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tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

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Suwa arrives in class later than usual, just barely sliding into his seat before their teacher walks in. He catches the look Takako gives him and returns it with an easy shrug, already going through the list of excuses he can give her—because he set his alarm wrong, because there's no morning practice the first day back after summer break, because he took the long way to school—when she inevitably asks.

I don't really keep a diary, so I guess proving myself will be a little harder. But if I remember correctly—

He tries to sit still but he can't, fidgeting with his pen, then his foot, his attention barely on the announcements being made until a shriek cuts through the monotony and chaos erupts in a ripple around Yamada, who leaps to the top of her desk with a wordless cry.

He moves from his seat because everyone else is moving, but the scene unfolds before him like he's watching it on a screen, an old reel played back from someone else's memories—Tanaka caused a commotion the first day back, I guess he wanted to show off his pet frog but it broke loose instead—gaze redirecting to where Tanaka's scrambling on the floor, following the points of chaos instead of running away from them until, with careful movements, he cups the offending frog in his hands.

It takes a while for the class to calm down—

It takes them eight minutes, Suwa thinks dimly, watching the clock on the classroom wall.

—and in the end Tanaka had to stand outside.

With his pet back in its box, at least, Suwa notes, watching his classmate shuffle out of the room with his ears bright red.

There was no way I'd forget that.

Suwa had found the letter tucked in the pages of his Japanese Literature textbook, sliding out when he finally tries to do his homework. Dread had settled low in his gut, coiling around his insides with a vise grip as his throat ran dry, but when he lifted the unpostmarked envelope to take a closer look the frozen fear was washed away with a bit of confusion and a spark of curiosity.

He recognized the handwriting.

It just hadn't been his.

I suppose I could have written to myself like you did, it had said, but you were always much more reliable than I ever was. There are many things I am already grateful to you for. But I guess I'm hoping I can thank you for one more thing, if that's okay.

He'd read the words over and over that afternoon, homework forgotten on the desk. Read them again through the rest of his summer break until the words seeped into his skin and echoed unheeded in his head, lurking now in the back of his mind as he drifts through the day, so that even Hagita becomes concerned enough to ask him what's on his mind.

It's nothing, he lies.

But today is important, or so the letter says. He doesn't forget, but it still catches him by surprise when he stumbles into Kakeru and Naho by the lockers, their heads bent together in hushed conversation.

"Suwa!" Naho says when she sees him, her gaze bright in a way that hurts to look at. "You've been busy today."

He'd skipped lunch, said something about catching up on homework. "Yeah, I never did get around to the reading for Japanese Literature."

"We haven't seen you all summer either," Kakeru adds. "We should catch up."

Today is important. Suwa's help is needed.

I'm hoping I can thank you for one more thing, if that's okay, the letter had said. Could you walk home with us, the first day back after summer break?

He hadn't wanted to when they invited him, the letter had said. He hadn't wanted to when he'd read the request. He doesn't want to now, even as he comes to a decision he'd put off making until this moment. "Yeah, sure, why not," he says, the corner of his lips curling up in a small grin, changing into his outdoor shoes before he shoves both hands into his pockets and follows Kakeru and Naho out of school.

You were always much more reliable than I ever was, Kakeru had written.

And Suwa never knew how to say no to him, either.

Kakeru and Naho make a cute couple. They don't fit together like that cliche of puzzle pieces clicking into place—their relationship is still in that first flush of newness, just past those early stumbling moments of friction and awkwardness but not yet fully in the realm of comfort and familiarity. Their hands naturally seek each other's now, for instance, the contact almost an afterthought, but their conversation is halting, peppered with uncertain pauses and accidental interruptions. They sound like a band just beginning to learn a new song, the stops and starts a sign of simply not knowing the melody just yet.

