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The summer was kind to Kashima Ryuuichi. He whiled away the days in Okinawa, the morning in the sea with Kotarou, followed by building sandcastles or collecting seashells or stealing naps in the burning sand. They watched over the sunset, as a parent watches over a child; fond, content.

 

 

The first day of elementary school was not difficult to navigate, in the way that the babies had already explored every nook and cranny – whether during walks with Usaida or stumbling into corners by accident. Kotarou glanced at his official student pass, hard plastic corners and a picture of his solemn face peeking out from beneath his thumb, and then to his brother.

Ryuuichi smiled like the summer sun.

“You will be alright with Taka, right?” said Ryuuichi, voice faint under the wails of other children, reassurances from well-intended parents and brisk calls from an elderly teacher with deep laugh lines around her eyes and mouth.

Kotarou nodded. Taka was already running towards them, clutching the straps of his schoolbag, waving. 

“Ryuu-nii-chan!” Taka shouted. “You’re here!”

He skidded to a halt. Taller than Kotarou, but barely up to Ryuuichi’s waist, Taka barely avoided tackling the both of them to the ground. Kamitani Hayato exhaled his feelings as he grabbed hold of the back of his shirt.

To Taka – “Oi, watch it.” Taka ignored him, a hundred words per minute to Kotarou already going strong about their summer, the food in Guam, a schoolbag sent by his father and look it's blue but also a chemistry set that was at the bottom of his cupboard, dunno what it does

“You look better,” Hayato said, quietly. 

“I am better,” Ryuuichi replied, except Kashima Ryuuichi began to be a liar somewhere between their second and third year of high school.

Still, there was colour in full cheeks. A quick sweep around the room also showed that conspicuous lack of Saikawa, who had become something like a second shadow for a while, so that counted for something.

“Nii-chan,” Kotarou said. He looked up, hands outreached.

A laugh. “You’re too big to be carried, Kotarou.” He did it anyway.