Reo thinks he’s starting to forget. He just doesn’t know what he’s forgotten.
“Did we lock the door?” he asks Mabu as they walk to work. He pats his pockets, doing the usual keys-phone-wallet check he does each time he leaves their apartment.
Beside him, Mabue slips a hand into his pocket to rattle his own keys.
“Yes. You made me double-check the lock before we left.”
“Hmm. I feel like I forgot to do something, but I don’t know what.” He thinks through the steps of their morning routine. “Do we need to buy groceries?”
“Always.” Mabu bumps his arm. Reo turns just in time to see the smirk before it slips from his face. “Are you alright?”
“You know that feeling when you know you’re forgetting something but you don’t know what?” He expects Mabu to claim he doesn’t, so it’s surprising to see him nod.
“I think it’s Keppi,” he says, adjusting his glasses. “Something he did. Or is doing.”
“You don’t seem concerned.”
They turn a corner, nearing the garage where the rickshaws are locked up. Mabu takes out his bunch of keys in readiness.
“I trust Keppi.” With deft fingers, Mabu opens the big padlock on the garage door. Together, they slide the doors open, and Reo hits the lights. “And I still remember everything important. We were police officers first, here in Akatsuka. Then we found Sara, and looked after her together until Keppi found us. We served Keppi in the kappa kingdom, until…” He trails off, no words needed for that part. The words sound almost mundane in such a normal space. “Then we were indebted to the otters, until we found Keppi again. Now we run this place.” He gestures around the small lock-up, to the two rickshaws and the tiny office that Keppi had somehow conjured into being, already registered in their names with ledgers and accounts in the office. Reo can’t help a smile as he takes it all in.
“We run a run-around business.” Their shared joke, and Mabu smiles like always. “Couple of run-around guys, runnin’ folk around.”
In the office, Mabu makes up two change-floats while Reo changes into his uniform. He puts a hand on Mabu’s arm, not such a reach in the cramped space.
“I almost lost you,” he whispers. His pain is reflected in Mabu’s eyes. “I can’t forget that.”
“You found me again. That’s the important part.” Mabu’s hand covers his. “We’ll always find each other.”
It’s shaping up to be a hot day. They wheel their rickshaws towards the river, where the tourists flock. Reo rolls up the sleeves of his jacket, partly to get some air, partly because he likes the way Mabu looks at his biceps.
There’s always a steady flow of passengers willing to pay someone else to move them through the steamy city heat. They meet briefly during the day, a late lunch around three, then it’s back to the streets, sunshine tourists giving way to tipsy salarymen. Reo spares a smile and a wink for two young women on a night out, and they laugh together as they pay him too much money for the ride.
In their shared apartment that night, Reo clutches at Mabu and tells him, “We found each other, we’ll always find each other.” Mabu holds him tight, begs him to never let go, and through the heat and sweat and gasps for breath, they swear their love like it’s still new.
They don’t work Mondays. It’s a day for sleeping late, for housework and groceries. They leave the house at two, and Reo double-checks the lock, pats his pockets for keys-phone-wallet.
“Did we forget something?” he asks, not ready to step away from the door.
“I have bags for the groceries,” Mabu says, showing him the tote bag slung over one arm. “You have your wallet?”
“Feels like something bigger.” He puts a hand back on the doorknob, ready to go back inside. “Did we leave the hotplate on?”
“We haven’t used it today.” Mabu hasn’t moved either; perhaps he shares the feeling, even if he doesn’t say so. Reo reaches for his hand, feels the familiar squeeze.
“We were police officers.” He begins their checklist, grasping for the reassurance of the routine. “Good ones. Then we found Sara.”
“Then Keppi found us,” Mabu picks up. “We were vassals for the Kappa prince until the otter invasion. Then we were indebted to the otters, until…” He grasps Reo’s hand tighter. “We found Keppi again. Now we run the rickshaw business.”
“Couple of run-around guys, runnin’ folk around.”
He lets go of Mabu’s hand as they walk into town.
They walk close enough that their shoulders bump, hands brush, warm flesh in the summer heat.
“Sara.” Reo tries out the name, needs to keep it on his tongue. “We found her.”
“We found her.”
“But...how did we find her?”
