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Kami no Hōmon

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The sun rises over a blaze of autumn orange, the forest alight with morning.

It is quiet. Quiet and peaceful as mornings always are, but now that the leaves have turned red and the air has turned sharp, the world grows stiller. The forest is a breath being held, waiting to shed its leaves and let go. And tops of the trees dance gently; through their dappled low-light stalk creatures that have not been seen in these parts for hundreds of years, creatures that no longer slumber under the hills and inside the tree trunks. Creatures that no longer cloak themselves in the wind, invisible and waiting. Now, the demons are the ones in hiding. The taste of Shigaraki’s poison is no longer in the air. The world is reborn.

Young bamboo shoots sprout from a great hand print, burned into the forest floor.

The sun hangs in the yellow-blue sky. The sound of the mountain stream laps pleasantly in Shouta’s ear, and the rock is cool beneath his crossed legs. His breath leaves hot clouds in the cold air and a dragonfly darts in front of him, having wandered too far from the river.

A gentle rustling over his shoulder.

He closes his eyes and stares into the dark of his eyelids.

“I can hear you,” he calls out.

At first, there is no response. Then, a small, disgruntled huff. Shouta battles against a smirk- it wins over and pulls his lips into a smile.

“I don’t see how you could have heard me, sensei.”

“Hmm. I have had more practise than you. I have been on this Earth longer than you, Shinsou.”

“Only a couple of decades. It’s not so much to boast about.”

Shouta snorts. Opening his eyes, and to his quiet surprise, he sees his student standing in front of him. He managed to do this, at least, without Shouta hearing his footsteps. He does not tell Shinsou as much; he is best when he does not over think his training, and to point out such a thing would defeat the point.

“You are too concerned with catching up with the others,” Shouta says, a gentle reprimand that makes Shinsou’s brows twitch in frustration.

“How could I not be? I know I can be one of the best, and so I must try harder than them.”

“You are trying too hard.”

“Yesterday you said I need to train harder.”

“And that still stands.”

“How can I try harder and try less simultaneously? Sometimes, I feel you say these things just to confuse me.”

“Never intentionally. If what I’m telling you is illogical, then, I suppose it is because much of life is illogical.”

“That’s a terrible excuse, old man.”

“Call me that again and you’re expelled.”

“I would like to see you try.”

This quick fire interaction is natural for Shouta and Shinsou. They both share a bluntness of wit that, Shouta admits, has exaggerated his already out-of-hand paternal instinct.

“Well,” he announces, trying not to let the weariness seep into his voice as he stands up and stretches. He is unsuccessful. “You are the only one of my students whom I train personally. You may take that as a sign that I won’t expel you any time soon.”

Shinsou narrows his eyes at him. “You share that threat too liberally,” he comments dryly.

Shouta tilts his head to the side in concession, his student following him up the mountain.

They begin their walk back to Yuuei, wooden clogs knocking against stone. Shinsou looks openly at him with an even stare. He appears tired, bored to most people. But Shouta understands more than most that there is fire beyond that expression, and he sees it in the boy’s eyes as they walk, autumn sun steaming the damp ground. The cold air bites his skin and his throat is hoarse as it freezes his lungs. They enter the forest, leaves crunching softly beneath their shoes and a magic in the air that makes his head light, heart-beat shallow.

With every step, Shouta sees movement in his peripheral. When he turns to look, he finds nothing but dust particles in the light.

The incline is steep, and they follow the most easily climbed rocks to reach the footpath back to Yuuei. There are bear claw marks on tree trunks, and hoof steps in the softening ground, wet with dew. The smell is clean and crisp and Shouta feels that clarity reach his thoughts as they pass through one of the most magically charged parts of the forest. The hairs on his arms raise and his eyes move instinctively towards every minute rustle. This place is so different, now that Shigaraki slumbers in hell.

The trees open up again, and they reach a small clearing. Shouta peers up above. Two herons beat their wings slowly against the hazy blue. He continues to walk, watching them fly into the distance and over the horizon. He remembers not so long ago when the only heron that nested here was Hizashi.

It is sometimes hard to believe that he is mortal, now.

“Sensei.”

“Shinsou,” he acknowledges the boy walking just behind him, perhaps a little shyly.

“Thank you for training me.”

“It would be a great loss not to.”

It is the same conversation they have every time after Shinsou’s practice. Despite the relaxed camaraderie they now share after this past year, the boy is still respectful. He routinely shows this respect with the same words, every time. In return, Shouta shows him the same. There are not many that have earned his admiration, but Shinsou is one of them.