But it's only a matter of time. Suwa can tell from the flush on Kakeru's cheeks when Naho laughs, from the tenderness in Naho's gaze when Kakeru starts humming. It's subconscious, the way they're drawn to each other, surfacing even as they do their best to include Suwa in their conversation, asking him how he spent his break, how he feels about the soccer tournament coming up before he and Kakeru have to retire from the team, where he plans to apply for school, the future looming ahead of them, as unknowable as ever.

Is it cheating to do things like this? Kakeru had asked. I don't know, and I guess if the future diverges again, I won't really find out either. But today is today, and we got here the way we did. Every step takes us in the direction we want to go. I'm learning that now.

There were pictures in the first letter he'd gotten, the one his future self had sent him. He wonders if maybe the Suwa who lived in what would have been his future knew that he would need them, this image of a grown Naho, an older Suwa, their less-than-a-year-old son between them. He wonders if maybe the Suwa who lived in a world he would never know understood that the steps that version of himself took to get there came with a price Suwa won't pay now, knowing that the choice—Kakeru or this—was no choice at all.


He's pulled out of his thoughts by the sound of his name, Kakeru and Naho wearing twin looks of curiosity. "Sorry, I—I got caught up thinking about the future." He scratches the back of his head sheepishly, but Kakeru and Naho don't seem to be offended. "I'm a little worried about studying for the exams."

"We can study together, if you like," Naho offers. She shares a glance with Kakeru, and her smile grows shy.

"Suwa." There's a twinkle of something in Kakeru's eyes when he calls his name, amusement or mirth or some other thing Suwa can't place. "Takako's family moved to the other side of town, and we should probably leave Azu and Hagita alone until they figure out what they're doing. But you should come walk home with us from now on. We missed you over break, you know."

"But wouldn't I be—"

"We're all friends, aren't we?" Kakeru asks, and it's a challenge Suwa can't refute. They are. Friends. It's just—

"There are only a few months left before our last year in high school is done," Naho muses, more to herself than to either of them, but when she catches them both glancing her way she straightens up like she's come to a conclusion. "I think I'd like to make the most of it with the people I care about."

Today is today, and we got here the way we did.

He can't say it doesn't hurt, that Kakeru and Naho make a cute couple. He can't say he isn't jealous, that he doesn't want any part of what they share for himself.

But he also can't say, even when he'd spent break avoiding being around them, that he hadn't missed them.

Every step takes us in the direction we want to go. I'm learning that now.

In the future, Suwa won't get the chance to walk home with two of his friends anymore. Change is coming, and though it opens up the possibilities to so many new and amazing things, it also shuts the door to many other familiar comforts. Like this, the setting sun casting long shadows over their quiet town, Kakeru and Naho with warmth in their eyes.

That's an image he wants to keep, too, a reality he's glad exists in this world as well.

You see, Suwa, in the winter of our second year in university, Naho and I stopped seeing each other.

Suwa does start walking home from school with Kakeru and Naho, a habit that solidifies with soccer practice back in the afternoons. He lives just a few streets over from Naho anyway, the first stop for the three of them, so it alleviates his guilt a little, knowing Kakeru and Naho can still spend some time alone together.

They usually go straight home after practice, meeting Naho by the school gates, since Kakeru's grandmother's house is much farther away that it's often nightfall by the time he gets there. Sometimes, though, when the afternoon feels especially lazy and the wind is just warm enough, they would detour into a convenience store to pick up some snacks and find a shaded spot somewhere in the park just a couple kilometers from school.

Suwa's working through his third onigiri when Kakeru nudges him by the shoulder this particular afternoon, almost early evening. "Thanks for volunteering to do the variety show for the festival with me," he says. "I didn't know you were so eager to host."

He wasn't eager to host at all, actually. "I didn't think Azu jokingly offering you up as host would get so much support from the class," he says. "You'd be good at it though, and I don't mind helping out."

I don't think there are many things that we should want to change. I think the reality we live in is the reality we give ourselves, from the choices we make and the paths we walk.

