort of release. His confusion had lifted, like a miasma blown away by a strong sea wind.
It did not surprise Yuu that Haruka could do that with a single touch. Of course she could. Haruka could do anything: warp reality, travel through time and space, and even make Yuu feel like one person, not two. He was Yuu again. And you, he whispered in English to Karasu, amused by his own little joke, just as Mr. Villanueva had been.
"An English teacher," Yuu blurted out, holding his bag of books to his chest.
"Eh?" Haruka asked.
"I'm going to be an English teacher."
Haruka laughed. "That's perfect, Yuu. Perfect." She stood up and held out her hand. "C'mon. Let's go for a walk."
Yuu took her hand, feeling so light that it almost felt as if he were made of Reizu. It rained as they left, but Haruka seemed undaunted. She remained at Yuu's side, her hand in his, but no more.
Isami had already laid down on Yuu's bed by the time Yuu returned home. When Yuu opened the door, Isami sat up. The lights were off again, but Yuu did not turn them on. The television's light was enough to set down his bag and his books. He tried not to look at Isami, though he felt Isami's gaze follow him around the room. He kept silent, thinking of Haruka and her smiles, and how he ached to touch her, but he lacked the courage to ask, knowing she was not ready for a thing like that. Her innocence had not been spoiled yet.
"Are you mad at me?" Isami asked as Yuu moved behind his closet door to put on his pajamas.
Yuu hesitated before answering, taking his time to dress. "No."
"Then what's wrong?"
For Karasu, there had never been an Isami and Yuu. There had been a Haruka and Yuu. The Fukurou and Karasu had happened afterwards, later, in a world built on afterthoughts. Whatever Fukurou had felt for Karasu, there had been little love left to spare Fukurou in Karasu's heart. But for Yuu, there was an Isami and Yuu, and Haruka and Yuu had not happened yet. Maybe it would never happen.
"What about Ai?" Yuu asked, his voice coming out hoarse.
"Ai?" Isami sounded incredulous. "She's still on vacation."
Yuu said nothing. Perhaps Isami didn't care for Ai the way he cared for Haruka. Perhaps everything for Isami was simple. Just beautiful older women, and… Yuu. Maybe not that simple, then.
"I guess I should be asking about Haruka, but I already know the answer," Isami said, his tone wavering a bit.
Yuu finally sidled out from his closet in his pajamas and padded over to his desk to arrange books. "We're friends."
"So are we. Aren't we?" Isami rubbed his nose, making a suspicious sniffling sound. "Did I fuck that up?"
Yuu glanced down at the English book in his hand. Just inside the cover, Mr. Villanueva had signed it at Yuu's request.
You have a wonderful summer, Yuu!
- Mr. V
Yuu put the book down on the desk and walked over to his bed. He studied Isami, whose knees were drawn up, his face buried between them, like a failed student at an awards ceremony. Yuu found his gaze drawn to the back of Isami's neck, to the sun-bronzed skin that Yuu's fingers itched to touch. Isami looked nothing like Fukurou now. He was, and had always been, only Isami. After a moment, Yuu stroked Isami's neck, tracing his vertebra. Isami lifted his head to study Yuu, his eyes seemingly green despite the darkness. It would be improper to touch Haruka like Yuu touched Isami, but Isami had no sense of propriety. He drank in every touch as if thirsting for it.
"Of course we're still friends," Yuu whispered.
With a sudden lunge, Isami grabbed Yuu's wrist and pulled him onto the bed. Yuu smiled and let himself fall onto the mattress. His limbs tangled with Isami's when they rolled over, the sheets rustling as Isami's hands slid under Yuu's carefully fastened pajamas to quickly undo what had taken Yuu far too long to do.
Yuu's breath hitched as Isami slipped Yuu's pajama bottoms off. He could hear Isami breathing in his ear again, and he reached up to cup the back of Isami's neck. Touching Isami no longer provoked Karasu's fevered memories. This was a moment in space and time just for Isami and Yuu, something new and unexpected.
Karasu yearned for Haruka, for the future, but Yuu found himself satisfied with the present, with Isami. He did not know what the future would bring, but he knew it could be anything. That was the point of what they had done in Shangri'La. There were an infinite number of Yuus. Some would be with Haruka, and perhaps some would be Isami. It didn't matter which Yuu he was. There would always be another Yuu who had everything he didn't and lacked everything he had.
"Yuu," Isami whispered when Yuu's hands joined his around their cocks. It sounded like Yuu's name, and like the English word 'you,' all at once. The katakana in Yuu's name could mean whatever Yuu wanted it to mean, he realized. And at that moment, he wanted it to mean whatever Isami meant.