Up ahead is the bamboo grove, an eerily quiet place between the hot-spring and Yuuei. Shouta steps foot over the strangely stark boundary between the fir trees and bamboo. The air seems to crackle silently. The light brightens. The stalks cast long shadows in the autumn sun. It is like entering a new world with a single step.

Shouta measures his surroundings silently, then turns to look at Shinsou. His student waits warily, eyes scanning the place. He is right to be cautious, and often displays these good instincts. This is the most mystical part of the forest. Whilst sprites hop about the lower ranges of the woods, here, there are greater things that pass- walking through the bamboo branches like ghosts.

“You may rejoin to the footpath to Yuuei, if you don’t want to join me.”

Shinsou narrows his eyes again. His disapproval of such a suggestion is clear. He needn’t articulate it out loud; neither one of them are the type to say anything unnecessarily.

Shouta draws a conscious breath, acclimatising to the change in atmosphere. Walking into the bamboo grove these days is not how it used to be. It is no longer just a grove. Now, taking a casual stroll here is not possible. It is more like plunging underwater; one must find their gills every time they step inside, or they will drown in this place’s magic. Shouta feels it in his lungs, feels it’s satin stroke against his skin. Feels his loose hair rise slightly and his hakuma flutter, just a little.

Shinsou takes his side, and now, more than ever, Shouta is unconvinced by the bored expression.

The sun pours slanting through the branches, a green and yellow tinted pool of otherness that does something to both relax Shouta and make him alert. Dust particles shining like stars. A silent hum making the air shimmer. A line of ants along the ground. The taste of bamboo on his tongue.

The quiet, tinkling laughter of a child passes through the grove. It doesn’t echo; there are no flat surfaces for such a sound to be created. And Shouta might be frightened by such a contradictory noise, in a mysterious place like this. But he finds himself rarely afraid here. And he knows to whom that laugh belongs.

“Children’s laughter is creepy,” Shinsou remarks dryly. “Even Eri’s.”

Shouta starts walking in her direction. He knows what Shinsou is thinking: especially Eri’s. She is not human, and nothing could be clearer. But she is also his daughter, and that much is equally undeniable.

And his body senses the presence before his mind registers it. He turns to see Eri, standing behind him and hiding ineffectively behind a thin bamboo trunk. She watches with big eyes- not so woeful as they used to be.

“You almost had me there,” he says, unable to hold back the pride in his voice.

Shinsou spins on the spot in surprise, notes Eri as she bounds over to Shouta and gives him a hug. He rests a calloused hand on top of her silver hair, and Shinsou scratches his own head thoughtfully. No doubt wondering how an eight year old could sneak up on his sensei better than he could.

“No I didn’t,” she replies, looking up at him a little reverently. How a tiny god such as her could look at him like that still baffles him. He supposes that is what it means to be a father, even if that father’s child is infinitely more powerful.

“I would not lie to you.”

“Have you and ‘Toshi-chan been training?” she asks, stretching out a hand to take Shinsou’s.

Shinou accepts it, brow slightly creased as if he is trying to understand why she would offer such a gentle gesture. “Yes, as we do most mornings after you rise the sun with your fathers,” he says easily. “I have much more work to do, if I’m going to be anywhere as sneaky as you.”

Eri smiles. “And you’ll be one of the best heroes in the world, ‘Toshi!”

She turns and skips back into the bamboo, her words so assured that it makes Shouta wonder if has some of the sight that Hizashi once had. Shinsou does not seem perturbed; perhaps he did not hear the same prophetic surety in her voice as Shouta did. Nonetheless, they share a smile and follow Eri into the woods. Her silver hair dances with the dust like it is made of the same starlight.

There. There, at the centre of the small clearing, bamboo encircling the place like sleeping guards, stands Hizashi. He has his hand on the hilt of a katana, the tip of the blade dug into the earth. He stands with his hip slightly cocked to one side, and the moment Shouta steps into the glade his eyes find his and there is a smile in them before it reaches his lips. That golden hair- still golden, even a year after he sacrificed his godliness to save Shouta’s life. Still breathtaking, just over a year after Shouta found his breath first being taken by the sight of him. Green winter kimono and tawny hair, he blends into this place like he is a part of nature, too.

“Here they are,” he announces with unnecessary mischief, leaning against the hilt of the sword in a way that would make any swordsman wince. Shouta sees the smaller katana on the ground in front of him.

