Chapter 1: Opposites
The man who enters has nasty scars scribbled over his face.
"You're the coffin-maker?" the man asks, and introduces himself as Sugimoto.
That has been the last day of summer.
Hijikata drops by one day when Sugimoto is away.
"Here to see your coffin?" Ogata asks dryly, leading him towards the back. "Or here to make sure that I have not run your shop to the ground?"
"Unfortunately, I've retired, so this place is all yours." Hijikata smiles when he spots his coffin. He swipes along the edge of it, tracing the carvings. "Well done, Ogata. This is good work."
Ogata shrugs. "It still has to burn."
"That is its purpose. A coffin that cannot burn would be worthless, no matter how beautiful it is." Hijikata is already moving on to the other ones on display. These are plain: a blank foundation that will be worked on when orders come in. Ogata may only work with individualised coffins, but when it comes to size, even he has to conform to official standards. "I heard you've picked up a stray."
"Have you been listening to the gossips again?" He directs Hijikata to the workshop. "I tried to chase him away. Told him this is a dying profession, but apparently he comes from a family that used to run a funeral parlour, and that he's learnt the basics of coffin-making from his father."
There is a half-carved lid lying across the table. Sugimoto's handiwork. It is a start. Hijikata knocks on it. "Funeral parlours usually do not care for coffin-making. They outsource."
"Yeah, well, he claims not to be taking over the family business. Said he's done with funerals after his family died."
Hijikata smiles. "And he developed a morbid interest in coffins instead?"
"Hmm." Hijikata gestures for a chalk; when Ogata passes it to him, he makes a mark on Sugimoto's lid. "His story reminds me a little of yours when we first met."
"We're nothing alike."
"He's not even a local," Ogata insists, "and he's stupid."
"Is that so," Hijikata allows, “then why did you agree to let him stay?”
Ogata does not reply. He does not react to gibes, much less one from a man as shrewd as Hijikata. It is as well that Hijikata lets the matter drop; they finish their viewing, and Hijikata takes his leave without further comment.
Ogata returns to his work.
"Is it true," Ogata asks at the door, "that some of the elderly and the sickly can feel when they are about to die?"
Hijikata chuckles. "We'll find out soon," he says.
Sugimoto has been staying at the one and only inn in this town before he finally approaches Ogata. It is a small town, and therefore his options are limited. But Sugimoto claims not to mind. The innkeepers are friendly, he has said. Like family. They look out for him.
Ogata doesn’t tell him that the old couple running the inn are notorious gossips. He waits until Sugimoto figures that out for himself, and waits longer still, before Sugimoto sheepishly asks if Ogata has a spare room, the money is getting a little too tight, and I promise I’ll do all the housework!
Fortunately for everyone involved, Ogata is not the kind to reject having a free housemaid.
Summer runs late this year, the air still sticky and hot even as the trees shed their leaves. This is bad for Ogata’s business - rot is a problem - so he makes Sugimoto dismantle and clean the blades of the electric fans.
“This,” Sugimoto remarks, “is not why I came here.”
“Just shut up and clean,” Ogata replies, “I’m not wasting electricity on air-conditioning.” That privilege is reserved for the worst of the summer heat. Small town utility bills are expensive.
There has been a new commission from the nearby city. Unfortunately, it is also a time crunch, because the family has specifically requested that Ogata carve the deceased’s pet dog onto the sides of the coffin, but the funeral is in two days.
“Look here,” Ogata mutters, holding out two sketches. That dog is a ugly, slobbering thing and no matter how beloved, should not be adorning coffins. “Which of these do you like better?”
Sugimoto frowns. “The left one.” He stirs the paint in the bucket. “For this much trouble, do they pay well, at least?”
“I guess there’s that.” Sugimoto bounces on his feet. “Frankly, you don’t have to go into that much detail. I don’t think it’ll matter if the tail does not curl as much as it actually does.”
Ogata flicks some wood shavings at him. “The quality of my carvings are what makes the brand, idiot. Why else will anyone pay that much for hand-carved coffins when mass-produced caskets are much cheaper?”
“I mean, even if you gloss over some details, your works are still much better than anything else on the market,” Sugimoto argues. There is a compliment mixed in, there; Ogata refuses to preen unless Sugimoto realises his slip-up. “Your brand is the exclusivity of your work.”
“It’s not exclusive when demand drops every year.”
“Stop being so pessimistic,” Sugimoto shushes him, “I’m here to learn, aren’t I? I’m proof that there’s still demand. They just haven’t found you yet.”
“It’s true,” Sugimoto persists. “You’ll see.”
They lapse into silence as Ogata begins to carve. They are making good progress; Ogata thinks about letting Sugimoto work on one of the figures, except Sugimoto is hopeless at anything that is more complex than the more generic patterns of flowers and spirals.
“Isn’t it strange,” Sugimoto suddenly speaks, “that during the Edo period, people are buried seated?”
Ogata does not look away from his work. “What brought this on?”
“I was just thinking,” Sugimoto explains, “maybe I should build a traditional square coffin instead. Go way back. It must have been surreal, to bury the dead folded in meditation instead of letting them lie down.”
“Even better, use a barrel. Embrace the spirit of the time.”
Sugimoto’s face twists into a scowl. "Must you always be such an asshole?"
"You're free to leave if you can't take it." In fact, Ogata will appreciate the peace and quiet right now. He needs to concentrate. If he doesn't get the shape of this stupid dog's drool right, he will personally smash Sugimoto's skull in.
Ogata is sad to report that Sugimoto doesn't leave. “Do you think I should just use cardboard?” Sugimoto continues. “Since it’s all going to get burnt anyway."
"You know a cheap coffin reflects badly on the family. You can't display something subpar to guests during the wake and funeral,” Ogata reminds. “Also, your name is Sugimoto and you’re asking me this?”
Sugimoto huffs light-heartedly. “Japanese cedar it is, then.” He crouches down beside Ogata. “Oh wow." Then he adds, "I don't mean this in a good way."
Ogata sneers. "That dog is a slobbering abomination and I need everyone to know this."
"But at what cost?"
"Not my pride, that's for sure.”
Ogata will never admit it, but he likes Sugimoto's laugh. It is deep and sincere, warm in a way that feels infectious rather than alienating. "I don’t know what I expected,” Sugimoto informs, his grin easy. He picks up a scraped piece of board from the side. “You know, maybe it’s your pride that makes your carvings so good. You don’t compromise.”