"I didn't know how to say I didn't really want to do it," Kakeru admits, and the smile he gives Suwa is a bit sheepish. "But now I think it will be fun."

Suwa hadn't needed the letter to tell him that, either, Kakeru's frozen smile as he turned to Naho in thinly veiled panic still quite vivid in his mind. And Naho herself had looked like a deer in headlights too, caught between her own anxieties and desire to help Kakeru.

People fall in and out of love all the time, and even the ache of heartbreak will fade over time. But I think, in the moments I could have, I wish I'd been more considerate of Naho's feelings.

"I think," Naho speaks up now, "that you two will do a wonderful job. Thank you for doing that, Suwa."

"I really don't mind," he says, feeling heat creeping up his cheeks now that both their attentions are on him.

I wish I'd been more considerate of yours, too.

Kakeru rolls up the discarded wrap of his onigiri and pockets it. "Well, Yamaguchi said we can work on the script ourselves, and at least today we've decided on which special guests the others are playing and what the activities will be. Do you want to work on it a little bit tonight? We can go to my grandmother's if that's not too far."

"You can come over too," Suwa says. "I'll text my mom to let her know, but they won't mind."

You were always looking out for both of us, Suwa. You've always done that better than we ever did.

"If you're sure," Kakeru says. He frowns. "It's getting late, maybe we should start heading back then. And tomorrow practice will run later than today, so maybe we can work on this over lunch too."

I hope you didn't think we took advantage of your kindness.

"Oh, but you won't have much time after Suwa comes back from buying lunch," Naho points out. "Can I—I could make a second bento for you!"

"What," slips out of Suwa's mouth, his cheeks burning hotter now than earlier, the offer so unexpected all he can do is stammer. "Wh—that's. What."

Naho's cheeks flush bright, sparking a flicker of unwelcome hope in his chest. "I wanted to help, earlier, when they made Kakeru the host, but I couldn't," she says. "I can help this way now."

"Is that. Is that really okay?"

He doesn't know who he's asking, exactly, but it's Kakeru who responds. "I think Naho wants to, so unless you don't want to eat her cooking..."

"Oh, no, if you don't like my cooking it's—"

"That's not what I meant! I'd like to, I'd like to!"

I hope you knew that were we able, were it needed, if you'd let us, we would have wanted to look out for you too.

Kakeru grins then— "Then it sounds like it's okay, huh?"— and Suwa has the feeling he's been caught in some kind of twisted trap.

The bentos have little octopus hotdogs, plum onigiri, steamed vegetables and perfectly cooked eggs. Suwa finishes it in maybe a quarter of the time it took for Naho to make it, but she doesn't seem to mind, her smile wide and content.

"Hey," Kakeru says, nudging Suwa's shoulder with his. They've found a shaded spot beneath a tree near the soccer field to take their lunch, the first draft of the variety show script laid out before them. "What do you think about changing it to this?" He leans in close, pen hovering over a line Suwa has just added before he notes down an edit. He's close enough that the press of the side of his body is a comfortable warmth, close enough that his hair tickles Suwa's cheek.

He smells like citrus.

Kakeru glances up at him, and Suwa realizes he'd jerked away. "You okay?"

"Yeah," Suwa lies. "Yeah, I'm okay."

The variety show is a comedic success. The crowd cracks up with laughter at the jokes they've worked together to include, and even some lines that both of them ad-lib in—but those would not have been as effective if Kakeru and Suwa hadn't played off each other as well as they did, the rapport they brought out in their hosting personalities not that far off from their friendship.

Suwa had always liked Kakeru. He'd extended an invitation for him to join their group that spring day over a year ago out of kindness, sure, but the more that he got to know him, the easier he'd found it to get along with him. Kakeru holds a lot of things close to his heart, tries to be self-sacrificing for the sake of his friends like Naho does, like Suwa does, but there's a streak of mischief layered into his personality that surfaces when he's comfortable, his affectionate teasing always immediately lightening the mood.