“You are teaching our daughter the sword,” Shouta remarks.

“Well, you didn’t think I wasn’t training her in something whilst you two were away, having your own little exclusive club.”

Shouta raises his brows, and Hizashi raises his in return, grinning. It was agreed when they chose to raise Eri together that Shouta would teach Eri terrestrial skills such as combat and swordsmanship- Hizashi would guide her through the spiritual aspects of her existence. That is why the two of them come here, where the spiritual and terrestrial plains coincide the most.

“‘Toshi- can I show you, can I show you? Daddy taught me something new today, can I, can I? ‘Toshi?”

“Yes, I’m listening. Go on, then, I’d love to see how you’ll show me up in swordsmanship too.”

Shouta watches this interaction with a warm heart- they are more like siblings than any brother or sister Shouta has ever known. Hizashi leaves the katana stuck in the ground, walks over to Shouta with his hands out to caress his face. He does not move so gracefully as he used to, but that does not mean Shouta’s heart does not skip when he sees him approach. His hands are warmer too, as they touch his cheeks and bring him into a light, fleeting kiss.

Shouta speaks quietly, nose brushing against Hizashi’s. “You will teach her the wrong technique.”

Hizashi’s responding laugh is too loud. Perfectly Hizashi. “I am only teaching her what you taught me, and you said that I have good skill.”

“You do. But I have better skills.”

Hizashi mock gasps. Shouta smirks. “I could have you smote for that,” Hizashi warns, poking him in the chest.

Shouta spreads out his arms, as if to say go on, then. Hizashi seems cheered by this. It is easy to joke about his lack of divinity now; easy, now that Hizashi realises that is happier this way than he has ever been as an immortal, trapped above the clouds. They turn to measure Shinsou and Eri- the girl parrying and swiping the sword carefully, far too carefully. Shinsou pointing out as much, and Eri refusing to try any harder to land a hit as he steps lightly out of the way of her attacks.

Hizashi lays his head on Shouta’s shoulder, and they watch.

“She will be better than me, one day soon,” Shouta says.

“She will be better than any of us,” Hizashi amends, and Shouta grunts in affirmation.

All four of them spend a little while longer in the quiet magic of the bamboo glade, gently offering sparring advice and avoiding returning back to Yuuei, where the students will be awake and finishing their breakfast. Shouta looks up at the sky and watches the sunlight climbing above the treeline. He also watches Hizashi, watches him as he turns the katana deftly in his hand, light-footed, hair picked up by the wind and the magic in the air. It reminds him of their first sword lesson, Shouta standing behind him and amending his posture, arms around him, his corrections turning into kisses. Neither one of them had learned much in that first lesson.

When their cheeks are pink from sparring, Hizashi looking more mortal than ever with his hair slightly awry and Shinsou looking far less tired than before, they sheath their swords and Eri skips ahead to lead the way back.

The sight of both Eri and Hizashi freezing on the spot makes Shouta’s heart stop. Like deer, the two of them pause, heads turning in synchronisation to their right.

Moments like these, Shouta remembers that whilst Hizashi is now mortal, he is still not entirely human.

“What is it,” Shinsou asks quietly.

Shouta looks into the bamboo, seeing nothing, but sensing the hairs on the back of his neck rise. “They have spotted something that we cannot see.”

Shinsou moves to unsheathe his katana, and Shouta stops him with a hand on his arm. Hizashi and Eri are almost as still as the bamboo around them, moving only minutely with magic.

“If it meant us harm, we would know,” Shouta assures, although he knows Shinsou’s uncertainty. Whilst demons no longer dwell in this land, nature herself is neither good nor evil. It is foolish not to be cautious, not to be respectful of her strength.

Eri is the first to move. Hizashi watches her walk in the direction of their gaze, and does not make to stop her.

“Let it smell your hand first,” he suggests gently. “Slowly, now, slowly.”

Shouta does not see what he’s talking about, and neither does Shinsou. As if reading their minds, Hizashi measures them with wide, green eyes and a smile.

“You will like this, Shouta.”

“Will I?” he asks with uncertainty, not sure what Hizashi is getting at.

“Can’t you see her, daddy?” Eri asks innocently.

Shouta watches as she raises up her hand, and giggles a little, as if something is tickling her.

“Not yet,” Shouta replies. It is unsettling.

But then, as the sunlight rises above the tree line and brightens, enough for Shouta to wince slightly, he sees it.

