there is a crack,
a crack in everything
Sometimes, there is an echoing question.
Chiaki can’t help but wonder.
There are footprints against the caramel blanket of sand. Bigger than his feet and made through delicate stride marks, unlike his own scrawled trail of weighty steps. When Chiaki walks, it isn’t with lightness but with great force. Almost like every step can catapult him to the sky.
He follows the footprints, careful enough not to step over it and erase the marks. From the distance, he spots Midori’s lone figure along the shoreline. Fondly, as he walks forward, he notes how the only way Midori will ever be small is if anyone looks at him from afar.
“There you are, Takamine!!” Chiaki’s voice cracks the silence of dawn, piercing against the sea wave’s hums.
Midori jumps a little, surprised by the loudness. He sighs, slowly and wearily, as soon as his gaze landed on Chiaki. The worn-out look on his face is telling.
“Good morning, Takamine! I see you’re very eager to start the day. That is great! It’s true when they say the early bird saves the world!”
“…I don’t think that’s how the saying goes.” Midori shakes his head, heavily. “Seeing Morisawa-senpai this early already makes me tired.” He hugs the windbreaker closer to his body. Winter’s embrace is even more cutting and numbing near the sea.
“Hahaha! It’s endearing that you’re the same as usual but the new year needs our fiery spirits! Shout with me, Takamine!”
“Why are you even awake, Senpai? I thought you’re bad with mornings.”
There are a number of things Chiaki still hasn’t outgrown over the years, even when he has already made a name for himself as an Idol—and a hero, to everyone. One, mornings are still a battle. Two, he wonders a lot. It’s something he still keeps to himself, stories and worries with indefinite beginnings and endings. Or, does it ever end? He thinks, maybe, all these wonderings are his kryptonite. The shadow to his light. All he says to Midori is, “Ah, I couldn’t sleep. I was too excited for today so I decided to walk around. I saw your footprints and followed you here! Isn’t it like fate?”
Midori looks at Chiaki skeptically but drops it after a beat. “How can it be like fate when you followed me?”
“No, listen, Takamine. The fate part comes in when we were both awake at the same ti—” Chiaki’s words are cut off when they hear people shouting. He turns around and sees them.
Shinobu is bouncing, Tetora is dashing and Kanata is behind them, leisurely walking at his own pace, swaying to the beat of the lapping waves.
“Not fair, Taichou! Midori-dono! Were you planning to see the sunrise without us?” Shinobu’s eyes glint with the early mist.
“I can’t believe you’re going to leave us! Just when my opinion of you is beginning to change, Taichou. You probably dragged Midori-kun in here too.” Tetora lectures.
Kanata steps beside Chiaki and smiles. “I saw Chiaki through the ‘window.’ It is not ‘fun’ to be left out, you know. So I woke up the ‘children’ to go after you.”
Chiaki looks at all of them: faces still bearing the weight of sleepless weeks; ghosts under their eyes and bodies all weary and tired, ready to fall down like they’re paper-thin and hold no strength enough to carry all their bones and breaths.
But above all that, he sees: the way they look light and young, the way their eyes catch the softness and color of the world, the way their hearts are out there for him to feel and he knows— he knows that they are strong enough to carry all of them.
They’re the most radiant thing Chiaki has ever seen. Here, against the grays and muteness before daybreak, it almost seems like the sun would come out from within them.
“I’m sorry! It was not my intention to make you feel that way. But now that we’re all here, let’s watch the sunrise and celebrate hatsuhi no de together!!” Chiaki makes a fistpump, aflame and larger than the world itself.
Sometimes, Chiaki wonders.
About a lot, a lot, a lot.
What is he going to have for breakfast tomorrow? Then, for lunch and dinner. He hopes there are no eggplants. How will Kamen Rider defeat the villain and save the world next episode? There should be flashy stunts and smiling people by the end. What time can he call his parents? Their schedule usually ends up late and he doesn’t want to wake them up during odd hours. What should they work on next practice? Shinobu’s steps are a half-second slower than the song’s beat so he should ask him to focus on that. Tetora needs to work on his breathing techniques while performing. Lastly, ask Kanata to go over their concept image, since he always has a keener eye for detail.
Then, there are other things.
The kind that he never lets out because it’s dark and grimy and feels like glass shards against his palms.
Ryuseitai’s schedule has been tightly packed since the holidays began. There’s no more free time for family or shrine visits. They welcome the New Year lodged at a seaside cabin rented out for their album jacket photoshoot. Preparations are at full blast for their comeback, already being called by loyal fans and media as, The Heroes’ Return.