A final chip; he’ll have to sand it later, but the droplet is done. Finally. “I know my strengths and weaknesses.”
“A little too well, I’ll say.” Sugimoto makes his way over to a workbench at the side. Peers at a sample sketch that Ogata has pinned up on the corkboard. “I think, when I finally built my coffin, I’ll want you to carve its finishing touches. And it’ll be the most beautiful coffin that the world has ever seen.”
The process goes like this: first the shell, next the paint and varnish, then the accessories, and finally the upholstery.
To make a whole coffin from scratch, Ogata needs close to a month. It is a tedious process exacerbated by Ogata's fixation on details, so nowadays, Ogata usually pre-makes the shell unless his customers specify otherwise.
It is strange that even with how far technology has progressed, there are specific touches that are only possible via a human hand, and of which machines cannot replicate. Hijikata used to curve the corners in this elegant trajectory that Ogata has never managed to mimic, while others have praised Ogata for this, this je ne sais quoi that breathes life into his carvings.
("My carvings?" Ogata has said, gesturing at his coffin. "You mean the decorations -"
"No," his customer assures, "the whole thing. It's strange; I never thought a coffin could hold so much character.")
He pushes the plane across the brim and there, he is satisfied. The dark wood gleams under his finger, its oil a natural varnish that smells like incense when he brings his hand to his nose.
Brush off the grains, check for rough edges; a coffin is a bed and a boat, comfortable and seaworthy. Hijikata has taught him this when Ogata's grandma died, his voice a low murmur as he makes Ogata watch him carve.
(When Ogata's grandpa passes, the same murmurs accompanies the process when Ogata carves his coffin, Hijikata's watchful eye prickling the back of his neck.)
The sun is setting; perhaps it's time for dinner. Ogata wipes his hands and hangs up his apron, before heading upstairs for a shower.
At night, Sugimoto hunches beside the lamp and practises drawing. Although everyone says that with time, anyone’s art will improve, Sugimoto has been a particularly slow learner in this area.
He is still practising when Ogata passes by the study. Ogata leans against the door frame, thumbing the edge of the cigarette box in his pocket, and advises, “You should focus on replicating fixed designs instead of creating new ones. Many others in the industry do that. It won’t make you any less of a coffin-maker.”
Sugimoto tosses his pencil down and leans back, pressing the base of his palms against his eyes. “I’m trying.”
“Then try harder,” Ogata replies reflexively. He thinks about offering Sugimoto a smoke, then decides against it. “You want to make your own coffin, don’t you?”
“Don’t mock me.” Sugimoto drops both hands to his side. “Hey, if I ask you a question, will you answer truthfully?”
“I don’t lie.”
“No, you just hoard a whole bunch of secrets.” He tilts his head back. The line of his throat, barred, makes a lovely mountain ridge that Ogata shelves away in his brain. “Ogata, tell me: why did agree to let me apprentice to you?”
Ogata raises his eyebrows. “You still came here to find me even though you think you’ll be rejected?”
“Well, yeah.” Sugimoto shrugs. “I was expecting to beg you for a week, at least. Maybe prostrate infront of your shop.” He sniggers to himself. “Try to charm you.”
“Charm me? You?”
“Never know,” Sugimoto chirps. His head lolls to a side. “You still have not answered my question.”
Ogata crosses his arms. He doesn’t know what to say. “I guess I just felt like it.”
“A whim, huh? Guess that's as good an answer as any.” Sugimoto pulls himself upright again. “Right, I should get back to drawing.”
“You mean vandalising?”
“If,” Sugimoto threatens, “I am not apprenticed to you, I will fight you.”
“Finish up early and go to sleep, Sugimoto.”
“Don’t patronise me.” Sugimoto hunches over his notepad again. “I am going to make these forty-four days count.”
Day One, a memorandum.
“Forty-four days,” Sugimoto promises, “and then I’m gone.”
“And where will you go?” Ogata asks dryly.
“Out into space,” Sugimoto answers, “back home to my planet.” Then he laughs.
Much later, Ogata will remember the helpless slouch of Sugimoto's shoulders as he stands in his shop. The bags under his eyes are a little heavy, the dimples on his cheeks are a little distracting, and Sugimoto promises to bring a whole new world to Ogata’s doorsteps, the crush of a wave of a different ocean into his.
But that is later.
Now, Ogata counts those quiet days ahead of him, looks at this strange smiling man infront of him, and finally, accedes.
Chapter 2: Sleep
Posting two chapters because it is already 19/10 where I am
Ogata’s day used to go like this:
Wakes up. Wash up. Coffee. Leaves out some food for the stray cats that meow outside his backdoor every morning. Check the corkboard and calendar. Work, lunch, work, dinner, accounts, waste time, sleep.
Now that Sugimoto is in the picture, the schedule goes like this:
Wakes up. Wash up. Sugimoto stumbles into the washroom and accidentally elbows Ogata in the face. Chaos. Finally makes it to the kitchen, where Ogata brews a full pot and Sugimoto cooks eggs for breakfast. They feed the strays at the backdoor and Sugimoto spends too long cooing at the cats before Ogata drags him in. Check the corkboard and calendar. Works, coaches Sugimoto, ends up taking an extended break, works, argues with Sugimoto whether they should eat out or cook,actually has dinner, does accounts, wastes time, sleeps.
"I think I like it here," Sugimoto says, breaking them out of routine. "It’s a much slower pace of life than the city. I have never felt so relaxed in a long time."
Personally, Ogata finds this small town incredibly boring. "Say that again after you've had to live here for a lifetime."
"It's not so bad, is it?"
"I'm surrounded by septuagenarians," Ogata complains. Fortunately for business, ordering a custom coffin from (first Hijikata, and now) Ogata, has been tradition in their town. Work for the next few years is secure.
As it turns out, Sugimoto is rather handy with virtually every other aspect of coffin-making except the decorations. This would be a good thing, except Ogata does not need anymore shells, so off to practising Sugimoto goes.
"Ow," Sugimoto mumbles.
"What," Ogata asks, finishing up some details on a sample sculpture.
"Splinter," Sugimoto answers sheepishly. There is the telltale thud as Sugimoto lowers his plank. "I'll go get it out."
Ogata hasn’t meant to probe, but he has to keep tabs on Sugimoto’s progress; when Sugimoto returns, Ogata taps his fingers on the board and observes, “You do know that roses are not in high demand?”