It is roughly three times the size of a horse, big enough that it shouldn’t fit in these narrow passages of bamboo woods- and yet it stands amongst them like a ghost. It’s great paws are tucked under its body as it stoops down to sniff at Eri’s hand, nose and whiskers twitching. One of its pointed ears flaps slightly as something invisible disturbs it. It’s enormous eyes widen and watch Eri, dark circles ringed in green fixed on her. It has golden fur- as gold as Hizashi’s hair, but translucent like the dancing, dusty sunlight. The image of this creature emerges like the sun behind a cloud.

“A cat,” Shouta says in quiet awe.

“A very big cat,” Shinsou adds.

Hizashi grins in excitement. “I did say you would like this! Isn’t she beautiful?”

Neither one of them speak. They are stunned to silence by the enormous cat that has manifested itself in front of them. Shouta watches as Eri begins to stroke it’s nose. Those huge eyes close, and the ground rumbles beneath their feet- it is purring.

“I…” Shouta starts, but he finds that he cannot finish. He knows that he should not find a magical creature such as this quite so adorable, and yet he does.

Hizashi laughs. “Look at you two, all tongue tied. She is very cute, I grant you.”

This is coming from the man who is suspicious of all animals except for Maru the horse with whom he made good friends last year. An unlikely pair, and this one unlikelier. The purring continues to create vibrations in the earth. Shinsou stares at the cat, mouth slightly open and dumbfounded. Its fur pokes out between Eri’s fingers.

“She says that she wants to give us a ride!”

Now, Hizashi seems a little less amused. He is, after all, the one who is entirely uncomfortable with the idea of riding horses, let alone woodland spirits. “Absolutely not!”

“Where would the harm be,” Shinsou says. Hizashi and Shouta give Shinsou a warning glance. The teenager shrugs. “I’m only pointing out that it doesn’t seem particularly dangerous.”

She,” Eri corrects.

“Brrrrwow,” the cat remarks.

They all look at Shouta.

Now, ordinarily, Shouta would be the one to say that they must not, under any circumstances, climb onto a giant spirit cat’s back and ‘go for a ride’. Forest spirits are more powerful than Shouta’s or Shinsou’s minds can comprehend, and who knows where it would take them, what it might do. In the eyes of gods and spirits, it is hard to understand that mortal beings such as humans cannot endure the same things as them.

Right now, however, his logical mind is rather overtaken by the image of this giant, fluffy creature.

He steps towards it slowly, extending a hand as he could with a normal cat. The creatures eyes open immediately, and it measures Shouta with the same reproach and disinterest as any other feline. Eri takes Shouta’s hand, and he finds himself holding his breath as she guides it to the fur just beneath the cat’s ear. It’s soft as silk.

“Mrrp,” it responds.

Shouta grins so much it hurts.

“I like the cat-” Shouta affirms.

“Of course you do,” Hizashi mutters.

“-If it wants to show us something, we may let it.”

“Oh, Shouta, really!”

He casts Hizashi a glance- his husband is watching him with twisted lips and crossed arms, measuring the scene with disapproval.

“You had no issue with Eri greeting this creature. You said I would like it yourself.”

“I am not climbing on another animal’s back.”

Shinsou is now at Eri’s other side, slack-jawed and bright eyed, every bit the boy and not-quite-a-man. Eri bears a soft smile as the cat nuzzles her hand, and Shouta strokes its fur slowly, carefully.

“Well,” Shouta says, “You don’t have to join. But-”

In that moment, the cat’s fur seems to shiver, like it is raising its hackles in displeasure. Shouta steps back and tears Eri away, Shinsou following. The cat’s eyes close slowly, happily- and two wings unfurl, eagle wings expanding and settling gently on the ground beside it like enormous fins.

Eri, carefully- always so careful- steps towards the cat, places her hand on the wings to let it aware of her presence, and begins to climb on. Shinsou climbs on in front of her, using the fur to pull himself up onto its back- the cat does not seem to feel it, but it’s ears twitch as if listening to them take position on its back. Shouta watches the sight, momentarily amazed by the situation. And then, he slowly moves towards the cat again, climbing on as gently as he can behind Eri, who is holding onto Shinsou’s belt for balance.

Hizashi whimpers, plaiting his hair nervously and looking up at them through his lashes.

“Come on, Hizashi,” the student encourages.

Hizashi pouts, tapping his foot.

“You needn’t sulk,” Shouta says.

“You’re leaving me here on ground!”