Without looking, he senses the brief falter in Mabu’s steps.
“At work,” he answers, uncertain. “We were working. We looked after her in our office.”
“I remember that,” he says, firm but not harsh. “But where did we find her? Did someone bring her to us? Was she abandoned on our doorstep?”
There are other pedestrians around them now. Reo fights to keep his voice even.
Mabu doesn’t answer.
“I don’t want to forget Sara.” Their hands brush once, twice. “We can’t forget her.”
“I think she’ll remember us.” Now Mabu sounds more certain. “She remembered us before. What’s happening, whatever we’re forgetting, I think it’s only us.”
“You think so?”
“I trust Keppi,” is all Mabu will say.
They take their time in the supermarket, making plans for meals and bickering half-heartedly over which beer to buy, which cuts of meat are the best value. Reo spares a smile and a wink for the man at the fish counter, who sneaks a ‘reduced’ sticker on to a pack of salmon fillets for him.
They split the bags between them when they leave, taking a more roundabout route to the apartment. Crossing the bridge, they spot a couple of familiar faces.
The boys don’t startle anymore when they see Reo and Mabu, although they still shuffle closer together, each trying to put himself in front of the other.
Today, it’s Jinnai who wins, edging just in front of Yasaka. Not that Reo blames them. Yasaka plays it off as casual, slinging an arm over Jinnai’s shoulder and pressing up against his side.
“Not playing today?” Reo points with his foot at the ball sitting idle on the ground.
Both boys share a look that’s easy to read.
“Doesn’t feel the same without him, eh? I know that feeling.” A quick glance around shows no one’s watching them; Reo, brave, leans his elbow on Mabu’s shoulder, copying the boys and their closeness. “But don’t fall out of practice. Maybe we’ll give you a game sometime.” He feels Mabu nod his agreement.
They don’t linger. They’re only checking in. Part of Keppi’s arrangement to give them a new start: watch out for the boys. Keep them safe, keep them together.
Thursday is slow. Rainclouds send people scurrying for proper taxis. They take a long lunchbreak, walking to Kappabashi Dougu under a shared umbrella.
It doesn’t rain inside the square; instead, the light is warmer, and Keppi and Sara seem almost to glow as they sit at the base of the flowering cucumber vine. Sara, in her human-idol form, notices them first, nudging the white lump in her lap.
Mabu offers them both bottles of water from a konbini bag, and Reo fights the urge to bow. Even if they’re no longer his vassals, they literally owe him their lives, but he looks like an over-stuffed cushion and she’s the baby they...found? Rescued? The details are hazy.
They sit on the wall where the statue used to be, watching people passing by out on the sidewalk.
“I feel like I’m starting to forget,” Reo tells them when his own bottle is almost drained. “We both are.”
Keppi, currently poking at the cucumber vine, waddles back over.
“The circle is closing itself,” he says, like that explains everything. “Time heals all wounds, as they say, and it heals itself too. Stitching up the scars.”
Reo doesn’t want to think of his past as a wound, for all the pain it has caused.
“So there’s nothing we can do?”
“Broken bones become stronger when they re-set. Scar tissue might feel odd, but it serves its purpose well enough.”
That’s all they can get out of him before Keppi insists they have to return. The kappa kingdom is mending too, those once scattered and lost slowly returning to greet their prince.
“What if we forget it all?” Reo asks, back at their apartment. In the kitchen, Mabu turns from his cooking and pulls Reo close.
“We will hold on to every memory for as long as we can,” he says, his forehead pressed to Reo’s, his breath warm on Reo’s lips.
In the dark, in their bed, they recite their list.
“We were police officers -”
“Good ones. Then...Sara.”
“Then Keppi. We were servants of the kappa kingdom. Then…”
“Then the otters tried to keep you from me.”
“But...we found each other.”
“We will always find each other.”
On Sunday, they start early and finish early, and change out of their sweaty uniforms in the office, before heading out. They cross the bridge, and Mabu points down to where the boys are half-heartedly kicking a ball between themselves, down by the water.
They amble on down, ignoring their tired limbs to challenge the kids to a game. There’s not much room to run, so it’s mostly quick passes and sharp shots at goal, each taking a turn as keeper. Reo laughs at the way Mabu becomes quietly competitive when faced with Jinnai’s deft tackles or the way Yasaka can bend the ball when he shoots.
