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“Goodbye, Kanata-kun. See you again, sometime.”

“Mmm. See you around, Kaoru~”

It was the last time Kanata had seen Kaoru’s smile for him, as if doused in the last sunset of summer. A surfer gazing at the last waves on the cusp of autumn, flowing where no one can change or stop them. They think, one more wave can’t hurt , but turn away from the dipping sun and sea. It was like rubbing at his puffy eyes could take away everything Kaoru couldn’t hide, or at the very least — take it away until Kanata could no longer see. It was the last time Kaoru looked at Kanata, trying so, so hard to swallow heavy tears. The last time in three years that Kaoru had last spoken to Kanata.

 


 

 

Kanata remembered something. Kaoru and Chiaki, speaking lightly — that Kanata was the type to vanish after graduation, the foam on sand fizzing away after a rush of water. Pop, pop, pop. But Kanata hadn’t gone away, anywhere. Staying beside Chiaki, waiting for the children to catch up with them — that was right where Kanata’s heart wanted to be.

The children were here, now. They were all here. All five of them — Ryuseitai, stronger and happier than ever.

“Kanata-senpai! Are you done yet?”

Kanata looked over his shoulder. He peeled off his sweaty jacket with careful movements — hearing the crowd’s emphatic Ryusei Blue! ring in his head and rolled it into a ball. He hadn’t changed out of his stage outfit yet.

“Almost. Please tell Chiaki to ‘wait’.”

Tetora gave him a thumbs-up, shining crimson, “Right! I’ll wait outside!”

Kanata smiled, hurrying his movements. He donned a dark blue shirt and a matching cap with the Ryuseitai logo stitched in reds and whites across the centre.

More than once, Kanata had gotten lost finding his way outside the venues they performed at. The land was a ‘big’ place. Unfamiliar. Tetora, Shinobu, Midori, they wouldn’t leave Kanata alone… he would be lost without the children, really. Sometimes, Shinobu still stuttered calling him Kanata-senpai. Midori had caught on first, then Tetora. Kanata felt a little puka puka each time.

He glided to the door, shutting the dressing room behind him to meet Tetora.

“Uuuuu…” Tetora hung his shoulders as they headed down the hallway beside each other. “We have another concert tomorrow and my stomach doesn’t feel too good…”

“Ehehe~ But… Tetora will ‘persevere’ even through ‘death’, isn’t that so?” Kanata touched shoulders with his kouhai. Smile blooming into a fire-coloured grin, Tetora punched the air ahead, catching stars. “Ossu! I won’t lose…!” 

Buzz. Kanata’s backpack vibrated. Immediately, Tetora’s head snapped in all directions — he hastily offered to help with a vehement “I’ll get that for you, senpai!”, while unzipping the right pocket, and thrusting the smartphone into Kanata’s outstretched hand. He giggled. Such a reliable boy.

Kanata glanced at the caller ID. “Tetora… will you go on ‘ahead’?”

“B-but Senpai—” Tetora eyed the path they were supposed to follow, eyebrows knit together. Lightly pressing Tetora's shoulder with his fingers, Kanata whispered, “I will not get ‘lost’.”

All while his phone buzzed on his palm, heat rising in his chest. Kanata’s heart beat faster with each passing moment until Tetora lowered his head, waved a shaky goodbye, but turned away to leave. Kanata pressed the green button.

“I wonder why it takes you so long to answer your phone, Kanata,” a silky voice chuckled on the other end. Kanata’s lips folded into a smile. “I do not want to hear that from you, ‘Rei’.”

Rei, who could not perform past the most basic functions with his cellphone, no matter how much time passed.

“I got Doggie to send you the ticket, as per usual. Will you be coming, tonight? I understand you were just in concert, so perhaps it is better to rest.”

Kanata’s free hand fell over his chest, rounds of his cheeks swirling in a flush of pink. “Mmm, I am not ‘tired’. I will ‘come’. Thank you… ‘Rei’.”

He heard a deep voice from somewhere behind Rei, and his throat filled up with sand.

“Don’t worry... that’s just Adonis.” Kanata could almost picture Rei’s gaze, sharp as roughly cut gems, behind those words. It was not new , this situation, after all. Every time he spoke to Rei, he wished to hear that voice. But Rei always dispelled his worries (hopes), and finished with the same, looming words. “One of these days, he will see you, Kanata.”