“I’m sure the spirit invited you, too.”

“She did,” Eri adds helpfully.

“She did,” Shouta repeats, not very helpfully, judging by Hizashi’s glare.

They all wait for Hizashi to make his decision, watching him tap his foot and twist his lips unhappily, fidgeting in a way that is so typically Hizashi it almost makes Shouta laugh.

“Mow,” the cat murmurs.

Hizashi tuts, as if the cat is trying to convince him too. “Ooh alright, then. Alright! I will ride the enormous magical cat, does that make you happy?”

Shouta sense that this is directed at him, and so he responds with a toothy grin. Hizashi shakes his head to himself and sighs theatrically as he climbs onto the cat’s back. Shouta feels Hizashi’s hands wrap around his waist and his face pressed petulantly against his shoulder blade.

No sooner than he has found his position, the cat unfurls its feet from beneath her stomach and stands up. It stretches, legs out in front and tail in the air, and they all almost fall down it’s back like boulders down a hill.

“Gods above,” Hizashi says through gritted teeth. “Shouta, you know I will kill you for this.”

“I love you for this,” Shouta laughs.

And the cat begins to run.

The air whips around his face and the world blurs around him and he winces so that he can focus on what’s ahead of him- his hands hold onto Eri and he doesn’t let go. As the cat runs, they pass through the bamboo trees like shadows. And as the wings begin to beat, making great whoomf noises and creating tornados of wind, whipping up their kimono, Shouta feels his stomach lurch. It is the feeling of falling, the feeling of waking up suddenly, of being drunk and, apparently, the feeling of being lifted into the air.

They are flying.

Hizashi holds onto Shouta, Shouta holds onto Eri, and Eri holds Shinsou as the bamboo grove falls away from beneath their feet. Shouta looks down and regrets it, but also does not know how not to look down- not when he can see the forest directly beneath him like this, not when he can see the very tops of the pine trees and the mountain stream trickling, not when he can see Karuizawa town setting up the market down below, growing further and further away with every wing beat.

It’s colder up here and his eyes are watering, and he can’t stop staring at the world receding. He sees a flock of morning larks flying in formation below them, and Shouta watches in silent awe, wind tears running down his cheeks.

Hizashi laughs delightedly in his ear. And Shouta realises that, as much as he has spent his life in the sky, as much as he has flown this sky with heron’s wings, Hizashi never done it with any of them before. And Hizashi’s laughter is infectious; Shouta grins with him, and Eri laughs too, silver hair glistening. Up front, Shouta spots Shinsou extending his arms, sleeves catching the air like sails and fingers flexing as if to catch the clouds.

The speed- the speed at which they’re flying is almost as amazing as the dizzying height, and the cat spirit takes them over Karuizawa and the neighbouring towns North West, towards the ocean. It has been many years since he visited the ocean, and there is a glimmer of hope that he will see it again.

The mountains turn into hills, and the hills turn into farmland. Layers of rice paddies, just like his parents’, people coming home from their morning’s work and horses leaving steaming breathes in the air below. Houses with smoke billowing out of the chimneys and villages selling their wares. Over the river Sai and lake Aoki. Over misty worlds of hanging rocks towards the mountains, and over even the giant, snowy ranges of Kashimayarigadake where the air is biting. None of them shiver from the frozen clouds or even feel them nipping at their skin- they soar above the world and the world below takes no notice in return. On the back of a spirit, they are invisible.

And Shouta doesn’t remember the last time he has heard Hizashi speak so little. They have not spoken for several minutes, for however long they have all been flying with the cat. The wind picks up their hair and spirits, and the moment Shouta sees something glisten in the distance, he feels his heart lift even higher.

“What is that?” Shinsou shouts over his shoulder.

Eri peers around him and points. “There! What is it?”

Child of a god she may be, but child nonetheless, and one who has always lived inland. Shouta pulls her close. “That is the ocean.”

He feels her gasp underneath his arms. “It’s shining!”

Hizashi rests his head against Shouta, and he wishes momentarily that he could see him right now. Instead, he keeps his eyes on the approaching sea- the morning light catching the ripples and waves, fishermen’s boats drifting across the grey-blue. It dances in the sun, like it is performing a ritual, a prayer. And then he feels his stomach lurch again- Eri and Shinsou’s hair lifting like they are falling, and he realises that the cat is landing, great ears flattening against its head as it streamlines itself and aims for the nearby cliffs and it’s luscious green forests.

