Minamoto Kou is dragged out of his mother’s womb kicking, screaming and crying.
Now, that’s not an unusual occurrence. It’s how births usually go. Babies are not known for their calm way of coming into their new world, and Kou is no exception. The doctor says that she has never hear a child crying that loud, and none of the presents dare to disagree.
The mother seems satisfied by the affirmation, anyway. Minamoto Tiara thinks that she’s going to need this baby to be both loud and strong if she’s going to do this. She holds him close to her chest, looking at him like he’s the whole world, and press a light kiss to the little hand that’s trying to pull at her hair.
The name has been chosen from the moment she was told of her pregnancy, and it feels right to whisper it against his skin. “Kou”, in a low and gentle voice that’s tinted with a deep kind of sorrow and longing.
Her brother is the only one by her side, but Teru keeps his mouth shut at her tears. He hugs her tightly, burying his face into her hair to hide his own expression. If he's crying too, there's no one to tell.
They stand together, as they always has. Being a Minamoto has never been easy, but.
Kou is born being loved. And that’s more than enough.
Their first home is by no means big. Kou spends the two first years of his life sleeping next to his mother and learning to squirm between the furniture, too much for such a little space.
This is the result of adding up two jobs, one child to raise and one woman too stubborn to accept the help of her big brother. His mum does a lot of things that Kou, at his little age, can’t understand at all. Sometimes she washes the clothes by hand, because the machine broke and uncle Teru is away for the week. Or she spends her free time patching up an old jacket, just to use it again. She usually buys food that will last first (flour, rice, cans of beans), and once all of that is crossed off the list she goes to the fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, and coffee. That’s her only whim: she takes at least four cups a day, sleeps five hours or so and then wakes up to take Kou to daycare.
Uncle Teru says that she’s working herself to the bone for no reason other than her own obstinacy.
Kou can hear them fight sometimes, when they think he’s already sleeping. Mum will say something like “I won’t accept your pity, nii-chan.” and uncle Teru will respond with something like “He’s my nephew, Tiara.” or “It’s just one town away, isn’t it?” or “You’ll find a new job soon, you’ll see.” or “My house is big enough.”
And then, one day, when Kou’s pressing himself against the door to hear them through the wood, a blanket around his shoulders, uncle Teru breathes out an “I miss him so much it hurts, sister.”
Maybe mum is just tired of having the same conversation at least twice a month, or maybe that’s the only thing she needed to hear from the beginning, because the next day she makes Kou his favorite breakfast and announces that they’re moving in with uncle Teru. Just for a while, she says. Just while they both get back into their feet.
Kou, still a kid, thinks that his uncle is the coolest thing since Nintendogs, so he mostly just cheers loudly and claims that he hopes they keep living together forever .
Uncle Teru rents a new apartment for them. This come with various pluses: for the first time ever, two-and-three-quarters years old Kou has a room of his own. Mum has more time to herself, and she even begins to train (“again” clarifies uncle Teru) with that old sword that she kept under their bed. They adopt a stray that follows uncle Teru home every day. Kou can go to the park more often, because there’s always someone to accompany him.
And then there’s the neighbour’s kid.
Mum seems wary of her for a while, and she even warns Kou to keep some distance. But they’re still children, and it only takes a few weeks for them to find each other at the park.
This is what Kou thinks: She’s pretty even and even though her ankles are kind of fat her eyes are bright and red and something to behold and her hair seems soft why can’t Kou’s be that silky and there’s some kind of vibration under his skin like a thousand ants are running through his insides and she makes it harder to breathe but at the same time he reallyreallyreally wants to hug her and never let her go, because she’s there and she’s.
(Air leaves Kou in the form of a sigh.)
Mum-and-uncle-like important, which is pretty impressive.
The neighbour’s daughter smiles, and she’s suddenly not just that.
She says “My name is Nene, is a pleasure to meet you!” and it’s dumb, because is the first time they talk to each other and Kou is only three, but the thought that crash into his head, fully coated in the steel of his will, is I won’t fail you this time .
He doesn’t hug Nene, even if he wants to. But he holds her hand tightly anyway.
Kou doesn’t plan to let go again.
Mum deals with this new friendship with a resigned expression. Uncle Teru seems devastated when she looks at him during dinner and announces “He’s friends with Nene now.”
Kou doesn’t understand what’s wrong. He wishes he could, if just to wipe that expression off his uncle’s face.
They’re six and seven respectively when Nene falls off the swing set and hits her head hard against the ground.
Kou won’t remember much of it later, memories blurred by the panic and the tears, but his mind retains the essential: there’s blood and it’s Nene’s and all he can see it’s redredred and he doesn’t even remember screaming but his throat feels sore afterwards. And the utter sense of failure sits into his shoulders, so heavy that it threatens with sinking him into the ground. It won’t leave him for a long, long time.
Nene’s mother laugh it off when it’s all over, saying that it’s usual for kids to exaggerate things. She’s just fine.
Kou has nightmares for weeks afterwards.
He’s thirteen when he meets Mitsuba.
Kou’s a teenager now. He’s still living with uncle Teru, even if him and his mother are drifting away more every day that passes. It mostly has to do with Kou and his education, which makes him feel...bad, to put it lightly.
( “You can’t keep him away from it forever, Terunii.”