Kanata always answered Rei’s kind warnings the same way.

“Mmm… Until that ‘day’, I will ‘support’ him as I have always done.”

 


 

It was difficult, every time. Kanata always went alone, you see. Through crowds of people — very excited people — weaving into UNDEAD’s dim performance venues and filling them up as quickly as water to a goblet. It was difficult every time, because Kanata had to swallow the dread of facing the tight spaces, the enthusiastic fans, and the screaming! to reach him. Diving deep inside the sea where the sun couldn’t reach. Not being able to swim — it didn’t ever stop Kanata, did it?

Unless he was busy with Ryuseitai’s activities, Kanata made it a habit never to miss any UNDEAD concert he could reach. Besides, seeing Rei always set his heart adrift on calm waters. Rei was proof to Kanata that his precious one was cared for, he was loved, he had a place , just like Kanata did.

Kanata always shut his eyes behind his dark sunglasses before he braved the queues. Rei had, several times, offered him early entrance, but Kanata wanted to do it this way. It was difficult, every time, yes… but the fruit of his labour was breathing the balmy, sun-kissed air after your head breaks through the surface of the water. It was the smile he missed so much. He pictured that smile, and floated to his spot in the back, in the dark.

Where he could see, but not be seen.

For Kanata, the hall was empty until UNDEAD appeared behind a blast of smoke, under sensual violet spotlights. He heard the yelling, the Kaoru! among the other member names, and mouthed the name with a bubbly grin, wanting to join in against all odds. Kaoru. 

Kaoru’s hair… it seemed a little longer than last time. One side was pinned back to match Rei’s.

Kanata mouthed the words to every song, bobbing his head from side to side (not entirely to the music). He never left Kaoru — Kaoru’s smouldering gaze and winks (that Kanata could only find ‘cute’), his laughs, his dance. He was shining… very bright, wasn’t he?

At that moment, everything was worth it.

Kaoru was smiling from the bottom of his heart.

 


 

Kanata exited the venue just before the performance ended. He texted Rei (a series of fish emoji comprised most of his texts). Rei would not respond until the next morning, certainly, if at all. Kanata removed his cap and sunglasses, and in the dark streets brimming with the firelight of a thousand lives, he walked away.

 


 

“Kanataaa! Wake up! What are you doing?! We have an interview!” 

His leader’s voice was like honeyed toast, yes, but Kanata’s body was stiff as steel that morning, bogged down in quicksand of irreconcilable thought. He curled into the blankets with a loud ‘uuuuu….’. Kanata could hear Shinobu and Midori as well, letting themselves in behind Chiaki, who had a spare key. Kanata had many spare keys to his little home — Chiaki had taken the first one.  

The bed bounced. Chiaki plopped near Kanata’s feet.

“Were you at their concert?” Chiaki asked. He knew, of course.

Kanata pulled the blankets down to his nose and opened his eyes a fraction of the way. “Mmm.”

Chiaki’s lips pressed together, lines streaking across his forehead. “Will you be okay today? Are you tired? Do you have a fever? Should we cancel? We probably shouldn’t — but if you’re too tir-”

“I will be ‘fine’, Chiaki.” I always am, because of you. “Please do not ‘worry’.”

Frowns and looks of resignation oscillated on Chiaki’s face. “It’s hard, you know, seeing you like this,” he finally said, but the thought vanished and his cheeks lifted into a childlike grin when Kanata rolled over into a sitting position. “Ah, you’re up! Kanata’s uuup!”

Three heads peeked over Chiaki’s shoulder. I am fine because of all of you.

Kanata’s heart was so, so full.

 


 

Kaoru wasn’t sure how it happened — why it happened. His horoscope read that he would have an uneventful day. This was not uneventful. He was out of practice, you see, dodging that familiar flash of silver. It might really hurt him. 

“You! Lecher!”

“Ahaha~ so cold as always!” Kaoru laughed, light on his feet. “Souma-kyun!”

Kaoru wanted to enjoy his day, not spend it on the verge of death. But happenstances are happenstances. Souma growled in his direction, grip on the hilt of his sword tightening.