“How’s your friend doing?” Reo asks, when they’re all too tired to care about sadness.
“We visited yesterday,” Jinnai tells him. “Took two buses to get there. But he says he hasn’t been in a fight for a whole month now.”
“We’re going again next week,” says Yasaka, picking up the ball. He and Jinnai share a look, a whole conversation with their eyes that Reo recognises. “Do...you want to see him too?”
Mabu checks the ledgers and decides they can afford a day off. They meet the boys at the bus station early on a Saturday morning, and Reo pays for everyone’ fare. The boys don’t protest, and don’t say thanks. Penance, Reo thinks, shoving his wallet into his back pocket.
Jinnai and Yasaka read a manga together in adjacent seats; Reo and Mabu sit behind them, and Reo doesn’t pretend that he’s not reading over their shoulder. They transfer buses, waiting half an hour and eating vending machine snacks that Mabu pays for before their second ride. The sky never seems to get fully light; clouds, or smog, or something, keep a strange grey softness over the horizon.
The detention centre smells like sweat and bleach, and Mabu presses a handkerchief to his nose. Reo thinks he recognises one of the staff, but can’t say from where. It’s a pitiful number of boys who line up to greet visitors, mostly quiet family, disappointed parents and grandparents and someone’s lawyer.
Jinnai and Yasaka pay no heed to the morbid quiet, calling out to Kuji and waving as they head to his table.
They hang back, letting the boys take their turn first, but Kuji has spotted them anyway.
While they wait, Mabu reads a discarded day-old newspaper and Reo reads the boys’ manga. It’s hard to hear what the boys are talking about, but from the way they keep looking over, it’s fairly obvious.
Reo tries not to look, but he notices the way their hands all lay in the centre of the table, close enough to touch if only they dared.
“You ever think about kids?” he whispers to Mabu, wary of the guard a few metres from where they sit.
“Kids in general?” Mabu turns the page of his newspaper.
“Our kids. I mean, not them.” He gestures to the boys without looking at them. “Like, I know we can’t have kids, but… You ever think, what if?” When the guard isn’t looking, he bumps Mabu’s shoulder. “I used to babysit the neighbourhood kids when I was young. I think I’m good with kids.”
“You’d make a great dad,” Mabu tells him.
“You too.” Together, they look at the boys, and Reo wishes he could take Mabu’s hand. “Guess we’ll have to make do with doing our best by them.”
When it’s their turn, they take their seats at Kuji’s table. Without the long hair to hide behind, he settles for scratching at a chip in the table-top to keep from looking at them. Reo feels the twinge in his chest, fights the urge to rub at the scar.
“You staying out of trouble?” he asks, with a lop-sided smile.
“I’m already in trouble,” the kid grumbles, rolling his eyes. “That’s why I’m here.”
“True.” Reo clasps his hands on the table. Underneath it, Mabu bumps his knee. “How long has it been?”
“Nine months.” Kuji’s fingers tap-tap at the table.
“Jeez, already? That’s long enough to make a whole baby!”
Kuji huffs a laugh, looking like it caught him off-guard.
Mabu turns in his seat, just a little. “You have babies on the brain today.”
“Must be spending time with the kiddos,” he answers, pointing with a thumb back at Yasaka and Jinnai. “Somebody’s gotta look out for ‘em, and we don’t have anyone else to…” What starts out as a joke turns sour in his mouth. Why does he have babies on the brain?
“You’re keeping an eye on them?” Kuji looks over at his friends, and there’s hope in his voice, hope and envy and reassurance. “Good. Those dumbasses aren’t much use without me.”
“And you too, if you want.”
Kuji curls his fingers tight, looks away since he can’t hide behind his hair. He won’t apologise, and Reo won’t let him. An eye for an eye, after all.
“Well, if it means I get a visitation where I don’t have to look at their ugly mugs for the whole hour, it can’t hurt,” Kuji says. The laughter bubbles up in Reo’s throat before he can stop it; beside him, Mabu hums through his smile.
“Whatever gets you through, kid.”