He leans heavily on that impishness for the variety show, lacing his delivery with an edge of flirtatiousness that flusters Suwa enough he's convinced everyone can tell from a hundred kilometers away, but Kakeru's cheeks are equally red when the show ends, and the two of them bow along with their guests to the applause of everyone who came to see.

"That was so funny!" Naho says when she comes up to the two of them afterward, wiping tears from her eyes. "I couldn't stop laughing!"

It's a sight Suwa can't help feeling happy about. In Kakeru's letter, where Naho had been roped into hosting the show instead, the two of them end up fighting just before the show begins, and Azu steps in for Naho at the last minute. They make up not long after, but both were too upset to have enjoyed any of the festival.

He'd do anything to keep Naho smiling this way.

"I guess now that we're done, we can try to see the rest of the festival before the fireworks start." Kakeru's hand slides easily into Naho's, but he's turning to address Suwa. "You should come with us. Naho saved us a good spot earlier today."

Suwa blinks. The letter hadn't told him about this, but that would make sense. If Kakeru and Naho had fought, there would be no reason they would have felt like watching the fireworks at all—so had the future changed enough from what he'd been doing?

You see, Suwa, in the winter of our second year in university, Naho and I stopped seeing each other.

Kakeru's letter never asks Suwa to make sure he and Naho don't break up. He'd seemed at peace with it, even, his regrets centering more around how he'd made Naho feel in some of those moments, the way his friendship with Suwa seemed to fade over time.

But it doesn't escape Suwa's attention that helping Kakeru be more thoughtful toward Naho is an act of supporting their relationship and encouraging it regardless, and it's the same promise he'd made his other future self, the one who first wrote him a letter.

Suwa smiles. "I told the other guys from the team I'd check the festival out with them," he says, the lie coming out so smoothly he'd have believed even himself. "You two have fun, though."

"Ah, alright," Kakeru says, and Suwa isn't sure why he looks a little disappointed. "We'll see you tomorrow then?"

"Tomorrow," Suwa promises.

Naho doesn't stop making Suwa bentos, even now that the variety show is done. He brings it up, the guilt of enjoying it too much weighing heavy on him, but all Naho says is that he should be eating more nutritious food to play at his best, anyway, and also—and here her voice goes tender in a way that's going to plague Suwa's thoughts for weeks after—she's happy for the extra time they get to spend together at lunch as a result.

Naho's a selfless person by nature. It's hard not to fall in love with her, I think.

Suwa steals a terrified look Kakeru's way, but all he seems to be is pleased that Naho is.

In fact, he continues to spend time with Suwa too, making a habit of stopping by Suwa's house in the mornings so they can walk to soccer practice, inviting him over to his grandmother's over the weekend so they can study together, once even asking him to come along with him as he went to look for a present to give Naho.

"What's the occasion?" Suwa asks, feeling a little out of his element in an accessories store full of cute hair clips and pretty jewelry.

"She's been doing so many things for me lately," Kakeru says. He peeks at a display in front of Suwa, the back of his wrist bumping Suwa's arm. It stays there as he rifles through colorful ribbons, and Suwa catches a whiff of citrus. Unable to lean closer and reluctant to move away, he holds himself carefully in place. "Us, really. I just wanted to thank her. What do you think? Do you think she'll like this?"

She's always doing things for me, for you, for her friends. I know it's a source of her happiness too, that selflessness, but I don't want to let too many days pass without noticing or appreciating it. I wish I'd been able to help her carry that burden of selflessness more, when I was younger.

"I—it's cute. That's nice of you," Suwa says, helpless. "Isn't it your birthday that's coming up instead of hers, though?"

"Hm? I guess it is."

"What should I get you?"

"Flowers," Kakeru says, the corner of his lips curling up into a smile. "But don't let them wilt, this time."