Sugimoto flushes. “I know that.” He snatches the board back. “I’m just practising.”
“If you’re only going to be here for forty-four days, I would rather you practise something more popular. It’ll help you more next time.”
“Not really,” Sugimoto confesses, “I only want to make one perfect coffin, and then I’m done.”
This is exasperating. “Why? No coffins in space?”
“No coffins in space,” Sugimoto allows. “And I would be too busy to carve anyway.”
That does not make any sense. “Alright then, space boy.” Ogata grabs the top of the board and tilts it down. “By the way, the angle at which you’re holding your tools is wrong. That’s why your cuts are so ugly.”
Out of all the strays, there is one that Ogata is particularly fond of.
It's an old orange tabby that is never apologetic for being the first to the bowl that Ogata sets out. It steals its share and then it leaves, climbing high onto the roof and staring down at the rest with a smugness that seems to radiate out of every twitch of its ears.
Sugimoto seems to have grown fond of it too. The other morning, he has gone back indoors to grab an additional treat that he holds up to the edge of the roof, grinning when the orange tabby inches forward for it.
"You'll make it develop a bad habit," Ogata has reminded, only for Sugimoto to shake his head.
"I think it's pregnant," Sugimoto has informed. "I don't know. Orange tabbies tend to get hungrier faster anyway, so this is alright."
But it is strange to see it in the evening.
"What's up with it?" Sugimoto exclaims, squatting down. "Hey kitty, you hungry?"
The orange tabby meows loudly. Also typical of its type; Ogata crouches beside Sugimoto. "Maybe it is forced to move from its usual haunt. Feed it and then chase it off."
"But what if it has nowhere else to go?"
"It's a stray, Sugimoto," Ogata points out. "It'll find somewhere else to go. Unless it's hurt, I won't keep them in."
"Even if it's only a day?" Sugimoto presses. "It knows us. I think it knows we're here to help."
"And if it is truly pregnant and gives birth in the house?"
Sugimoto purses his lips and starts petting the orange tabby under the chin.
"It'll be fine," Ogata insists, "it can take care of itself. We can go look for it if it stops turning up."
keep the cat?
Sometimes, funeral homes will commission a few pieces from Ogata. Standard designs, mostly: marketability is important, after all.
Ogata lets Sugimoto works on the bulk of them, although not the decorations - for those, he lets Sugimoto carve the outlines before Ogata fixes them. Sugimoto has a peculiar way when working: his expression empties out and his movements become smoother. Not one gesture is wasted, and every flick of the wrist and twist of his waist flow into each other like water.
For a man with this much grace in his movements, his sketches sure are ugly.
Ogata does not realise he is staring until Sugimoto stiffens and snaps that if you doubt my ability, then don’t let me work on these in the first place, instead of constantly surveilling me like this.
“I didn’t say I doubt you,” Ogata counters calmly. “Don’t be so insecure.”
“I am not.”
“You should be.” Ogata steps closer until he’s hovering over Sugimoto. “Because this is a mess. We’ll need to redo this piece.”
“See there, the gaps do not fit properly.” Ogata taps at the edges. “Anyone who sleeps in it will end up rolling around when the coffin is lifted.”
“Well, we can fit that with a thicker padding -”
“No,” Ogata repeats firmly. “Your solution is the equivalent of plastering a band-aid to fix a gut wound, and before you request that I let you try, my answer is no. I will not waste my resources on your stupid ideas, so move this away to be dismantled and start on a new piece.”
Sugimoto's face pinches as he straightens up; Ogata leans away. "Can you possibly," Sugimoto tries, "rephrase your criticisms into something a little less, uh, crippling to my ego, next time?"
"Subpar work doesn't deserve any watering down."
That garners a grimace. "Give me a break. I'm usually not this bad."
"All the more to make sure that you'll never be this bad again."
Sugimoto throws his hands up. "There is no winning with you," he accuses, already making for the handcart. "Fine. If you want good work, I'll show you the best work. Just stop breathing down my neck over every little thing. It's stressful."
So Ogata goes for a smoke.
True to his word, after Ogata returns, Sugimoto has indeed been more precise with his work.
Let it not be said that Ogata doesn't appreciate competency. Because he does. Very much. And Sugimoto, despite all his flaws, is a man who gets things done.
Ogata traces the arc of a coffin and thinks about the flower branches that he will carve into it. Perhaps he'll sneak in a rose, thorns and all.
Sugimoto lowers the book. “I hate the protagonist.”
“He is whiny,” Ogata agrees. He continues folding his laundry. “If you don’t like that book, then get another one. I have a whole shelf.”
“You should drop it off at the book exchange corner.” Sugimoto slides down from the couch. Crosses his legs. “Need help?”
“No, I’m done.” Ogata folds his last piece and lifts up the stack of clothes. “The weather will turn chilly soon. Did you bring enough clothes?”
“Hopefully.” Sugimoto grabs his ankles and rocks backwards. “Huh, the sky is clear tonight.”
“Want to go stargazing?” Sugimoto suggests. At Ogata’s hesitation, he adds, “There aren’t any stars in the city.”
“And why should I care?” But Ogata relents anyway, and before long they have climbed onto the rooftop.
“Careful with the ladder,” Ogata warns, seizing it before the whole thing topples. “Unless you don’t want to get back down.”
“Honestly? I won’t mind that.” Sugimoto stares up at the sky, a brilliant grin across his face, the breeze ruffling his hair. “This is lovely. I feel like i can sleep forever out here, under the stars.”
His fingers feel stiff with cold; Ogata clenches his hands. “You’ll roll off the roof in your sleep and break your neck.”
“Nah.” As if to prove his point, Sugimoto lies down, cushioning the back of his head with his arm. “Hey, lie down with me. It’s embarrassing to lie down alone. And I promise it’s comfortable.” Ogata is not impressed. “What have you got to lose? Come on. Stargazing doesn’t feel the same unless you’re lying down.”
“You sound like you know a lot about stargazing.”
“I sure do,” Sugimoto agrees. “The city has no stars, but from my planet, there are more constellations you can see that it is impossible to identify them all.”
And there it is again, Sugimoto’s planet. “You’re always talking about your planet,” Ogata points out, “but if it’s as you said, that it’s so far away that no one on Earth has managed to find it yet, then how do you know it still exists? Maybe it has already died.”