Back on the bus, Mabu leans just a little on Reo’s shoulder. Yasaka and Jinnai doze for most of the way, less cautious about their casual touches. They sleepwalk through the transfer, nod off again on the second bus, Jinnai’s glasses smushed against Yasaka’s cheek. It can’t be comfortable, but they seem to make do.
It’s late afternoon when they see the kids off by the bridge and head home. Too late to consider doing anything else productive for the rest of the day. They pick up take-out, feeling indulgent, and graze as they sprawl on cushions on the floor, some old sentai show on the tiny TV that they make fun of. After dinner, Reo leans against Mabu, and feels Mabu’s fingers graze the knot of scar-tissue on his back.
“I like that you want to look out for them,” Mabu tells him, nose brushing Reo’s hair.
“Well, Keppi asked us to. Said they were important. I figured it was about evening things out after... After everything.”
“True. But you like looking out for them.”
He doesn’t deny it. In the quiet of their apartment, he hides his face in Mabu’s chest, and confesses, “I just think, if things were different - if we’d had the chance, we could be good parents. Give some lonely kid a good home.”
He can feel Mabu’s lips against his forehead when he speaks.
“That would be nice.”
Later, in the dark, he kisses the old scar on Mabu’s shoulder.
“Is that our thing?” he asks, as Mabu’s hands drift down. “Finding people? You found me. And after the otters, we found each other again, and now we found the kids.”
“Don’t talk about kids right now,” Mabu scolds, tightening his grip.
He wants to laugh, but Mabu kisses the sound away before he makes it.
Fridays are always busy. They start late, but make more in one evening than any other day. Reo locks the apartment door, checks the doorknob, and pats his pockets for keys-phone-wallet.
“Did we forget something?” He mentally runs over their morning routine. “You turned the hotplate off, right?”
“I did.” Mabu pats his own pockets. Checks the bag on his shoulder to make sure their washed uniforms are all there.
They look at each other, before Reo grabs for Mabu’s hand.
“We were police officers.” He starts the list, eyes locked with Mabu’s. “Good ones.”
“Then...Prince Keppi found us. We were royal guards.”
“Then the invasion. The otters kept you from me.”
“Then Keppi sent us back here. Gave us the business to run. Asked us to watch over the boys.”
He squeezes Mabu’s hand.
“We’re missing something.” He hates the way his voice falters.
“We found each other,” Mabu assures him. “That’s the most important part.”
The summer draws to a close, the tourists opt for boat trips, and they work later nights to pick up more drunk salarymen. Once a week, they play football with Yasaka and Jinnai, and once a month, they take two buses to visit Kuji.
When the weather turns colder, they talk about adding different services to their business. Few people want rickshaw rides in the snow. They consult their ledgers and their savings, and take out a small loan to add a motorised rickshaw to their garage. Reo prefers to stick to the one he’s been pulling for the past year, but he likes to see Mabu helping families up into the seats before zipping off into the busy traffic. Mabu admits that he likes to watch Reo pull the old rickshaw like it weighs nothing.
The business is still in the black, but Reo picks up a once-a-week bar shift to boost their savings. He treats Mabu to a night away, the first week in January, since they worked all through Christmas and New Year. They take the train to the mountains, spend the night at an inn with a lush indoor spa.
When it’s just the two of them soaking in the water, he lets Mabu knead the knotted scar tissue on his back. He doesn’t often think about the night he got shot; the details are hazy, and Mabu wasn’t around to fill him in. He puts it down to hospital medication and mental repression, and figures maybe it’s best not to remember.
He returns the favour with the older scar on Mabu’s shoulder, the weird-shaped one from their military days. They don’t talk about that one either. All he remembers is Mabu throwing himself in front of Reo to take a hit when they lost whoever they were supposed to be guarding. It’s in the past, and all that matters is that he and Mabu both made it out together.
One Monday, Reo is halfway through washing their work uniforms, when something tugs at his memory. He holds up his own jacket, noting the carefully mended tear on one sleeve, and considers something.
“Think it’s time for new uniforms?” he calls to Mabu, who’s currently in the middle of making lunch. “We’ve been wearing these every day for close to two years. Maybe they’re starting to look a little worn out?”