"Maybe you should get Naho flowers instead of making me get them for her." Suwa's words come out sharper than he intends, but maybe they're as sharp as he means. He catches the sudden way Kakeru's eyes widen, the stutter in his movements. Desperately, Suwa adds, "What I mean is, if you wanted to thank her with something, flowers might be nice."

Kakeru peers up at him, expression a little guarded, but what he sees on Suwa's face eases the tension lining his shoulders. "You know, that's actually a pretty great idea," he agrees, putting down the ribbon he'd been looking at. He smiles, and it feels like an absolution for Suwa's misstep. "I think I'll pick something up before school tomorrow."

Selfless people don't end up worrying about their own feelings a lot, I've noticed. Or their own well-being, for that matter. I think that's why it's important to worry about it for them, and help them out when we can.

Suwa nods, but the tightness in his chest doesn’t loosen entirely.

Naho's bright red when Kakeru shows up at school with flowers picked out for her, shrinking under the attention of the class oohing and ahhing their delight. Azu and Takako come to her rescue, a protective shield of friends slinging their arms around her shoulders as they take turns examining the bouquet.

"How's she supposed to store this all day?" Azu asks, wagging her finger at Kakeru before Takako urges him to go find a vase Naho can use in the meantime.

"That boy, I swear," Takako says, shaking her head with fondness. "Heart in the right place, but no head for logistics, huh?"

Hagita frowns. "But I don't understand," he says. "Isn't it his birthday next week?"

"S'what I said, too," Suwa agrees. "But you know, he's right. Naho does a lot for us."

Azu, ever sharp when it comes to her friends, doesn't let the slipped detail slide. "Oh?" she asks, her smile impish. "Did you pick them out together?"

You're selfless too, Suwa. You were always helping us out. You supported us and encouraged us and told us not to run away, and because you were so good at seeing when Naho needed help—when I needed help—we were able to find our way to each other.

"No, that was all Kakeru!" Suwa protests, frowning at the expression that flickers across Naho's face at Azu's words. "He—" The idea was technically Suwa's, but— "It was all him. He picked them out this morning. On his own."

"You're no fun," Azu pouts, poking him in the side. "Well, I guess Kakeru knows how to woo a lady, after all." She turns to Naho curiously. "You were planning a surprise party for him, right?"

Naho nods. "On Sunday afternoon at my house. Can everyone still make it? I'm making us all snacks and desserts." There's a chorus of confirmation from everyone, and they discuss how to surprise Kakeru when he shows up.

The chatter dies down when Kakeru shows up, vase in hand, and the bell rings to mark the end of break not long after. Suwa watches from the corner of his eye as Naho scribbles furiously in her notebook, the neat columns clearly not what's being discussed for Math that period.

It's lists, he realizes, catching the word 'flour' as she writes that down. Shopping lists, to-do lists, food lists—she's planning a party on her own, making food on her own, buying needed items on her own.

I wish I'd been able to help her carry that burden of selflessness more, when I was younger.

Suwa waves her over when the teacher leaves and the short break before their next class begins. "Hey, Naho. Let me come over and help, on Sunday."

"Suwa's so thoughtful," Naho says with a smile once Sunday rolls around and Suwa shows up bright and early in the morning, ready to help. Her parents have vacated the house for the day, leaving the kitchen in her care, and once Suwa had put up the streamers and decoration she'd already cut out by hand a few days prior, he came over to see what he could do. There are about three different items in the process of being created from what he could tell, something warm and savory cooking in a pan and the scent of sugar and butter baking from the oven, mixing bowls lined up neatly on the counter. It only looks chaotic at first glance—on the counter is a flour-dusted piece of paper with the day's plan outlined in careful, meticulous detail, each item ticked off as Naho completes them. "I'm really glad for your help. I just feel like there's a lot of details to take care of."

She planned a surprise birthday party for me that year, but I don't think she enjoyed it very much. She wouldn't say what was going on, though, and without knowing what was wrong I couldn't help fix it, or even share her feelings in it.