“And maybe if I return to it and glance over at Earth, Earth would already be dead too.” Sugimoto rolls over to his side. “I won’t know until I go back. So I am not going to care - that is a problem for another day. Now, I am going to lie down and enjoy the stars, and you are going to lie down with me so it is easier to point out the constellations to you.”
Ogata rolls his eyes. “I don’t care for constellations.”
“And I should care because?”
Sugimoto huffs. “Just lie the fuck down, Ogata.”
There is something very satisfying about pressing somebody’s buttons; it’s funny to see people fume, as though there is any point to getting angry except making it infinitely harder to solve a problem. Ogata lies down. “Go on then, show me the constellations.”
“Alright, let’s start with the common ones.” Sugimoto points at the three stars shining together in a line. “See that string of stars? That three brightest one? They call it Orion’s Belt now, but we know they form the string of the old hand drum. There must be a theatre performance going on amidst the galaxies.”
Ogata turns his head. “Do you call it a hand drum on your planet too?”
“Nope.” Sugimoto’s lips are twitching. “You do not want to know what it’s called.”
“It’s not very, uh.” Inexplicably, Sugimoto blushes. “You know.”
“Yes.” Clears his throat. “Anyway, look there: that’s the princess and her lover. Since the Tanabata festival ended a few months back, I guess it’s going to be awhile before they meet again.”
“And those are the seven stars of the Big Dipper.”
“Yeah.” Sugimoto glances at him curiously. “I thought you don’t care for constellations?”
“I don’t. But I recognise that one.”
“Can you recognise the North Star too?” Sugimto asks. When Ogata points it out, his laugh sounds embarrassed. “Yeah, obviously you can, if you recognised the Big Dipper.” He surveys the skies. “Stars here are much quieter, huh?”
“Their voices,” Sugimoto clarifies. “Can you hear the stars laughing? It’s very soft, but if you strain your ears, you can hear them.”
The only thing that Ogata can hear is the hooting of owls. “I don’t hear shit.”
“No, try harder.” Sugimoto scoots closer. “Their laugh is delightful, you have to hear them.”
Ogata blinks. There is no harm in entertaining Sugimoto’s oddities. “Describe their laugh to me.”
“Bright,” Sugimoto replies without hesitation, “cosmic. Wondrous, like the crackle of firewood during the coldest solstice. Although I may be generalising; one of the cluster stars have a weird laugh, but in a way that is kinda cute. It sounds like yours, actually.”
It takes too long for the implications to take root. “Are you -”
“I mean,” Sugimoto backtracks. “Actually, um.” His tongue darts out to swipe over his bottom lip. “Objectively, yes? Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”
As Sugimoto speaks, he leans forward, as though that will add emphasis to his words. He is so close that Ogata can feel the brush of his breath, the edges of his scars, every tremble of his lashes.
"Hey," Sugimoto is saying. He is staring at Ogata, his mouth slightly agape, and Ogata finds himself thinking about how Sugimoto's lips are chapped before he catches himself.
(Ogata could, he could -)
And this is the moment that Ogata realises that he may be absolutely fucked.
> not yet
Chapter 3: Reincarnation
A late one because I messed up, oops
You picked yes. Unlocked reincarnation route.
In a dream, he sees Sugimoto’s face.
Sugimoto’s face is calm. Peaceful, almost, if it isn’t so unnervingly steel. Like a doll, Ogata thinks, and trails a finger along the scar on Sugimoto’s face.
He does not expect Sugimoto’s eyes to spring open. Ogata jerks away, except Sugimoto does not react. He does not seem to even be alive, unflinching and unblinking when Ogata waves a palm infront of his eyes.
So Ogata touches Sugimoto’s scars again. Feel the unnerving tenderness under his finger. What if he digs his nail in -
The blood that flows is dark as the old ink in the pot that his mother used to own: its scent thick like molten chocolate, its darkness consuming everything it touches.
The cold sets in fast and bitter.
Sugimoto sweeps the lawn. Sneezes. He’s wearing his scarf more often than not now. When he catches Ogata watching, he ducks his head; then, as though struck with sudden clarity, Sugimoto stops himself and stares back.
Well then, if that’s how he wants it to be. Ogata opens the window. “Someone will be delivering lumber today,” he announces, “give me a shout when he arrives.”
He shuts the window without waiting for Sugimoto's reply. Draws the curtains close too, since Sugimoto is being stupid about this.
Ogata is in the workshop when Sugimoto peers into the room. “The guy is here,” Sugimoto informs flatly, before retreating again.
His knees creak when Ogata pushes himself up; ugh, he’s getting older. He pulls up the roller door and there Kiroranke stands, with his ugly pick-up. “I see you have still not replaced that old truck.”
“And I see that you have yourself a new boy,” Kiroranke counters, amusement showing in the crinkle at the corners of his eyes. He chuckles when Ogata tosses him a menacing smile. “Why so disgruntled? Ooh, did something happen between the two of you?”
Kiroranke’s face lights up. “Wait, you didn’t -”
"Get your mind out of the gutter," Ogata taunts, "it's only a kiss."
That's a lie. It's not just a kiss. Clothes have been undressed. Handjobs have been exchanged. They did not stop at a kiss.
They have also still not talked about it.
In Ogata’s opinion, there is nothing to talk about. Except Sugimoto is reacting like that, and he’s not leaving anytime soon, so.
“I have to say, I’m surprised.” Kiroranke lowers the tailgate. “It is not like you to fall for someone so quickly."
“You think I’ve fallen for him?” The worst part of this entire situation is that Ogata knows that. He feels out of character, too unlike himself to deal with Sugimoto seriously. Although, Kiroranke will have to beat it out of him for Ogata to admit that. “Sure, feelings are involved. They’re called lust.”
Kiroranke pauses. “Ogata.”
“I think I’ve known you long enough to tell when it’s more than that.” He starts to unload the lumber onto Ogata’s cart. “You’ve never been a good liar.”
Ogata clicks his tongue. “I don’t lie.”
“Sorry, my bad. You only omit facts to make me feel bad.” Kiroranke climbs onto the back of the pick-up. “Hey, you’ll need to help me with this one, it’s too big for the cart.”
They heave the log down. Distantly, Ogata recalls that he should have had Sugimoto help Kiroranke instead - Sugimoto has bigger muscles, after all, and he ought to put them to good use - but then Kiroranke will start talking shit again and Ogata does not need this.
The log is stacked by the wall. The cart is pushed in and the lumber unloaded again. Kiroranke straightens up. “That’s all,” Kiroranke tells him, “I’ll see you around. You know, give me a call if you need a drink or something. I am usually free on Thursday nights.”