Mabu turns down the hotplate and leaves the kitchenette to join him on the balcony. He drapes his jacket over the drying rack and picks up Mabu’s.
“Did you have anything in mind?”
He looks at the jacket, then looks at Mabu, and purses his lips in concentration.
“Blue,” he decides. “I think I’d like to see you in blue.”
“What brought this on?” Mabu leans against the open frame of the sliding door, spatula still in hand, and quirks his mouth in a half-smile.
“Dunno.” He hangs up Mabu’s jacket to dry. “Just...thinking. Maybe not blue.” He feels an odd twinge in his chest. “On second thought, let’s stick with this colour. I like seeing you in this colour.”
“You like seeing me in anything.”
Unable to resist such an obvious set-up, he ignores the laundry and moves to wrap his arms around Mabu’s waist. “I like seeing you best in nothing at all.”
“The pan will boil over.” Mabu doesn’t try to move.
“We’d best be quick, then.”
Once a month, they take two buses to visit the kid who shot Reo. Restorative justice, or something. Sometimes they go with Kuji’s friends, the ones who were there that night. Sometimes it’s just the two of them. There’s never much to talk about, but the kid seems to appreciate the visits. He asks them to update him on sports news, and sometimes they bring him books to read, or letters from the other two boys.
Each time they pass the guards, Reo feels a prickle of cold anger he can’t quite explain, and some sense of shame he doesn’t want to.
On days they don’t work, they sometimes take a walk around the neighbourhood. There’s always a familiar face to stop and pass the time with, or a neighbour who might need some odd job doing.
A new family moves in to the next apartment, with a rambunctious five-year-old and a new baby. The five-year-old carries a basketball bigger than her own head, and Reo offers to teach her how to dribble.
Sometimes the neighbours ask them to babysit, and Reo and Mabu never turn them down.
They sell one of the old rickshaws, buy a touring cycle. An older model, which they work on restoring. They paint it purple to match their jackets, paint the business name on the back, and Reo asks if they should add some decoration on the side.
“Some kanji. Something inspirational,” he muses when Mabu asks for ideas.
“‘Fast’?” Mabu suggests. His hands are paint-stained.
Reo shakes his head. “We want people to enjoy their ride, not worry that we’ll go so fast they fall out.” He leans an elbow on Mabu’s shoulder to show he’s just teasing.
“‘Partners’, then. We could paint the other one to match.”
“Cute.” Reo looks at the little pedal-rickshaw, pictures it with ribbons streaming from the roof as it zips through the streets of Asakusa. Thinks about how each day ends with him and Mabu counting their takings and totting up figures in the ledger, thinks about their growing savings, and whatever it is they’re supposed to be saving for. It’s not often they talk about the future. The past has been difficult enough, and right now feels like more than enough. Still, there ought to be something.
He grabs a pencil, sketches something out on the back of a receipt from his wallet. Shows it to Mabu, who nods.
Reo does the work because Mabu’s writing still looks like caterpillars crawled through some ink. It’s not perfect, but then perhaps that’s fitting. When he’s done, he stands back and the two of them take a moment to appreciate it all; their hard work on the restoration and the vibrant purple and Reo’s writing, ‘hope’, above the back wheel-arch where a boat would have its name.
It’s an unexpectedly warm day in early spring, and Reo feels something in the air. They both wake up early, and he makes a perfect pot of coffee. Mabu hums while he makes breakfast, and Reo opens up the balcony door to let in some fresh air.
They’re early to the garage, but there’s already someone waiting for them.
Reo feels a pull at his chest. When was the last time they’d visited? They’d skipped a month when the streets were too busy to pass up a day’s work, and no one had chased them up, so they’d figured the whole restorative justice thing was perhaps less formal than they thought. Then the next month Mabu had a nasty cold and needed to rest up, so he’d stayed home to take care of him. Then...had they forgotten?
He feels a faint tug at his memories, a feeling that he’s forgetting something else too. The kid looks irritated, but then hasn’t he always?
“I need a job,” he tells them, no greeting or preamble.
Mabu and Reo exchange a look, as Mabu takes out the key to the padlock.
They train him on the old rickshaw. He handles the weight no problem, and he’s probably fitter than Reo was the first time he tried it. There’s just one problem.