Kakeru never does understand the source of that inexplicable tension, but Naho certainly doesn't seem tense now, asking if Suwa would care to do the dishes while she prepared the ingredients for the next item on her list. She's humming, even, picking out what she needs from the pantry, her hair pulled back in low pigtails and a patterned bandana around her head to keep the hair from her eyes, the pastel apron she's tied around her waist splattered with evidence of the feast in store for Kakeru and their friends.

There's a streak of flour on her cheek Suwa almost reaches out to brush away, but instead he clears the counter of the used bowls and utensils. "You're doing a great job, for what it's worth," he says, turning on the water as he begins to wash them clean. "And I'm really glad I could help. This seems like a lot for just one person to be handling."

"I wanted to do this for Kakeru," Naho says, her voice tender. Suwa doesn't have to look at her to know the fond look she wears when she's thinking of Kakeru, the light pink that highlights her cheeks as she says it.

"He's going to love it," Suwa tells her, loosening his grip on the bowl to wash it more gently. "And I know you wanted to do this for him, but that doesn't mean you have to do it on your own. Don't be afraid of asking any of us to help, too, okay? That's what we're here for."

"You're always helping, Suwa."

He can't place the tone of her voice. It sounds wistful, almost. Like Naho understands too clearly why Suwa helps. He dries the bowl with a clean towel, turns around to place it back on the counter for the next dessert. "Guess that's just—"

"Oh, are you done with the—"

"Watch out!" The bowl clatters to the floor, Suwa turning around in time to bump into Naho, who loses her footing and tips backward, held in place when Suwa's reflexes kick in and he holds onto her just in time, catching her around her waist. She'd grabbed onto his arms, fingers curling at the hem of his shirt sleeves, eyes wide and color rising steadily high on her cheeks, the kitchen falling into such a heavy silence he could almost hear her pounding heartbeat, the soft gasp from her parted lips.

Maybe that's just from the lack of the distance between them, because this close, Suwa could—

"I'm sorry, I wasn't watching what I was doing," he says instead, pulling away. "That was close."

"I was clumsy, I'll be more careful."

"It's okay, no harm no foul." Suwa picks up the fallen bowl. "Let me clean this up again."

"Alright. Thank you."

Neither of them point out how breathless they both sound.

Hagita is the first one who arrives, ringing the doorbell three minutes before the scheduled time. Azu and Takako show up not long after, and between the five of them they set up the food, arrange the space, make the pile of presents on the table look more presentable and less haphazardly thrown together. Azu brings party hats with her, Takako takes out some confetti poppers, Suwa pulls out the gold foil horns he'd picked up from the 100-yen store the other day. They're ready with minutes to spare, which turns out to be fortuitous timing because Kakeru arrives a few minutes early, ringing the bell before the hour strikes.

Takako takes it upon herself to shove everyone into their predetermined hiding spots, squishing Azu and Hagita against one side of the door before she pushes Suwa on the other side, herself ducking down behind the counter. Naho waits until everyone is in position before she heads out to greet Kakeru at the genkan.

"Surprise!" they yell in unison when the two of them walk in, hand in hand, and Kakeru's eyes go so comically wide they can't help bursting into laughter.

"Happy birthday, Kakeru!" Azu manages, showering him with a belated burst of confetti.

"You guys—you did all this?"

"It was all Naho," Suwa says, his grin wide, frozen in place when Kakeru turns to Naho with a surprising bashfulness, like he can't believe that Naho would. He squeezes her hand, the gesture affectionate, before his smile grows more pleased and he leans over to kiss her on the cheek.

"Suwa helped too, and everyone else," Naho insists, but she's practically glowing she's so happy. "I couldn't have done it without everyone here."

"Suwa helped more than we did, though," Takako admits with a laugh. "You were here since, what? Noon?"

"Earlier," Naho tells her, just as Suwa raises both hands to downplay his role.

