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what is love

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love
/ləv/

noun
1. an intense feeling of deep affection.
2. a person or thing that one loves.

verb
1. feel a deep romantic or sexual attachment to (someone).

 

Nagisa traces his finger along the words, trying to make sense of it. Maybe if he touches it long enough, he’ll get what it means. But no matter how many times he reads the meaning (quietly, in his mind, out loud) or how much he presses his fingers (and hands and cheeks and chest) against the page, he never truly understands.

What is love? Is it a feeling? Is it a person? Is it all of these things? How does it work and why does it exist? Nagisa is smart. Nagisa is talented. Nagisa is one-of-a-kind. But a lot of things in this world also doesn't make sense to Nagisa. Why do we breathe? To live? Why do we live? So much questions.





Before Nagisa was taken (rescued, others say) from the Godfather’s room, there is one thing he took with him. Secretly, like all he has ever known—because he, himself, is a secret, that much he knows—he rips off the page from a dictionary. Love, it begins. Maybe if he pockets it closely to his heart, he’ll be able to understand what it truly means. Maybe, then, like others, like his Father, he’ll be able to love, too.





When Nagisa first stepped into the manor, his hands are freezing. A lot has happened in a short breath. One second, he was in the Godfather’s room, hidden, meant to be adorned in hushed silence. Another second and there he is, brought to a new place as big as his old house.

“You’re free now,” a man tells him. “This will be your new home until we find a new family for you.”

Home? Family? Why does he need new ones when he never had one to begin with? Nagisa only nods.

Suddenly a young boy, probably around his age, comes running towards them. The boy says, “Who are you? I’m Hiyori Tomoe, the one and only~!”

“Nagisa,” he replies, his voice even and unafraid.

“You’re so beautiful! Can I keep you?”

This, Nagisa has heard many times. Beautiful. Talented. Perfect beyond human standards. So it doesn’t catch him off-guard.  Doesn’t make him blush or relax. He feels nothing.

The man with them coughs and reprimands the young boy—Hiyori, “What did I tell you about this?”

“Oh.” Hiyori laughs, like he is remembering an old joke. “Yes, yes! You can’t own people!” Then, he looks back at Nagisa again and asks, “Can you be my friend?”

This, Nagisa has heard for the first time. He’s beautiful. Talented. Perfect beyond human standards. He’s been treated and loved like a doll, like a jewel. But a friend? What does it mean? Instantly, he remembers the ripped-off page in his pocket. Written in a small fine print, under the meaning of the word love. Synonym: friendship. His hands are warmer and there’s a staccato-soft throb in his chest when he answers: Yes.





They don’t celebrate Nagisa’s birthday until the second year of his stay.

It comes as a question from Hiyori, “How come we’ve never celebrated your birthday, Nagisa-kun?”

Nagisa flips the book he’s reading to the next page. “…..Hmm.”

“Hello, hello, Nagisa-kun, pay attention to me! A lot of people want my company but I’m here with you. See, you should really be thankful. You’re welcome!”

“I didn’t ask you to—”

“Sshhh, Nagisa-kun. Don’t be selfish. Don’t change the topic.”

He learns over the months here that it is better to give in to what Hiyori wants. It’s not so bad—never too bad. Hiyori might be selfish, conceited, a true blue blood but once he decides he likes you, he will never do anything that would hurt you. In fact, Nagisa muses, Hiyori cares too much for others. For… for him. So Nagisa answers, nonchalantly, “…..I don’t know when my birthday is. I forgot. It doesn't matter.”

“What?” Hiyori gasps dramatically. “WHAT?” He looks a little pale, like he might faint soon. And he runs away after.

Nagisa doesn’t think too much about it. Hiyori likes to have moments like this where he is all cartoon-ish and funny. That day easily falls away into the back of his memory until the end of October comes and Nagisa is opening his door to a room filled with confetti, balloons, gifts of all sizes and colors, a big banner (Happy Birthday Nagisa-kun!) and Hiyori holding a cake. “Blow the candles! Oh, oh, but you have to make a wish first, okay?”

It is so peculiar and Nagisa tries to wrap his mind around what’s happening. “…..What’s this?”

“Your birthday party! Quick. Make a wish!”

“But I don’t have a wish.”

“Then think of a wish! Hurry up, Nagisa-kun or the candles will melt!”

“I…” Nagisa tries again. See, Nagisa doesn’t get much about the world. In the second drawer of his bedside table, he still secretly keeps the meaning of love. Still unable to grasp what it fully means. If only words can make someone feel something, if only blowing candles can make a wish come true. But Hiyori is smiling so Nagisa closes his eyes and blows on it.

“What did you wish for?” Hiyori asks.

“…..Nothing.” Nagisa turns his face away. The image of Hiyori’s smile lit up by the candles is still burning in his mind. “But why is it my birthday today?”

“It’s the day you came to our home!” Hiyori places the cake on the table and takes out a birthday hat. He reaches for Nagisa’s head and puts it on him. “Remember? I write very important things in my diary.”

“But why do I have to celebrate my birthday?” Nagisa lets himself be pushed around by Hiyori. Opening gifts and tasting the cake and even popping the balloons.

“Because it’s important!”

“But why?”