“Customers like a smile,” he tells the kid, giving into the impulse to ruffle his hair. Hardly a kid, now; he’s almost as tall as Reo himself. He doesn’t complain too much about the touch.
“They only see the back of my head,” Kuji grumbles. They’ve stopped to grab some food, as the afternoon tourists start heading inside cafes and restaurants for their own dinner. They’re not far from the river, and there’s a pleasant breeze to cool the sweat on Reo’s neck. He hasn’t been this active for a while, not since they got the pedal-rickshaw, and the ache in his muscles feels wonderfully familiar. He’s handled all the customer service up to now; Kuji still knows the streets like he hasn’t been out of town for three years, but he hasn’t said anything beyond asking customers for their destination.
“But you need to get them to choose you before they climb in.” Reo greets an elderly couple passing by; he’s not sure where he knows them from, but their faces are familiar. “We’re not the only rickshaw company in town. You have to beat out the competition. Starting with me and Mabu. Show them you can offer something even better than my winning smile!” He takes their empty food wrappers and stuffs them in a nearby bin, wiping his hands on a tissue from his pocket. “Pretend it’s your buddies you’re talking to. I’ve seen you smile at them enough times.”
Kuji huffs and turns his head, but Reo catches the blush on his cheeks all the same.
They get back to the rickshaw, ready for the second half of their shift. They don’t wait long before a young woman approaches. She’s not dressed like a local, but she doesn’t have the air of a tourist either.
“Could we get a ride?” she asks. The ‘we’ seems to include a small white dog on a red leash wrapped around her wrist. No breed that Reo recognises, but it’s small and docile and shouldn’t be any problem.
“Sure,” Kuji answers before Reo can say anything. “Everyone’s welcome.” It’s not quite a smile on his face, but at least he’s looking at her. Is he still blushing?
Reo gives the woman a once-over: long hair down to her waist, mini-skirt and sandals, tiny handbag that can’t possibly hold anything useful. He doesn’t know that much about Kuji’s tastes, but he’s a little surprised the kid seems interested. She scoops up the pup and holds out a free hand, and Reo gawks as Kuji helps her up into the seat. She treats him to a smile and a giggle, before he asks, “Where to?”
“Just around and back here will do,” she tells him. “We’re just out to get some fresh air.”
Kuji nods, and picks up the shafts, careful not to rock the seat too much.
“I can handle this one myself,” he tells Reo, setting off before Reo can protest.
While he waits for them to return, he fires off a text message to Mabu, lets him know the kid’s doing fine. He takes advantage of the rare break to sit on a bench overlooking the water. They’ll have to figure out the paperwork to make sure everything’s legit for the kid’s wage. Last thing he needs is to be accused of taking money under the counter or something. For today, Reo figures he’ll just give the kid half of their takings in cash and fudge the ledger. Just once won’t hurt.
When they return, the woman is talking animatedly, cuddling the dog to her chest. And Kuji is - well, he’s not exactly chatting, but there are words coming out of his mouth. More than one at once.
Reo stays where he is as Kuji takes her money. He helps her out of the seat with a surprising gentleness, and Reo can’t help but stare at the way her hand lingers in his longer than necessary. She waves goodbye and heads off down the street, the little dog trotting along beside her.
Kuji doesn’t say a word. Just hands him the cash he’s taken and refuses to look him in the eye. His hair’s grown back, not completely enough to cover his face again, and he tugs it every so often like he’s willing it to grow quicker.
They finish up the rest of the shift, and Kuji seems to cope better with the evening crowd, the salarymen who just want to get to the next bar or the young couples who are happy enough to talk to each other. For some jobs, Reo runs alongside the rickshaw; for others, he lets Kuji go off on his own, and hangs around outside whatever konbini or late-night store is still open, texting back and forth with Mabu.
They all decide to knock off early, getting back to the garage around nine. It’s only just starting to get dark; still, Reo is surprised to see Yasaka and Jinnai waiting outside the locked garage. The two of them wave, calling Kuji’s given name. It’s tough to tell, but Reo thinks Kuji does at least perk up when he sees them.
He parks up the rickshaw as the two of them ask him about his day. Mabu’s already back, sitting at the desk in the office cashing out his takings. Reo makes quick work of his own, and counts out just over half to put in an envelope for the kid. They change out of their uniforms, and find the three boys still outside.