“I did not think I would ever have to look upon your disgraceful face again,” Souma lowered his sword, quickly switching to an unconvincing ‘calm before the storm’ facade. “I would much rather see Buchou-dono. What is it that you are here for, heathen?”

Rei had handed Kaoru a box (in a flower-patterned bag) and an address, Kaoru had not asked questions. Kaoru should really start asking questions, especially for errands on his days off. He waved the bag in Souma’s direction. “For you, maybe? Or Hasumi-kun? I was just told to bring it here.”

Souma snatched the bag from his hand, not inspecting its contents and maintaining furious eye contact.

“By the way, you don’t need to call him buchou-dono, you know? We’re not in school anymore.” Kaoru smiled, feeling a crack in his chest. “Kanata-kun would probably be happy if you called him by his name.”

Souma looked at Kaoru blankly. “I do not understand. Buchou-dono is Buchou-dono.”

“Ehhh,” Kaoru shook his head. “So serious as always...”

Souma lifted a hand to his chin, and… mumbled to himself? “If it will make buchou-dono happy… Maybe next time… Shinkai-dono, no — Kanata-dono…”

Next time?

“You... met Kanata-kun recently?” 

Kaoru had tried to ask as coolly as possible, but his voice came out in ripples — desperate, even. Rei only threw him scraps of information about Kanata (usually in frustratingly roundabout ways) but Kaoru knew the oddballs were all in contact. Souma eyed Kaoru up and down, elegant features coloured in a scowl. “Of course, I wholeheartedly support Buchou-dono. You are saying you have not ventured out to support Buchou-dono?”

As if struck by poison, Kaoru’s light-hearted veneer melted away. If Souma had chosen to strike him down at that moment, he couldn’t have dodged if he tried. The creeping tar, the guilt , in his chest and lungs made the backs of Kaoru’s eyes sting. He thrust his hands into his pockets.

“I…” Souma broke the humid silence, “I do not accept you, but Buchou-dono will always welcome you with open arms. Such a look of uneasiness does not suit your frivolous mien.”

Kaoru laughed under his breath despite himself. “I’m pathetic, aren’t I… Showing such a weak side to my kouhai. I promised them I’d support his happiness. Him and Moricchi, together.”

With him, I wasn’t looking the other way. The loneliness washed away.

I was left with the lull of the sea.  

Souma sheathed his sword, shoulders loose and unguarded as he approached Kaoru. Such a look of unbridled worry did not suit his young kouhai’s mien, either. 

“Hey, Souma-kun,” Kaoru said suddenly. “Were you lonely?” When everybody left.  

A flash of pain from memories long gone that could have mirrored Kaoru’s — and then a half-hearted smile. Kanata’s voice, carried by a whistling wind, played in both their minds at once. There, there. It’s okay.

“I was not lonely,” Souma answered after a long exhale. “I practiced with my sword to grow stronger, so that I would be worthy of following Hasumi-dono and Kiryu-dono. Holding that resolve close to my heart, I was able to calm myself. Adonisu-dono, too, unselfishly lent me his aid and company.”

Kaoru lifted his arm and positioned it over Souma’s shoulder, pulling the boy closer. “You’re a strong kid, you know?”

Souma bit his lip — paused — before slapping Kaoru’s arm away with a loud “ hmmph !” Kaoru grinned. Adonis really helped you out, didn’t he?

Just one person is enough to save you, right, Souma-kun?

For me, it was the boy with sea-coloured smiles.

 


 

Before settling on his couch, Kaoru nudged the long coffin with the side of his foot. It was heavy to budge; Rei must still be asleep. Kaoru uncurled the wrapper of his ice-cream and flipped through the channels on their television. 

As murky water fans out from the centre of a clear lake, the guilt pressed on Kaoru’s mind, milling on every other thought he tried to entertain. His tongue was numb, tasting only thick dust. Because he knew, he knew Kanata yearned to see him.  

Kaoru lay back against the white noise of the news reporter on the TV, covering his eyes with his forearm. I’m so selfish. His fingers tingled at the memory of Kanata’s skin, damp hair that always smelled of fountain water, the salt of the sea, or both.

What did Kaoru want?

For Kanata to be the happiest. That’s what he’d told himself, years ago. That’s what he knew to be true as love, even now.  