At first, the cat flies beyond the cliffs. Shouta looks out and sees the small peninsulas and islands jutting out of the land, ragged and rocky and bright green with life, bridges hanging between them. And then the cat tilts to the left, and Shouta grips onto Eri so she doesn’t slide off. The spirit descends and he sees the beach below, white pebbles against an azure sea.

The landing is uncomfortable- it is unsettling to see the ground approach with such speed, but the cat finds its feet on land without trouble and just as any cat might land. On all fours.

Face tingling with the wind and breath caught in his throat, it takes Shouta a moment to gather himself before letting go of Eri- who is patiently patting her hand against his to let him know he can release her. She is the first to slide off, descending along the cat’s wing.

A windswept Shinsou turns slowly to look at Shouta. They both regard each other in a state of shock.

“We flew,” Shinsou says.

On a cat, he thinks, but Shouta doesn’t say anything, merely nods in acknowledgement. He looks out to the sea. It is so incomprehensibly huge that it makes him light-headed.

Hizashi’s arms unwrap from his waist and he removes himself from the cat’s back- extending a hand to let Shouta down next. He takes it, and feels a pang of pain in his feet from the impact. The pebbles are hard to walk on. He offers Shinsou a hand and he accepts, the boy sliding down the cat’s fur. The spirit appears to settle down to sleep, rolling onto its side the moment Shinsou has removed himself with Shouta’s help.

“Thanks, dad,” Shinsou says, stepping over the uneven ground and wincing in the sun.

It takes him a beat to realise what he has said. His eyes widen comically, and his face turns an endearing shade of red. The boy looks in the opposite direction, rubbing the back of his neck. “I mean-”

“You’re welcome, Hitoshi,” Shouta says easily, walking towards the ocean and feeling Hitoshi staring at the back of his head in shock. A mistake it may have been, but neither one of them should deny it any longer. Hitoshi arrived at Yuuei with no father, but he certainly gained on in the past year.

The pebbles crunch beneath his feet, and he finds a place to sit down and lean against a rock. Stretching out his legs, he watches Hitoshi ducking his face as he walks past Shouta, going to find Eri who is poking a toe in the ocean and screaming at the cold. The two of them walk along the shore together, daring each other to go further into the water each time. They eventually go to inspect the rock pools, Eri’s hand in Hitoshi’s, clambering the rocks and peering into the water. Shouta hears them quietly discuss the presence of crabs and uni, and he smiles.

Hizashi appears at his side. He shuffles on the ground, sighing and faffing, and Shouta rolls his eyes.

“These pebbles aren’t comfortable.”

“Of course they aren’t, they’re pebbles.”

They both look out at the ocean. It shimmers and smiles, the soft foaming waves rolling towards them.

“This was a nice surprise,” Hizashi says eventually, unable to stay silent.

Shouta snorts at the understatement. Then, “I haven’t been to the ocean in years. The last time I came was when my father took us all to visit his brother, somewhere further up the shore.”

Hizashi nods slowly. “It’s beautiful.”

“You must have seen many views like this before.”

“Not like this. Not from the ground.” Hizashi turns to look at Shouta, and he looks back. Many might say that Hizashi is strange looking, and they would not be wrong, but he is also beautiful. “Not with you.”

Shouta huffs. “Cheesy,” he complains, though he still finds his hand stroking Hizashi’s hair out of his face, bringing him closer.

Hizashi smiles brightly. Still, even now, a brighter smile than the sun. “I like cheesy.”

“I know you do,” Shouta whispers, and kisses him. Soft, warm and gentle. He tastes like sea salt.

“How tempting it would be,” Hizashi mutters against his lips, “Just to stay here.”

Shouta looks into green eyes, marvels at the way that his skin has darkened slightly over the summer, showing tan marks around his hairline. Feels the entirely mortal warmth of his skin beneath his hands.

“We would both miss home,” Shouta replies eventually.

“Hmm,” Hizashi considers. “Yes, we probably would.”

They both turn to look back over the ocean. The sound of their children playing provides a chorus to the ocean’s song. Shouta and Hizashi sit, fingers entwined and sun watching them with warmth- a warmth uncharacteristic of autumn.

None of them know how long they spend there- but when they decide it is time to return, they walk back over to their cat spirit, who begins to roll onto its back playfully before allowing them back on for the journey home. When they ascend into the clouds, Shouta looks over his shoulder to watch the ocean disappear- the image of Hizashi’s hair flying behind him like threads of gold.