They all plop down on the sand. Kanata blows warm puffs into his hands and rubs it for more heat. Chiaki, seeing Kanata’s shiver, places his own hands on Kanata’s face. He asks cheerfully, “Is it warmer now?”
“Chiaki’s ‘touch’ is always burning,” Kanata replies, cheeks flushed.
Shinobu shudders and folds himself smaller. “I’m an indoor type of ninja so I-I’m not good with the cold, de gozaru.”
“Do you want me to ‘warm’ you up too?” Kanata offers and starts blowing warm puffs into Shinobu’s hands.
“Ah! I know! Let’s huddle closer and share the heat of our hearts with each other!” Chiaki gathers everyone in his arms without skipping a beat. Kanata does the same, trapping the other three into a warm embrace.
“Too close!” Tetora grumbles loudly.
“I’m… gonna… die,” Midori breathes out against all the closeness and heat.
Sometimes, Chiaki wonders.
If they are doing okay, if they are feeling okay, if it is okay that he leads them and drags them along all his whims, when they could be somewhere else, doing something they like more. Maybe there they’ll be not just 'okay' but… happy.
Chiaki wonders about that a lot more than he wants to admit.
Does he really make people smile? Is he doing enough? Isn’t he just foolishly forcing his own dreams to others? Is the young boy who only knew how to cry gone now?
Is he really a hero?
The sky is slowly shifting into shades of plums and periwinkles, wisped with a pink dewy-blush. There’s something miraculous during hours when the world is still dreaming and the heart feels easier to spell out. Chiaki fixes his gaze into the horizon. He knows the others are doing the same thing.
“’Ssu! How long ‘til the sun rises?” Tetora asks, brimming with excitement.
“Don’t be so impatient. The sun will rise when it needs to rise!” Chiaki slings his arm on Tetora’s shoulder and ruffles his hair.
“Ugh, space, Taichou!” Tetora cries out, trying to break away from Chiaki’s tight-hold.
“Do not worry Tetora. I will ‘ask’ the mother ocean if she knows when the ‘sun’ will rise.” Kanata dusts off the sand on his clothes and happily wobbles forward to the water.
“Wait, nooooo, Kanataaaaa! It’s freezing! You might die!”
“S-senpaaaaai, please don’t!”
“Stooooop! You can’t!”
A bone-deep sigh, alarmed and frantic. “Senpai.”
All of them, exactly at the same time, lurch forward to stop Kanata. They cling to his legs, grab him and pull him back. Like fallen dominoes, they all come tumbling down, piling on top of each other.
“We are a ‘sandwich.’” Kanata laughs, wriggling underneath a pile of bodies.
Someone, probably Midori, gasps. “I can’t… breathe. Heavy…”
“Hahaha!” Chiaki’s laughter comes, deep and rumbling, like an explosion felt by everyone. Like a thousand unforgettable sunbeams.
And then, they’re laughing and laughing and laughing. The sound fills the emptiness of the shore, powerful and moving like it can rupture the sky and bring them closer to the sun. Winter hits their cheekbones and their lungs are filled with the saltwater air of memories. Moments like this make them feel so unstoppable, so alive, so bright.
Suddenly, “Look!” Tetora, squeezed between Shinobu and Chiaki, points towards the sky.
A golden globe of light shines from the distance, slowly rising and painting the dark and rosy sky into brilliant oranges and dazzling reds. Unfurling its rays of light, gently and bravely, reaching out to the long expanse of the horizon and turning it into a sun-kissed melody. The sea is washed in gold and glistens with the same illuminating song. Just like this, the sun connects everything it touches: the sky, the sea, the far-off horizon. Winter melts and everything is so warm and beautiful. All of them hold their breaths in awe and Chiaki— Chiaki’s heart is thumping and burning and infinite.
Is he happy?
A question that echoes again and again…
The sunrise feels like a stolen page from a storybook's happy ending, all full smiles and warmth, or a scene from a Tokusatsu show when the heroes finally defeat the evil force and bring peace and hope to the world. They stand up together, admiring the scenery unfolding. Chiaki feels something in him burn, as though they’re at the center of the universe and everything in his life has lead to this moment. He cups his hands around his mouth and shouts, “Ryuseitai will surely improve and shine brighter! Like real heroes! Like the sun!”
Because Chiaki wonders a lot and in all these wonderings, he is easily trapped in his own head, filled with an endless stream of self-doubts and dark thoughts. It weighs him down and drowns him to the depths where his old self resides: fragile and weak, cracked and chipped, alone and sad. It gets harder to resurface each time the fire in his heart dies down. But—
“I will become manlier, ossu! I’ll do my best this year too! Maybe I can share a stage with Taishou again. Ryuseitai will make an awesome comeback!” Tetora extends a fist to the sun.