See, the thing about Kiroranke is that he is the closest that Ogata has to a friend. Perhaps in another world, maybe they will be something more, but in this one, it strikes Ogata with sudden melancholy as he stares after Kiroranke’s back, curving as he puts up the hatchback.
(If Ogata tells him will he...)
Ogata hesitates. “Actually,” he begins, and struggles again. “Look, if you laugh, I can and will rip off your tongue.”
“Duly noted.” Kiroranke wipes his palms on his jeans. “Go on.”
This is vaguely embarrassing. “About Sugimoto, I feel that - it feels, it feels like I’ve known him before.”
“He has never been to our town before, has he?”
Kiroranke hums as he ponders. “Perhaps you’ve met him when you were in the city?”
Maybe this is why Ogata has agreed to let Sugimoto apprentice to him. A sense of familiarity makes the brain play tricks on him. “Possibly,” Ogata allows, “but if it is enough to make an impression, then I should have remembered him.”
“Then maybe you’ve seen him in a dream?” he suggests. “Or even, perhaps the two of you are acquainted in your past lives?”
“Don’t give me that bullshit, Kiroranke.”
“For a man in your line of work,” Kiroranke points out, “you sure are skeptical about anything that is not firmly grounded in reality. But not everything in this world can be explained. The universe is weird like that.”
Anything that comes before his employ as a coffin maker feels like a different lifetime to Ogata already, much less whatever that can possibly come before; Ogata does not have the patience for such conjectures. “Then there is no point in wondering, is there?” he challenges. “Forget it. I don’t know why I told you. It’s all déjà vu anyway.”
Kiroranke stares at him for a long time before giving up with a sigh. He slides into the driver’s seat. “I can’t tell you what to think,” he says, “but if you need someone, I’ll be around. Wish you all the best with your guy.”
“Get lost already.”
With a quick salute, Kiroranke drives off. Ogata stares after the dust that is stirred up, and turns around to lower the roller door.
Later, Sugimoto asks, “Who’s that?”
“An acquaintance.” An understatement. “He delivers the lumber when I tell him to. The next time he shows up, just do as he says.”
“Sure.” Sugimoto draws a knee up to his chest. He looks softer like this, dressed in a loose hoodie and a looser pair of sweatpants. There is a book on his lap. Ogata has never read it. He has gotten it on a whim because he likes the cover, and subsequently forgot it on the bookshelf.
“I’m going to make coffee,” Ogata informs, “want some?”
“Up to you.”
“Want me to suck you off while we’re at it?”
“Yeah - wait what?” Sugimoto startles so dramatically that he drops the book. “No! Why would you say that?”
“Just checking if you’re listening.” Ogata tilts his chin. "I'm making coffee. Two cubes of sugar and with cream?"
"Huh," Ogata remarks, "you really weren't listening," and heads off into the kitchen.
Then he makes coffee.
Ogata is the type of person does not care for either coffee or tea. So long as the caffeine kicks in, or that it warms the body, brewing tactics don't matter that much to him. So one year, Hijikata decides that enough is enough and forces Ogata to at least, please learn to use a French Press properly.
And when Kiroranke hears about this, he first laughs so hard that he tears up. Then, as an act of passive-aggression, he also buys Ogata a French Press and a few packets of ground coffee.
So there. Now Ogata can make coffee fancier than instant powder, and Sugimoto gets to enjoy the fruits of Ogata's labour.
Play mobile-friendly minigame to help Ogata make the perfect cuppa?
"Here's yours," Ogata declares when he returns to the living room.
The book has been shoved onto the side table. Sugimoto is literally sitting on his hands. It annoys Ogata how much the innocence of this image endears Sugimoto to him.
Sugimoto accepts his mug. "Thanks."
Ogata shrugs. He resumes his seat beside Sugimoto. He has been browsing through Sugimoto's work, earlier, before he set it aside: the boards that Sugimoto is working on look more like flotsam than an unfinished piece. It may be callous of him, but Ogata sincerely thinks that Sugimoto is not cut out for the type of work he wants to do, especially with his self-imposed time limit. Ogata toes at one of the boards on the coffee desk. "We need to talk about -"
"Can we not?" Sugimoto blurts.
Ogata blinks slowly. He closes his mouth. Then, "Say that again?"
Sugimoto grits his teeth. "If you're going to throw me out, then -"
"I'm not going to throw you out."
"But last night," Sugimoto argues. He turns away in frustration, then shifts back again, tugging at his hair. Is that why it's always so messy? "I feel like I'm leading you on."
Ogata does not know what expression is on his face right now, but he knows it isn't pretty. "I," he enunciates slowly, "am the one who kissed you."
"Yes, but I was the one who insisted on going up onto the roof."
"Sugimoto," Ogata interrupts, "lying on the roof is not romantic. It is nerve-wracking. Do you know how old this building is? A tile could come loose at any moment, and then we will slip and break our necks."
"Then I shouldn't have kissed you back," Sugimoto retorts, "that's not fair. I know I'm not going to stay."
Ogata takes a careful sip of his coffee. Then he places it down. Gestures at Sugimoto to put down his mug and come closer (Sugimoto squirming, begins, "But -" before Ogata shushes him) and then closer still.
"Listen," Ogata mutters lightly, "I'm not going to marry you. It doesn't have to mean anything serious."
Sugimoto stares at him, his expression suddenly indecipherable.
(Unseeing, like a dream.)
"We can either blue-ball each other, or we can do something about it." He leans in closer, propping himself up with a knee between Sugimoto’s thighs and ah, Sugimoto has rested a hand on Ogata's hip. Finally. "So I am only going to ask once: do you want this?”
Sugimoto wets his lips, but does not speak. Does not move away, when Ogata grabs onto his collar to pull himself forward, and parts his lips when Ogata kisses him, slow but certain.
Then in a flurry of movements, Sugimoto flips them over.
It knocks the breath out of Ogata when his back hits the cushion - he’s really becoming old - but then Sugimoto presses in and it’s, it’s greedy, the way Sugimoto kisses: forceful and demanding, and it steals the air out of Ogata’s lungs when Sugimoto pulls away.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” Sugimoto grumbles, and tugs off his hoodie.
Ah, Ogata is in for a treat; he kneads against the muscles on Sugimoto’s abdomen and then up until he cups Sugimoto’s pecs. “This is lovely,” he teases, snorting when it incurs a scowl. He pushes his hands down again to hold Sugimoto by the waist. “Any hard limits?”