“Come back tomorrow, and we’ll talk shifts and pay,” he tells Kuji, handing him the envelope. “Here, go buy yourself something pretty.” He expects the eye-roll, but not the “thanks” that comes after.
All three boys call their goodbyes as they turn to leave, followed by an unexpected bark. Reo looks around, startled, and sees Yasaka open up the big tote bag he’s got slung on one shoulder. A fluffy white dog peeks out of the top of it. Yasaka ruffles the dog’s fur and whispers for it to settle down.
Reo watches them leave, as Mabu locks the doors.
“Something wrong?” he asks. Reo shakes his head.
Kuji settles in as well as can be expected. They get him a uniform and a bag for his cash float, and give him an impromptu test on street names before putting him in charge of the oldest rickshaw. They won’t let him work past nine, and he mostly handles the tourists, but it’s soon evident that he’s easily earning his keep and more besides. Reo and Mabu cut down to four and a half days a week.
Summer is ending, and the mornings start to feel crisp and fresh rather than sweltering. They eat breakfast together, check the news on the TV, and head out to work.
After Reo locks the door, he hesitates.
“Did we forget something?” He pats his pockets, keys-phone-wallet, but everything’s there. “Did you turn off the hotplate?”
“Definitely,” Mabu assures him. “It was cool when I wiped it down after doing the dishes.”
“Hmm. Can’t be anything important.”
They head out to work. It’s a slow day, a Tuesday, with surprisingly few people out on the streets. Reo checks the weather forecast, watches the clouds overhead, but everything seems okay. He meets up with Kuji and they buy a konbini lunch, but his phone rings before they can start to eat.
“Come back to the garage,” Mabu tells him. His voice sounds distant, like he’s not holding his phone properly.
“Is something wrong?” Reo shares a look with Kuji; the kid’s been antsy all day too, for no apparent reason other than it seems to be one of those days.
“I don’t think so. But I think we should finish early.”
Mabu doesn’t elaborate, and Reo doesn’t force the issue.
They take the vehicles back, change back into street clothes and lock the garage. Mabu double-checks everything before they leave, putting all their cash into the safe along with his wallet and apartment keys. Reo holds on to his, only because he wouldn’t be able to explain why he had to leave them behind.
The three of them walk through the streets, not towards either of their apartments.
When Kuji speaks, it’s both unexpected and a relief.
“You know that feeling like you’ve forgotten something, but you don’t know what?” he asks.
Reo and Mabu agree.
They find Jinnai and Yasaka waiting by Azuma-bashi bridge. None of them say a word as they walk, Reo and Mabu in front with the kids a few paces behind.
When they turn on to Kappabashi Dougu, Reo feels the tug at his memory grow stronger, like he’ll find what it is he wants to remember if only he keeps trying, if only he can find the right trigger-word, make the right connection. He inches closer to Mabu, bumps their shoulders together.
Behind them, the boys pick up their pace, eventually breaking into a run and pushing past them. Reo and Mabu do their best to keep up, catching them only when they come to a stop by the edge of the square.
On the street, the light is grey, clouds gathering overhead. As they step into the square, it’s like stepping into a sunset.
Keppi sits on the low wall, and though he looks up when they approach, he doesn’t look surprised to see them.
Reo feels the urge to bow, and soon gives in. Mabu does the same beside him. Even the kids bob their heads, fists clenched by their sides.
“It’s about time,” Keppi says, with no introduction, pushing to his feet. He’s in his white robes, the vaguely military uniform, but the crown and cape are missing. “You’re going to help me.”
They all nod, although they have no idea what they’re agreeing to.
“Help me find Sara.”
Without a thought, Reo reaches out, finds Mabu’s hand. Their Sara - missing?
“You found her once, you have to find her again.”
“That seems to be our thing,” Reo answers without thinking, “finding people.”
Mabu squeezes his hand. A quick look shows the boys, unsurprisingly, mimicking the gesture.
“It will be dangerous.” Keppi looks at each of them in turn. “You must be certain.”
“We found her before,” says Mabu.
“We’ll find her again,” says Reo. “Let’s go.”