But now he knew another truth. Kaoru wanted to be part of that happiness. For Kanata to say, Stay by my side.

It didn’t have to be forever. 

How wonderful would it be if the person Kaoru needed the most actually needed him back?

The sound of creaking metal intervened. Pop. Kaoru blinked. Rei let out a yawn that lasted the entirety of the weather forecast. “You kicked me awake. Isn’t that a little rude?”

Long sigh. “I didn’t think you would notice? Next time you want me to personally run an errand for you, make a written request." 

A feather-light chuckle. “Welcome home, Kaoru-kun.”

“Go back to sleep, old man.” But the tangles in his mind dissolved like sugar crystals.

Rei was stretching his arms, patting down the ends of his raven hair curling upwards. “This morning, I received an interesting suggestion from your old classmate while I was in deep sleep. Of course, before making any decisions, I would prefer to consult with you. This might be a fair opportunity for us, so please give it some thought.”  

Old classmate? Kaoru swung his legs over the edge of the couch, facing Rei. “Who? What is it? How did you receive a suggestion in deep sleep?”

“A certain Chiaki Morisawa requested to meet with me next week.”  

Glass shards scraped against the tips of his nerves. “Moricchi…?” Scratch. “What kind of suggestion? Do they want to perform with us or something?”

Eyes alight, Rei only said, “Who knows~” And fell back into his coffin with a long sigh. “I expect you to accompany me. Keep yourself unoccupied next Saturday, alright?”

 


 

Chiaki had just finished telling Kanata about his spontaneous idea to collaborate with UNDEAD with (he stressed) no ulterior motives, careful to watch for any changes in his demeanour. But Kanata simply puka puka’d, humming, bobbing his head in half-circles. “Alright, ‘Chiaki’.”

“That’s it?” Chiaki leaned in, eyes narrowed. “I thought you’d be more passionate!”

“If it is ‘good’ for ‘Ryuseitai’, then,” Kanata’s hands clapped down on either side of Chiaki’s face, “of course I will ‘agree’.”

Chiaki’s mouth curled into a pout. “Hmm… That’s not what I expected but… If you say it’s okay, Kanata…”

Kanata was — as Chiaki perhaps noted but stayed knowingly oblivious — quivering. Not from the prospect of Chiaki’s negotiations being successful, but that maybe... the small bubble in his stomach might disappear forever without ever seeing the rainbow if they weren’t successful.  

“Hey, Kanata.”

Kanata couldn’t fool him. 

“All this time… why?”

“Mmm…” Kanata shrugged before saying, his words pieces of debris caught in a long wave, “I did not like it, ‘Chiaki’. Kaoru was ‘forcing’ himself to ‘smile’. I do not ‘wish’ to put that kind of half-hearted ‘smile’ on his face." 

“Hakaze was always bad at hiding his feelings, wasn’t he…” Chiaki smelled of the earth.

“I ‘understand’ him,” Kanata continued, hugging his knees. “I do not ‘wish’ to make Kaoru ‘cry’ or feel ‘lonely’. Right now… as he is... he is ‘happy’.” 

“Now, Kanata!” Chiaki patted his shoulder. “No one is ever as happy as they can be. There’s always more , you know! Give Hakaze some credit. He’s much stronger than that…! If anything, he’ll cry from being too happy! ”

There’s always ‘more’.  

“He is very ‘strong’. Stronger than ‘me’. But Chiaki… It has been so long that I am ‘afraid’. To ruin it.” 

Chiaki’s gaze softened. “Kanata. You need to sort this out. Face him properly. And take my word for it — when you miss someone, you won’t care about all that complicated stuff. You’ll just remember how you much you wanted to see them.” 

He clapped Kanata’s back, sending a burst of warmth — a budding flower — right upon contact. “Now cheer up! Ryusei Blue can’t be so blue! Ha ha ha!” 

“Chiaki should not make ‘jokes’,” Kanata murmured. Chiaki laughed, louder this time.

“You’re ready, aren’t you?” Chiaki ruffled his hair, rough fingers scribbling Kanata’s forehead.  