Sugimoto covers Ogata’s hands with his. “Can we stick with what we’ve done last night?” His grip tightens. “Just for today. I don’t -”
“Oh.” He looks surprised. For fuck’s sake. What did this man think Ogata is, some sort of sexual deviant who can’t compromise? “Then uh. Um.”
“If you say thank you, I would get up and whack your carvings over your head,” Ogata threatens. He rocks his hips up, struggling to retract his hands and shimmy out of his trousers when Sugimoto figures out what’s going on and helps him along.
Sugimoto kisses him again: slower this time, gentler. His breath stutters when Ogata reaches out and pushes down his sweatpants, and then his boxers, and turns into a gasp when Ogata wraps a hand around their dicks.
The way Sugimoto curls his fingers under Ogata’s jaw rather kills the mood, but then Sugimoto reaches down too, pressing and rubbing and the pressure mounts and, and -
And Sugimoto looks at him like he’s something precious when he comes.
Ogata tilts his head back and closes his eyes.
When Sugimoto kisses him above his right brow before cleaning them up, Ogata doesn't let himself think.
Despite all of Ogata’s efforts, Kiroranke still manages to meet Sugimoto when he arrives to load up Ogata’s coffin.
Considering their region, while it may be a small event, it is still a surreal experience to know that they will be going to a specialized expo in the field of equipment, product, and service for funeral, burial, memorial, and the end of life business. Hijikata will call it the mark of progress, that people’s attitudes towards death is changing. “Less taboo,” he’ll say, and Ogata will shrug.
Kiroranke takes one look between them, raises both eyebrows knowingly, and says, “Ah,” and Sugimoto’s ears immediately burns bright red.
Ogata preens, flips Sugimoto off, and heads off to grab his documents.
When he returns, Kiroranke seems to be having a light-hearted conversation with Sugimoto, but there is a tightness to Kiroranke’s voice that grows into concern when he spots Ogata.
“There you are,” Kiroranke comments, “only one coffin this time?”
“One is enough.”
“That’s fair,” he allows, “so are you going to hitch a ride? I only have one more seat, so either one of you gets to enjoy the heating, or both of you sit out back.”
“Or I can ride my motorbike,” Ogata counters.
“Or that too. It’s your choice.”
By the time they reach their venue, the sun is already hanging high in the sky, although it hasn’t yet reached its apex.
Kiroranke helps them unload the coffin and bring it to their booth.
“I’ll pick you up tonight,” he tells them, “give me a call. It’s best not to ride down such bumpy roads in the dark.”
Ogata picks up the free bottles of water from the event coordinator before heading back to their booths.
“You’re in charge of the talking,” he announces, throwing a bottle at Sugimoto. “Fend off all the basic questions. You can redirect the technical stuff to me.”
Sugimoto uncaps his bottle. “Then what will you do?”
“Stuff.” Doing his accounts, which Ogata has been putting off for months. “But do not let anyone lie in the coffin. I don’t care how popular it is or how much it helps people reconcile themselves with death, but I’m not going to let just about anyone lie in them.”
“Why not?” Sugimoto adjusts the lid against the prop again. Makes a face, and shifts its position again. “Are we going to sell this one?”
“Yes. I don’t do displays.”
“Huh.” Sugimoto stands back. “You do know that on principle, we can still sell display coffins so long as we change the lining?”
“But I don’t like it.”
“Alright then.” Sugimoto walks over to sit beside Ogata, only to stand up and return to the coffin. “Actually, now you’ve gotten me curious. I want to know what it feels like to lie in your coffins.”
Ogata’s head snaps up. “No.”
“Why not? I’m not just about anyone. I’m your apprentice.” Sugimoto pauses. “And what if a customer asks about it? If they can’t lie in it, and I can’t assure them that it will be comfortable for the deceased, then it reflects badly, doesn’t it?”
Ogata snorts. “Then tell them that it’s comfortable.”
“I don’t want to hear that from you.” Ogata returns to his papers. Those are so many numbers that he’ll have to go through. “Most importantly, this hasn’t been a problem for the past couple of years, and it won’t be a problem this year too. Stop whining.”
“But I want to lie in it.”
Ogata is starting to regret bringing Sugimoto along. “You know what? Fine.” He tosses a notebook over his documents. “You can lie in the coffin then.”
Sugimoto’s face splits into a grin. “Thank you,” he says, already kicking off his shoes. “Hey, give me a hand.”
Carefully, Sugimoto climbs into the coffin and straightens himself, clasping his hands above his abdomen.
Ogata peers down at him. “So?”
“Huh.” He closes his eyes, inhales deeply, before opening them again. “So that’s what it will feel like.”
For some reason, the sight of Sugimoto relaxing in Ogata’s coffin makes him queasy. “You’ll be dead, you won’t feel shit.”
“You never know.” Sugimoto wriggles his toes. “Imagine having the lid placed over you. It’ll feel like closing a door to this life. Very poetic.”
“Yeah. You have to close one door to open another.” Sugimoto pushes himself upright. “Metaphorically. I still have not decided on what type of afterlife I believe in.”
“Let me guess: reincarnation.” Because that’s what everyone believes. “Maybe you’ll become a beetle in your next life.”
“You know, that doesn’t sound so bad.” Tottering, Sugimoto manages to scramble out. “All I do all day is eat, sleep, and mate. Easy living.”
“And then you get crushed under some careless human’s foot.”
“And so it goes,” Sugimoto agrees. He pulls on his shoes. “Why, what do you think you’ll be in your next life?”
“I don’t believe in reincarnation.” Ogata settles back in his seat. “When we die, we die for good. That’s all.”
“No, that’s realistic.” Perhaps it is his line of work: unlike most people, Ogata’s attitude towards death takes a completely opposite turn towards the cynic. Nothing wrong with that. “Will you want to live forever, anyway? That sounds tedious.”
“It is, isn’t it?” Sugimoto sits too, crossing his legs. “All stories come to an end.”
“Stories? The story of life, you mean? That’s a little cliché.”
“You know what I mean.” Sugimoto turns away. People are already starting to stream in. “Right, about just now. Do you think -”
His words are cut off when a young woman stops at their booth with her kid. “I’m sorry,” she says, “but could I have a namecard?”
Sugimoto hands it over. “Is that your daughter?” he asks. “She’s cute. How old is she?”