"I just helped clean up, this really is all Naho." He laughs, scratching the back of his neck. It feels too warm now, with Kakeru and Naho's attention on him. "And speaking of Naho’s preparations, she made a lot of great food for us to eat, so!"

It's enough to distract everyone, Hagita heading over to the kitchen and helping Naho bring out the food that's been warming in the oven, the snacks already waiting for them on the dining room table. The afternoon flies by in what feels like a blur, Naho's house filling with laughter and lively chatter and increasingly emptier plates. When Naho makes an excuse to check on something in the kitchen Suwa takes the cue to follow, helping her light up the cake and bring it out for Kakeru. Azu holds up her phone to capture the moment, Hagita leading everyone in a stirring, hysterical rendition of the happy birthday song, and Takako putting a party hat on Kakeru before he blows out the candles, the warmth of their light staying in his eyes long after the flames die out.

He takes Naho's hand again, squeezes it with a tenderness that only the two of them share, and Suwa catches himself looking.

"You should open your presents," he says, maybe too loudly, and they take turns giving him their gifts.

Kakeru seems pleased when he unwraps Suwa's pick—a water bottle in his favorite soccer team's colors, since Kakeru's old one was starting to look a little worn out. "I didn't realize you'd noticed," Kakeru says, the corner of his lips curling up to an impish smile as his tone turns playful, teasing. "But I'm a little sad there are no flowers this time."

"H-hah!" Suwa sputters out, face hot as everyone bursts out laughing. He comes up with a feeble retort, but no one dwells on it too much. It was only a light jibe between friends, though now he can't sweep away the memory of Kakeru blushing when he did receive flowers from Suwa last year.

He wonders, watching Naho shyly give Kakeru his gift, and Kakeru taking great care to open it up, if he'd still have blushed the same way.

Kakeru's letter is short, and it doesn't ask for much. Though it mentions the fate of Kakeru and Naho's relationship a few years from now, the events he describes lead only up to his birthday their last year together. It's been days since, and Suwa isn't sure if he's meant to be doing more, or less, or different.

But whatever Kakeru wanted out of the letter, it wasn't a specific outcome, not a different path down a future that ends with saving a life, or keeping a relationship intact.

Relationships don't fail easily, and you can't fix that with one or two different choices the same way you can't save a life with one or two different actions. Caring for someone means deciding, every day, to care for them. To lend them strength when they need it, to let them lend it when you do.

It almost feels like a reminder, perhaps a warning. Suwa spent the summer break on his own in order to let Kakeru and Naho spend time together, but without that letter would he have accepted their invitation that first day back? He'd like to believe he would have done the right thing—hadn't he already?—but it isn't always clear what the right thing is. In the thick of whatever feelings may cloud the present, it isn't always obvious which choice shows care.


He glances up from his notebook, the page filled with aimless scribbling. Kakeru and Naho are looking at him with some curiosity. "Yeah?"

"The bell rang about a minute ago, but you haven't moved from your desk since," Kakeru says. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. Where are—where did Azu and Takako go?"

"They went down to get lunch with Hagita." Naho pulls up her bento boxes. "It's a nice day out. Do you want to go to the roof with us?"

He wants to say no.

Do you remember when you told me not to run away?

"Of course," he says instead, smiling softly as he pushes himself to his feet. "I wouldn't miss Naho's cooking for the world."

I wish I'd listened then. Would you listen now? I hope you are. I hope you walked home with us every day after school, and I hope you helped me with the variety show. I hope you helped me stay kind to Naho. I think you were probably enduring, in your own way, and I understand why you did, but it doesn't mean it hurt any less when you slipped away from us. The truth is, we never felt more like ourselves than when we were all together.

"It is a nice day out," he says once he pushes the door open to an empty roof and the fresh breeze of that summer-autumn transition weather prickles their skin. He takes a moment to breathe it in, eyes closed, just to help clear his head. When he opens his eyes Kakeru and Naho are beaming at him, their twin grins unbearably fond. "What?"