Like the sounds within a seashell held to his ear, Kanata’s mind was flowing with the music of Kaoru’s voice, the memories he kept stitched around his heart. They were far away, but he could still hear them. Kaoru had been happy with Kanata, too, he knew this. But nearing their graduation, their inevitable parting, the end of the days they could stay smiling because there was always tomorrow — that happiness was laced in bittersweet words, passing looks and dips into silence that said this might be the last time .

To Kanata, Kaoru’s goodbye had seemed more like a farewell. An acceptance of something Kaoru could not change. Back then, Kanata didn’t understand. That trepidation, the longing. Yes, Kanata gave Kaoru rose-coloured days, a companion. But he had swept up something valuable. A secret in a bottle washed ashore from the deep sea, a secret Kanata hadn’t read. Kaoru’s heart in his hands.

 


 

Kaoru flicked through saved images on his phone, waiting for Rei to be ready. He was spectacularly unhurried, despite being fifteen minutes off schedule. Together with Kaoru’s fidgety hands and impatience, being late was an added stressor. Rei had, time and again, reassured him that they were meeting just Chiaki. Since apparently, Chiaki wished to discuss it with them before telling the rest of his unit. But Kaoru was still restless. Despite setting it more than twice, his hair was still frizzy around the tips. Since it was just Chiaki, Kaoru had let it go.  

His thumb paused over his phone screen at a picture he’d taken of a Ryuseitai poster in town — eyes homing in on the curled lock of hair floating over Kanata’s head. Kanata sported his usual radiant, close-eyed grin.

“Shall we go?” Rei appeared near the door, as if he was the one that had been kept waiting. Kaoru rolled his eyes, leaving the apartment together with Rei, into a glistening spring moon.  

 


 

“Hakazeeeee!”

Kaoru flinched. Dressed in mossy green, Chiaki was racing towards him full speed, arms outstretched. Body stiffening, Kaoru passively received Chiaki’s bear hug. “Hey M-Moricchi…” 

And heard a sniffle over his shoulder. “Moricchi, are you crying?” 

“No! Idiot!” Chiaki cleared his throat quickly, pulling away with a clumsy grin. Kaoru wanted to say it’s okay if you are, but his throat was already throbbing with the tune of his heart. I’ve missed you too. 

“How touching…” Rei wiped an invisible tear from the corner of his eye. Chiaki straightened his back and wiped his palm against his shirt before offering it to Rei. “Sakuma-san, thank you for agreeing to meet with me! And for honouring my selfish request that you bring Hakaze!”

Kaoru cast a sidelong glance at Rei, who played oblivious and emphatically shook Chiaki’s hand. The three of them began to enter the reserved karaoke room together, Chiaki ushering the two inside before himself. Rei glanced at his phone, “I’ll be right in with you two. Doggie’s calling.”

And vanished around a corner. Kaoru glared after him. Don’t leave me by myself.

“First things first,” Chiaki closed in on Kaoru, sitting almost too close. “Tell me how you’ve been!” 

Kaoru bit his lip, “F-fine? What about you, Moricchi? How’s the rest of Ryuseitai?” How’s Kanata? 

Chiaki playfully clenched his fist. “They’re getting too good! That Midori is taking away all my fans, you know. I won’t lose!” 

Kaoru smiled — when he spoke of his kouhai, Chiaki’s eyes shone like stars whose light could burst forth and spill out. You’re such a good guy, Moricchi.  

“You’re a good guy, Moricchi,” Kaoru blurted out under his breath. Face reddened. Chiaki watched him with puppy dog eyes, round and glassy. “Hakaze…! You’re a good guy too!”

Kaoru chuckled, a hint of acidity creeping into his voice. “I’m not…”

Chiaki clapped his shoulder. “Now, now! Give yourself some credit.” Credit for what?

Kaoru was so selfish, cowardly that he couldn’t even ask about Kanata.

Chiaki’s smile widened. “So, has Sakuma-san told you anything yet?”

“No…” Kaoru breathed in. “I’m assuming it’s just… performing together?”

“I’m surprised he’s been kind enough to listen!” His tone deepened. “Since, if we perform together... Ryuseitai will be the one to benefit more from UNDEAD’s mature image and fans, you know.” 