“Me too! I won’t let everyone down! I will proudly show people how amazing ninjas are and I… I will believe in myself more!” There’s a spring in Shinobu’s steps as he looks at them. Kanata pats his head while everyone nods back at him and grins.
“Mm, it’s been really tiring. I want to sleep and go home but… it’s been really fun with all of you. This year, I will work harder.” A tiny blaze of a smile dances on Midori’s lips.
“We will eat lots of delicious ‘fish’ and visit the ‘sea.’” Kanata cheers in his river-soft voice. He looks at Chiaki with the same look he has given him years ago, under a sunset sky. “Chiaki’s ‘dream’ is still my dream. Ryuseitai will ‘shine’ together.”
Because Chiaki wonders a lot and in all these wonderings, he learns that: happiness is hard but not impossible. Happiness is fleeting and uncertain, constantly slipping away. But happiness is also everywhere, if only one learns to find it in all the little things.
Happiness is taking a leap of faith and asking a bunch of lost first years, “Will you become a hero with me?” Happiness is a sunset promise made with a friend who never stopped believing in him. Happiness is heroes, justice and the smiles of people they protect. Happiness is four faces looking back at him, weary and tired and ghosts under their eyes but their smiles stretch out like the glowing rays of the sun. Happiness is the space between what he shows to people and what he hides from them. A space that’s never empty because it is always filled with people who love him, places waiting for him and moments filled with memories.
Happiness is the sunrise bathing their faces with warmth, laughter that breaks the silence of the world and saltwater air that fill their lungs as they breathe in the meaning of dreaming together. Happiness is moments like this that makes his heart full.
So unstoppable, so alive, so bright.
Because Chiaki wonders a lot and sometimes he feels doubtful and sad. He feels achingly lonely. But it’s okay, isn’t it? Because in all these wonderings, he knows with a fierce sureness that no matter how much he feels lonely, he is never alone. There will always be hands reaching out and smiles looking back at him.
It’s more than enough for happiness to take root in his heart and bloom.
“Senpai, are you… are you crying?” Midori asks, softly.
“Chiaki is such a ‘crybaby,’ nothing has changed.” Kanata chuckles.
Shinobu looks like he’s going to cry soon, muttering, “T-taichou-dono…” while Tetora laughs and pats Chiaki’s back, roughly.
“We’ve been through a lot…” Chiaki begins. "There were a lot of rough and sad times but I wouldn’t change any of that. It made us who we are, stronger and brighter. I, Morisawa Chiaki with the burning heart, am really really really happy right now!”
“That’s a lot of ‘really’ and ‘more’ Chiaki. I can feel your ‘happiness.’ Me too. I am ‘happy.’” Kanata smiles.
Tetora grins, all fired up. “Remember when I run away back then? I couldn’t understand Taichou. It felt like we were just playing around, pretending to be heroes. Ah, that was very unmanly of me.”
“And Taichou-dono collapsed and got sick!” Shinobu exclaims.
“You threw rubber shurikens at me too.” Tetora laughs, scratching his nose with the back of his finger. “Now, I can’t imagine being anywhere else but here.”
“Or…” Midori replies, hesitant at first, “with anyone else other than all of you. Even though Morisawa-senpai is still too loud.”
“Everyone is ‘colorful’ and ‘different.’ It was ‘painful’ and ‘hard.’ It took us a long ‘time’ to understand each other.” Kanata muses. “But even though the 'land' is big and cold, we found a ‘place’ where we ‘belong.’ And now, we are ‘one.’”
“We are!! The five of us, our hearts were able to become one, right?” Chiaki wipes away the tears and takes in all their faces, soft and smiling. Happy. “I love you! Thank you for not just making my dreams come true but being my dream. Let’s keep doing our best!" He raises a clenched fist upwards and roars, with an equal mixture of joy and pride, their catchphrase, the one they always carried in their hearts and gave them strength for every challenge they faced. "Ryuseitai! All for one and—”
“One for all!!!!!” The five of them shout to the sky.
There are footprints against the caramel blanket of sand. Five mismatched sloppy marks, making orbit-trails until it all combine into one direction. People’s lives are set on their own orbits, so distant and different from one another. But sometimes they collide, creating the brightest supernova and showering the world with a fiery light. A radiance that makes people look up and put their hopes and dreams in shooting stars and heroes. Here’s what it means to have a fire in your hearts, unstoppable and eternal, and this—
This is happiness.
there is a crack,
a crack in everything.
that's how the light gets in.