I hope you know we never wanted to lose you.

Naho shakes her head. "You looked—you looked pleased, just now. Happy."

"I'm a happy guy," Suwa protests, even as he feels the telltale warmth creeping up the tips of his ears.

"Not so much lately," Kakeru says. "I mean. Not really. Not like before."

Please don't run away.

"Hey—well, did you prefer I was—whatever I was before?"



Naho bursts out laughing, which sets off Kakeru too, until Suwa's joining in, despite feeling a little embarrassed. "Was it that obvious?" he mumbles, trailing after Kakeru and Naho as they scouted a good spot for lunch.

Is it selfish to ask this? I guess I've always been a little selfish. Maybe you wouldn't think so, if I asked you now.

"If it helps," Kakeru says, "we're really happy you aren't, anymore."

"This is nice," Naho adds once she's sat down. "I really like this. I'm really glad, Suwa."

Suwa chuckles. "It's just lunch, you two," he says, reaching down to open his bento, but Kakeru closes his hand around his wrist. He looks up, and the look on Kakeru's face is inscrutable. "What's wrong? You're both being—"

Kakeru hesitates, seems to take a moment to gather himself before he shares a look with Naho, who's gripping the hem of her skirt, but nods at him. He lets out a slow breath. "We actually had—there's something we've been meaning to talk to you about."

"It's about the letters," Naho says.

Suwa's stomach drops. Did they receive them too? But Kakeru had said—

Kakeru speaks up before Suwa can voice his question. "I read them, you know. Naho's, Hagita's, Azu's, Takako's." He glances at Naho. "Naho's never said it, but the others mentioned something interesting. Takako says—she says yours mentions the same thing. About you and Naho."

Can I tell you a secret, Suwa?

"That's—" Suwa swallows, but it doesn't get rid of the lump around his throat, doesn't calm the rapid beat of his heart, the sinking feeling in his gut. That's not important he wants to say, but even as he tries to form his mouth around the lie no sound comes out. "That's in a different timeline now," he says instead, weakly. "I knew what I was doing when I followed what the letter asked. I made the decision."

"I didn't know," Naho says softly. Her knuckles are white, eyes dark as she shakes her head. "She never told me. She thought she knew me, so she made the decision for me."

"Naho—" Suwa starts, even as he glances at Kakeru. But he doesn't seem surprised by this, doesn't seem like his heart is breaking. There's only a solemnity in his gaze, budding into fierce resolve.

"The letters aren't always right." She takes a deep breath, raising her gaze to Suwa, and the determination he finds there matches Kakeru's. "They only know what went wrong, but even then, did our future selves really understand why? There's more than one future, and they thought they knew what it looked like. You think you know what it looks like now."

"Yes, but Naho—"

"If there's anything those letters taught me, it's that what we do now is important. We got lucky once, but do you really want to wait another ten years before you try to fix the things you end up regretting?" She reaches out, closing both hands around one of Suwa's. Dimly, he thinks, she's got soft hands. Warm hands.

Next to him, Kakeru moves closer. "Today is today, and we got here the way we did," he says. The other shoe drops. Suwa turns to look, eyes wide, as Kakeru takes his other hand in his—a little more calloused compared to Naho's, but no less warmer—and echoes the rest of the words in his letter. The one that came from this Kakeru, after all: "Every step takes us in the direction we want to go."

"You—" Suwa breathes out, looking from Kakeru and Naho, who are looking at him with hope and something else that feels familiar, if a little strange. Lost for words, Suwa falls upon a tangent instead: "But Tanaka's frog—"

"Hagita asked him to bring it to class, to show him," Kakeru admits, darting a quick look at Naho, and that's when it hits Suwa.

It's the look they give each other when they think no one is looking. Now it's the look they're giving him. And Suwa—

"Can we tell you a secret, Suwa?" Kakeru asks.

If you went after what you wanted, I wouldn't think you were being selfish, either.