Chiaki’s cheekbones, the sunlit hue of his eyes, had taken on a sheen unknown to Kaoru. Could it be that working in a cutthroat industry had sapped away some of his bumbling innocence, his unconditional optimism? Had Chiaki Morisawa really grown... shrewd

“Ha! Ha! Ha!” Chiaki grinned the grin Kaoru could only reconcile with their school days. “I’m just kidding! Why do you look so serious ? It’ll be fun, don’t you think?! Like old times!”

Never mind. He’ll never change.

The door to their room fell open, and Rei waltzed in, falling next to Kaoru. “Ahhh… Doggie’s always so angry …”

“What did he want?” Kaoru asked. Rei blinked twice. “Nothing important. Moreover, have you two young boys caught up? It seemed to have slipped my mind under Doggie’s rash scolding, but would you care to buy me a drink, Kaoru-kun?”

Kaoru let out a dramatic sigh, dragging himself off the couch. “From the vending machine okay?”

“Mmhmm~” Rei’s close-lidded smile gave him the creeps. Eye twitching, Kaoru slid out the door and into the pale hallway. Silent. A few ways down, the vending machine was positioned across from a large cardboard box. Kaoru paused in the middle of the hall.

He had suspected as much. He wasn’t too shocked, or indignant, or shaken. Surprisingly, his jitters had faded.  

A single, blue lock of hair bounced like an antenna from behind the box. Taking careful steps, one, two, three, Kaoru’s fingers curled around the hair. “What are you doing?”

“Mmm~” a faraway voice, as if underwater. “I am ‘waiting’ for somebody.”

Kaoru peeked over the edge of the box. Kanata was waiting — waiting for somebody. And rose to his feet, through the surface, eyes never leaving Kaoru’s.

Kaoru had expected a ton of bricks, a dizzying spell, an electric shock.

But all he felt was the lull of the sea. Cotton-soft curves of Kanata’s cheeks, hair — his lips. The permeating scent of sand and dusk. Eyes like leaves drifting on water under golden sunlight. Kaoru was taking in every inch of Kanata, calm as sky.  

 


 

Kanata’s arms threaded around Kaoru’s waist. Brought him closer. He buried his face in Kaoru’s shoulder, breathing in. A long, deep breath that reached his centre. Taking in Kaoru’s everything.  

“Kaoru,” a whisper, paper-light in sound, vivid green in colour. “I ‘missed’ Kaoru.”

 


 

Kaoru was smiling.

He opened his mouth, but his sound was hushed. Kanata brought his face near his, dancing gaze connecting and filling all of what Kaoru could not say — was not able to say. 

A single puff of breath. Kaoru did not look away. He would not look away. “I’m sorry.” 

“For ‘what’?” The sea-coloured smile. Open-eyed, looking somewhere far ahead past a horizon.

Kaoru’s palms tightened on Kanata’s back. “For not being there.”

“But ‘Kaoru’ was always there,” Kanata didn’t miss a beat. “Wasn’t he?”

“You don’t understand,” Kaoru pressed. “I wasn’t there. I totally cut you off. Don’t forgive me just like that. You know, I promised I-”

Kanata’s palm hovered over his lips. “If I say it does not ‘matter’, then isn’t it ‘fine’?”

“You are ‘taller’ now.” Their foreheads touched. Kaoru fell quiet.

“We were both ‘lonely’ in those ‘times’, weren’t we?”

Kaoru was holding his breath. Marine eyes drifted shut, and a whisper came from the heart. “But you know, ‘Kaoru’, there is no one ‘place’ we are meant to ‘be’. Whether it is by the side of ‘Ryuseitai’, my ‘friends’, or my ‘home’.” 

The hands that cradled Kaoru’s face, a whorl of petals, were warm and cold.  

“Kaoru… When we are ‘alone’, we cannot ‘imagine’ that we are allowed more than one ‘place’ to ‘belong’. We cannot ‘imagine’ that we will be ‘loved’ and ‘needed’ again and again.”

The sound of an ebbing wave returning home. Where sky and water met, the world sprung out like a splash of colour and life — this was Kanata. 

“Why is it always this way?” Words trickling hurtfully under Kaoru’s breath. Why am I always the one being saved?  

A laugh spun from his joy. “You are ‘mistaken’. Kaoru does not ‘understand’ his own ‘strength’, does he?”