“Seven, and not my daughter,” the woman clarifies. “She’s my niece. Her mother is hospitalised for cancer. Terminal, unfortunately, so we’re here to gather information to prepare for the inevitable.”
Sugimoto blanches. See, this is exactly why Ogata does not want to deal with customers, much less ask unnecessary questions. People will think it’s alright to start unloading their life story upon you.
“Well, we only brought one coffin with us today,” Sugimoto is saying, gesticulating. “I know you like it, since you asked for a namecard, but if you want a closer look -”
“It’s fine, really,” the woman replies. She squeezes the kid’s hands. “How is it, do you think she will like this one?”
The kid pulls the woman forward. Then, staring down at Ogata’s coffin, her lips wobble and startlingly, she bursts into tears.
“I’m so sorry!” the woman exclaims, immediately crouching down to wipe at the kid’s tears. “What’s wrong, sweetheart? Don’t cry.”
Her tears swell into huge beats at the inner corners of her eyes before streaming down. It reminds Ogata of raindrops that fall onto the car windows. He used to imagine that the raindrops are racing each other as they roll down, before he learns that all other kids do that too, an unspoken solidarity among children.
“No, no, little girl, don’t cry!” Sugimoto squats too. He points at one of the flowers that Ogata has carved onto the coffin. “You see that? That’s a rose. This rose is incredibly proud: if you cry like this, she’ll think that you’re crying because of her, and she’ll be sad too.” The kid sniffles, distracted. “Because she’s pretty, and pretty things don’t make little kids cry, so then she’ll think she’s ugly. So don’t cry, yeah? You’ll make the rose sad.”
As the kid calms down, Sugimoto hovers at the side as the woman takes over. Eventually, she picks up the kid and carries her away, thanking and apologising to them profusely all the while.
Sugimoto sucks in his bottom lip and turns to Ogata. “I don’t remember such fairs being this dramatic.”
“Maybe you have bad luck,” Ogata mocks, revelling in the schadenfreude. “It has only been ten minutes and you have already made a kid cry? Wow.”
“It’s not my fault,” Sugimoto grouses, and takes a huge gulp of water. “I didn’t even do anything.”
“I told you: cursed.” Ogata looks up. “Oh look, another person is walking towards us. Get to work.”
At the end of the day, Kiroranke has bought them a few beers. They crack open a can each after climbing onto the back of the truck, Ogata’s motorbike secured beside them.
“Does it differ a lot from your city?” Ogata asks. The breeze keeps blowing his hair into his mouth; Ogata pushes them away, only for a strand to sneak back infront.
Sugimoto laughs quietly, wetting his fingers with the condensation on the can before attempting to slick Ogata's stray strand back. It springs loose; Sugimoto starts snickering louder.
"Don't laugh," Ogata chides, "my hair is still neater than that rat's nest of yours."
"What's wrong with my hair?" Sugimoto pats them down. "I can't help it, my hair is fluffy."
"Fluffy is a word used for animal fur, not human hair." But Ogata ruffles Sugimoto's hair anyway. There is something about the darkness of nights that makes it easier to act without thought. "Answer my question. How's it like in the big city?"
"Messier," Sugimoto confesses, "bigger too. More stressful. Dying is a competitive business."
Ogata tries to imagine it: Sugimoto, younger and dressed in a collared shirt, helping his parents greet customers. "I bet you're good at drawing in customers?"
"Is that a compliment?"
"It can be," Ogata says, "just look at the way you bend over backwards to try and charm the customers today. I never knew that you're at heart a greasy salesperson."
"But I think," Ogata continues, smirking when Sugimoto lurches forward to try to cover Ogata's mouth, "that with that glower you wear during the break, you'll be even better at intimidating customers into buying -"
"You shut -" Sugimoto desperately stuffs his fingers into Ogata's mouth; Ogata bites. "Fu - let go you, you infuriating little shit."
When Ogata loosens his jaws, Sugimoto retracts his hand so quickly that he knocks over Ogata's can. "Shit, I'm sorry. Let me." He pulls at his shirt and tries to dab at the spilled beer.
"You're a mess," Ogata informs, swishing whatever little is left. He downs the rest of it and tosses the empty can on the floor. Kiroranke has padded the back with flattened cardboard boxes; it'll be easy work cleaning this up later. "Hey, wasn't there something you want to ask me about just now?"
Sugimoto stills. He meets Ogata's gaze. "What thing?"
"That time before the woman interrupted," Ogata says. "Don't you remember?"
Chapter 4: Cuddles
This entire chapter is an extremely steep and immensely ridiculous learning curve.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Ogata passes his envelope over to Nagakura.
Hijikata has never married, so it is up to those dearest to him to prepare for the wake. Ienaga dabs at her eyes again, her eyes puffy for the first time since Ogata have met her. Kantarou offers her a new piece of tissue paper. Calmly, Ushiyama gestures at the front. "Go see him," he says.
Distantly, Ogata wonders if he should have been involved too. But Nagakura hasn't asked him. It won't do to assume.
Hijikata lies in the coffin that Ogata has made. A coffin fit for a coffin-maker, Hijikata has said. Ogata does not know what to think. Nagakura's footsteps are quiet as he comes close. "A most beautiful bed for the most wonderful man," Nagakura tells him.
But Hijikata doesn't look asleep. He looks dead, peacefully so.
There is nothing much to say. Ogata pays his respects and leave.
He still remembers how Hijikata will buy illegal fireworks for the kids for New Year's Eve. They'll set it off on the road infront of the shop, since cars don't really drive down this path anyway.
The whistle, the flash, the loud crackle like the sky has split. All that chaos, stark in their absence as Ogata kills the engine of his bike.
Sugimoto is waiting outside, hovering by Ogata's the entrance. When he sees Ogata, he hurries forward, only to hesitate when he spots Ogata's expression.
"You alright?" he asks, uncertain and nervous, bouncing on the balls of his feet.
Ogata shrugs. "Why won't I be?" he replies, and pushes pass Sugimoto.
Ogata can’t bring himself to feel upset, but it is always strange to know that a presence who has always been there in his life is now just… gone.
Sugimoto, being Sugimoto, hovers until Ogata snaps and chases him off.
It is said that the soul lingers for seven days before passing on. Yet in this shop where Hijikata has spent half his life, there has been no signs of him, his absence already too familiar for too long.
So Ogata works. And works. And works, until the ache in his neck hurts too much to continue, and he has to get up to stretch it out.