“It’s the day you were born. Or, in this case, the day you came here.”

“But why is it important?”

“Nagisa-kun, I really like teaching you but it’s frustrating sometimes how you ask so many hard questions. Hmm… we celebrate it because we are happy you are alive. I’m happy that you came here and I met you, Nagisa-kun. Isn’t that enough?”

The cake Hiyori chose is too sweet and there’s a lump in Nagisa’s throat when he takes a bite. “…..No, no. It’s enough.”





That same night, Hiyori and Nagisa stay in the balcony, a new telescope assembled (by Nagisa, mostly, because Hiyori is too busy talking about how he chose the perfect gift for Nagisa) stands tall in front of them.

“Nagisa-kun, it’s not enough that you’re reading all these books. You have to experience it! Find some hobbies!” Hiyori gushes, hands flying around with different gestures. He is excited, Nagisa knows a little too well.

“I’ll think about it.” Nagisa twists the dials of the telescope, trying to make the focus clearer and sharper.

“This is perfect. The moon isn’t bright tonight so we can see the stars!”

“But why do we have to look at the stars? Why are there stars?” Nagisa asks, his face concealed by the shadow of the night. They have developed a habit over the time they have spent together. Nagisa will ask and Hiyori will answer. There are many things Nagisa knows but sometimes, he feels like Hiyori will always know more.

Nagisa knows a star is a luminous sphere of plasma held together by its own gravity. He knows that many other stars are visible to the naked eye from Earth during the night, appearing as a multitude of fixed luminous points in the sky due to their immense distance from Earth. He knows that it takes millions of years for a star’s light to reach their eyes, so the ones they see twinkling right now might come from a starlight a hundred years ago and—

“Nagisa-kun,” Hiyori says his name and snaps him out of his thoughts. “We look at the stars because they teach us things about the sky!”

“The sky?” The words come out weird. Nagisa has never thought about it like this but the way Hiyori speaks, fearless and bewitching, makes it seem real.

“Like how the sky can be so, so dark but there are still something there, hidden and alive. And when the right time comes, the stars shine and twinkle for us! It’s just like you, Nagisa-kun, when we found you in that dark room!”

Hiyori smiles and Nagisa thinks he doesn’t have to look at the stars anymore if he wants to see something so bright.

Then, Hiyori adds, “Geez, Nagisa-kun. What would you be without me? I’m teaching you a lot of things, huh?”

“Yes,” Nagisa agrees, softly. “I wonder.”





Nagisa doesn’t know much about being a human.

Eat, sleep, polish and sharpen himself until every part of him is a lightning bolt, something deadly and piercing, so no one could ever come close to his perfection. That's what he had learned from the Godfather. But he thinks, behind heavy mechanical eyelids—because sleep is programmed, not a thing his body needs—Nagisa thinks: he doesn’t know much about being a human and he doesn’t need much. But if he can live forever on the way Hiyori calls his name, the sound of footsteps Hiyori makes as he runs towards his room, the sky when they first looked at the stars, the sunlight slanting inside the room when he wakes up and finds Hiyori’s hands curled against his. Then, it'll be enough.

Nagisa doesn’t know much about being a human and perhaps it will never make sense to him. The words he stole so long ago might just be ghosts and never something real. But he thinks, if his heart can pocket and live with more than words and meanings, it will be all of these.





Soon, they are separated because nothing in this world can last forever.

But this time, there are no more stolen pages from a book, no more questions bursting with the need for an answer, there is only a promise, made with their pinky fingers intertwined like red strings of fate: Someday, we’ll meet each other again.





(And they did. Oh, they did. Singing and dancing in the middle of the night. Laughing together like how they used to. Nagisa is forgetful but this, he remembers so easily. Nagisa realizing that love is too vague, too confusing, but it is also something so big. Love, perhaps, can be a lot of different things.)





This year, Nagisa opens the door of the archaeology clubroom with a shower of roses and confetti fireworks. Hiyori, Jun and Ibara greets him a happy birthday.

“I told you it should be confetti! It’s a tradition, which you will never know because you’re just an extra. It’s more colorful. Pity the roses you killed because you won’t listen to me!” Hiyori whines to Ibara.

“Oh, oh~ traditions are old and boring, don’t you think?” Ibara laughs and pisses Hiyori even more. On the side, Jun look like he wants to stop them before it blows up into a bigger fight. But he also looks like he also wants to be five meters away from them. The word Goddamn at the tip of his tongue.

“…..What’s this?” Nagisa removes a confetti from his hair.

“Your birthday party!” Hiyori smiles. “Make a wish Nagisa-kun!”

Once, Nagisa wanted to disappear from this world. What is the point of being a human when he can’t understand what it means? But even if he doesn’t get it now, he knows someday he will. So, until then, until he learns what it means to be human, to be alive, and to love. He wishes for another day, just like yesterday, just like today. With them around him—with Hiyori still as bright as the stars—he has faith they will be able to teach him what love is.

 

 

When it is finally just them, just like old times, Hiyori asks, “Are you glad you were born, Nagisa-kun?”

Nagisa answers, at last, looking straight into Hiyori-kun’s eyes, seeing the flicker of love, a noun, a verb, a feeling, a person. “I am, Hiyori-kun.”