Palms against his cheeks, fingers brushing through Kaoru’s hair. Sending his stomach rolling. They were so close he could taste Kanata’s words. “When Kaoru ‘loves’, he gives the people he loves everything. Everything they ‘need’. Even now, do you ‘still’ not understand?” 

Warm tears fell on Kanata’s hands.

“There, there,” Kanata pecked the tip of Kaoru’s nose, tenderly. Chuu. 

Kaoru could hear, he could feel other eyes on them, and tucked his face in Kanata’s collar.  

Kanata lifted, stroked, kissed Kaoru's clammy hand, near his knuckles. “I will ‘forgive’ Kaoru if he ‘stays’ with me. Will you ‘stay’ with ‘me’?”

 


 

“Kaoru-kun is really a crybaby, isn’t he?” Rei mused, peeking over Chiaki’s head. They couldn’t hear what was said in between, words only meant for each other. They only knew that Kaoru had grasped whatever he had been looking away from — what Rei was always waiting for.

“Tears like that, they help clear the spirit, you know!” Chiaki whispered (it wasn’t really a whisper). “They make you stronger!”

Moments of quiet.

“Thank you, Sakuma-san.”

As rain squeezes through cracks in dry earth, touching buds, roots, telling them to shoot towards the stars. This was Chiaki Morisawa.

“You’re welcome, Morisawa-kun,” Rei returned, fingers itching to ruffle the spikes of brown hair beneath him. “They’ll be okay.”

“Will you be okay?” Chiaki turned his gaze upwards. Too bright.

“Of course.”

No wonder they call him hero among heroes.

 


 

“How utterly frustrating !” Souma folded his arms over his chest, standing just in front of the stage meant for Ryuseitai and UNDEAD. Frowning, but not really. “That buffoon gets to stand with Buchou-dono before myself. Before I could even stand with Adonisu-dono!”

But he was thinking of feeding Kamegorou when Kanata and Kaoru entered on stage, beside each other, beside their precious ones. It had been a long time since Souma watched such a happy memory. Surely, surely , there would be many more for all of them. And if Kaoru touched his buchou-dono’s hand so carelessly one more time, Souma would slice that arm right off.

 


 

Oshi-san says ‘good luck’

(Shu had been forced to get a cellphone, you see, though his dear companion often used it for him)  

I am envious! Ensnare your audience until I can join you, sometime. I might take your spotlight, after all ✩

I will be THERE.  

With wishes, Ryuseitai, and UNDEAD — Kanata was swimming.  

He did not spend enough time as he’d wanted near Kaoru on stage. The shining Kaoru he had watched for years from his dark spot in the corner, underwater — where his eyes flitted to on occasion, almost expecting to see a reflection. This was his secret in a bottle.

Their performance was bright, brilliant, measured.

But there was no need to rush — their time was measured, but together and apart, it was still theirs.

 

✯ 

 

Kanata lay still on his side. The only sounds in his tiny apartment were the rush of filters in his aquariums, scattered about at every white wall, and his own steady breathing. A bottle of star candies lay open in the pocket of Kanata’s winter jacket, which he’d hung on a chair in front of his largest tank.

Kanata’s mind still raced from the day, full of amazing! and of constellations galloping across skies. Laughs. His eyelids were drooping shut when a key clicked in the lock.

How many spare keys to his small home had Kanata shared now?

No matter how many times the door opened, Kanata wasn’t scared.

The shuffling of feet, the loud thump of a dropped bag.

Kaoru fell behind him, lips cold from the pale, dusty winter submerged in Kanata’s hair. Water bubbled, Kanata’s fish swam in circles, in eights, in their rainbow-splashed tanks. Turtles scuttled from their caverns, out their shells, craning their necks as the bubbles floated to the top. 

“Sorry it’s been so long.” Kaoru murmured. Goosebumps.

“Did Kaoru go back ‘home’?” 

“Mmm. It wasn’t so bad. Then I came back and hung out with Senacchi and Moricchi.”

“Was it ‘fun’?” He loved when Kaoru had fun.

Kaoru hugged him a little closer. “Surprisingly — yes.” 

Kanata turned to lie flat on his back, reflections from the water rippling everywhere around him — around them.

Among the scattered, wavy light, a sandcastle near the sea — Kaoru kissed him softly.