Distantly, it strikes him that both Sugimoto and he must have skipped breakfast and lunch for the day, because the world spins as Ogata stumbles into the garage.
The garage is well-lit now, albeit still dusty despite his best efforts. Ogata has never used the space ever since Hijikata left - he owns a motorbike, after all, and maintenance for it takes up much less space than a car - so he converts the space into a temporary workshop after Sugimoto finally declares his intentions to carve his coffin.
“How is it?” Ogata asks, closing the door behind him. Unlike the workshop, the garage has poorer ventilation; Sugimoto has resorted to wearing only his undershirt despite the cooling weather. “I know I said I would leave you alone, but your drawings really do leave something to be desired.”
Sugimoto straightens up. “It is not that bad, is it?”
“It is atrocious.”
“But that’s because I have a bad teacher,” Sugimoto rebuts, and yelps when Ogata swats at him threateningly. “Ok, I’m sorry! You’re a great teacher, I’m just a horrible student.” When he grins, Ogata is suddenly a little breathless. Wait. This isn’t - “Hey, you alright? You’re looking rather pale.”
“It’s probably low blood sugar,” Ogata dismisses, “go and wash up. It’s time for dinner.”
“Already?” There is no window in the garage; Sugimoto wipes his hand on a rug and picks up his watch. “Huh, it’s already eight.”
This is why Ogata feels light-headed, even if he isn’t hungry at all. “Yeah, so hurry up.”
“I should -” Sugimoto grabs his sweater and pulls it over his head. “Right, so where do you want to go for dinner today - oh wow, your hand is cold.”
Ogata snatches his hand away. “I don’t do hand-holding.”
“That’s not the point.” Sugimoto presses the back of his palm against Ogata’s forehead. “You’re running a fever.”
“Sure you’re not,” Sugimoto says, and turns Ogata gently around by the shoulders. “We’re going to measure your temperature.”
“I don’t need it.”
“Indulge me this once,” Sugimoto insists, and pushes Ogata back into the living room.
It turns out Ogata is indeed running a temperature.
“I’m going to whip up some oatmeal for us,” Sugimoto announces, “and you will lie in bed until I’m done. No more walking around, no more working. You rest, you hear me?”
“I’m sick,” Ogata retorts, bunching up the blanket over his chest. He hasn’t realised how tired he is until he lay down. “Not deaf.”
“Great. Now stay there, and wait for me.”
He must have fallen asleep in the meantime, because the next thing Ogata knows is Sugimoto gently shaking him awake. His head feels heavy; Sugimoto makes a sturdy prop beside him. “I hope you didn’t burn down the kitchen.”
“I am a better cook than you,” Sugimoto points out, stirring the oatmeal in the bowl. It smells very nice. That doesn’t mean Ogata wants to eat it. “Don’t make that face - eat at least a few spoons. Ten! Ten spoonfuls of oatmeal,” he bargains, “then you can rest.”
“No, Ogata. Ok, how about eight spoons?”
“If you aren’t sick, I would have grabbed you by your cheeks and pour this bowl straight down your throat,” Sugimoto threatens, “Five, that’s my final compromise. You need food in you before you can take your meds. Open your mouth.”
Ogata complies reluctantly.
Sugimoto blows on the oatmeal until it’s cool, and then feeds it to Ogata. It is sweet, even if Ogata is too sick to fully appreciate it. At the fifth spoon, Sugimoto clicks his tongue and declares, “Ok, that one is only half a spoon, so you’ll need to have another half-spoonful.”
“No it’s not,” Sugimoto protests, and stuffs another spoonful into Ogata’s mouth. “There, that isn’t so hard. How about another bonus spoonful?”
“Why not?” When Ogata opens his mouth to protest, Sugimoto shoves the spoon into Ogata’s mouth again and refuses to let off until Ogata swallows the oatmeal. “One last one?”
“I feel like a duck selected to be foie gras, struggling valiantly as food is forced down my throat.”
“Don’t be dramatic.” Sugimoto adjusts his position, scooting closer. “You’re sick, and you have not had dinner since yesterday. You need to eat.”
Ogata sinks back onto the pillow. “But I don’t want to.”
“You -” Ogata pulls his blanket over his head. “Fine, I won’t make you eat. But if you wake up to a hurting stomach, that’s on you.”
“All on me,” Ogata agrees. He wants to sleep already. “Where’s the para - paro - the meds?”
“Paracetamol?” The clatter of the bowl, the shake of a pill bottle as it is uncapped. “Here.” Ogata braces himself up just long enough to pop two tablets in his mouth and swallows it down with water. “Now go to sleep.”
Ogata rolls over.
He slips in and out of consciousness after that. Vaguely, he recalls waking up to swallow some tablets and Sugimoto wiping him with a wet towel, and he also remembers throwing up all over Sugimoto when Ogata is forced to drink some soup. At some point, Sugimoto is lying on the bed with him, arms tight around Ogata’s waist as Sugimoto kisses him chastely behind the ear, and it is so soft that it makes Ogata wants to die.
But Ogata isn’t sure. He’s sick, his memory is fuzzy. Anyway, Sugimoto has left by the time Ogata wakes up next.
By the time Ogata wakes up properly, the sky is dark outside and there is a seam of light underneath the door.
Time to get up.
He washes up in the restroom, then stumbles into the kitchen for a glass of water. The house is quiet - nothing out of the ordinary, since Ogata is not a loud person and Sugimoto has a habit of going through Ogata’s library when he finds himself idle at night.
Speaking of which - “Sugimoto?” There he is, infront of Ogata’s bookshelf and a book already in hand.
Sugimoto glances up. “Hey. Feeling better?”
“Obviously.” Ogata plods over. “What caught your eye?”
“A few things, but mostly -” Sugimoto holds up a book, the cover of it being a notebook adorned with a child’s scribbles. “This.”
“Wait, is that -”
“By Ogata Hyakunosuke,” Sugimoto recites, “a story about the little boy. Oooh, there’s a content page. twenty-five chapters? Very ambitious for a kid.”
“Give it here.” Ogata tries to snatch it, but Sugimoto holds the book up and leans back. “Don’t you - I’m sick, you’re supposed to let me have my way.”
“But then you won’t let me read it,” Sugimoto argues, only to yelp when Ogata pounces on him. “Come on, please, let me read -”
some of you have never drew vicariously throughout your childhood and then just stopped cold-turkey when you're thirteen and it shows.