“Nephew! He’s your nephew, and my son, and a Minamoto, and that’s all there is to it. I’ll appreciate if you could remember that, you know!?”)
That’s not the point at all, though. The point is that he meets Mitsuba. And they become friends right off the bat, and Kou treasures every second they spend together - even if Mitsuba is a handful, mouth venomous and smile blinding and that kind of pretty face that makes Kou feels - things. Things he doesn’t want to focus on. So. Moving on. They are friends and it’s nice, even if sometimes it feels like he’s missing something. Unnerving.
When uncle Teru discovers about Mitsuba, he asks how did they met. And Kou opens his mouth to talk about the first day of school, about class duty, about cocky words and muffled laughs.
(The first time he sees Mitsuba, he’s scared and crying, back against the lockers, just a little boy afraid of his own futility.
“Do you remember me?” )
(No, no. The first time he meets Mitsuba he’s covered in blood and feathers, big eyes uncertain of his own situation, expression disoriented, a bird’s skeleton under his grotesque new hand. And Kou is afraid, so afraid, but at the same time there’s a flame of hope burning in the center of his chest, the idea of trying again, of making everything better-
And then the crushing reality of failing to protect who he cared about. Once again.
“Lemme go”. That’s what he said. But Kou wouldn’t. He didn’t. He won’t.)
“Kou?” uncle Teru asks, tone careful as he raises a hand to touch his cheek in a gesture full of affection. “Is everything alright?”
That makes him react. Kou forces a smile. Gets the intrusive thoughts out of his head with a shake.
“Yeah, yeah!” his uncle doesn’t seem convinced by his act in the slightest, so Kou goes on quickly. “So! It all started when this girly-faced kid accuses me of making him do all the hard work…”
Kou thought he had gotten rid of his nightmares with the years. He doesn’t remember them usually, but there’s sometimes a glimpse or a flash when he wakes up - Nene crying, Amane holding a knife over his head. There’s always blood and there’s always tears, and the crippling fear of being alone paralyzing his whole body.
He got better for a while. But once he meets Mitsuba, they come back at full force.
Kou goes to school with purple bags under his eyes, and Mitsuba asks him if he’s trying to become even uglier.
He laughs it off, and doesn’t think once about black feathers and bird claws. He doesn’t picture big, pink eyes that look through him, not recognizing his features. He does not.
Really, he’s just fine.
Mitsuba is not his best friend, unsurprisingly, even if he’s presenting a good competition to both Amane and Nene. Especially taking into account that it seems like those two couldn't shut the hell up even if their lives depended on it.
“Are you sure you don’t like him, Kou-kun?” says Nene, all bright eyes and warm smiles and necessity to make literally anything about true love and fairy tales.
(Sometimes she’s silent and distracted, gaze lost in the void or their faces, and something seems off. She looks sad in those moments, and even her smile is fake in a way that’s painfully obvious. Amane notices, too, but neither of them say anything about it.
Kou won’t know for a long time, but then he’ll kick himself for not noticing earlier, because of course that it would be her the one to remember. Of course that Nene would be the one to cling to those memories even after her first life, desperate to keep this bond they share close to her chest. And it must have been bittersweet for her, seeing them and knowing that everything is different and yet the same, aware of the fact that she’s the only one treasuring what they had. But when Kou asks her about it, Nene only smiles.
“It was easy” she says, fingers squeezing Amane’s tightly, gaze set in Kou’s face. “Loving you is always easy.”
But that will take awhile to happen. And before that:)
“I don’t like him.” says Kou, very obviously lying. Amane notices, the little shit, if the way he drops himself over his lap is anything to tell by.
“He has su~ch a pretty face, Kou-chan . And you’re a young, healthy boy! We can’t blame you, so just admit it!”
Kou pushes Amane off him and into the ground. He lets out a yelp. Nene looks very resigned as she sighs.
“You know, Kou-kun, you could as well try and tell him how you feel.”
“I said I do not like him !” he yells. Amane sits in the floor, his temple resting against Nene’s knees. Sometimes, Kou wonders if he was raised by wolves. But that’s not the point. “He has a cocky attitude and a foul mouth and it’s literally impossible for us to breathe the same air for five minutes without arguing about something petty!”
“You have one of his photos set as your lockscreen.” Nene observes. Kou points an accusing finger at her.
“It’s artistic! I have it for aesthetic reasons!”
What a jerk.
Sometimes, looking at Mitsuba feels like a phantom pain - like Kou’s hurting about something he has already lost, something that’s not there anymore. And he thinks I doesn’t like him , but shivers when Mitsuba touches his arm with the fingers of his right hand anyway. And Kou honestly doesn’t know why does it happens, but it brings goosebumps to his skin.
Mitsuba and Kou grow up and grow closer, touches becoming more frequent between them, jokes turning almost flirty. And it’s not a surprise to Kou, the first time he thinks about kissing him just to shut him up. He doesn’t need to get accustomed to something that was always there, lingering, waiting for him to open his eyes and realize-
- that Mitsuba is, for some ungodly reason, exactly what he wants.
He doesn’t act on his feelings, though, still too afraid to both the possibility of rejection and the feeling of uneasiness clinging to his spine every time Mitsuba gets too close to Amane’s twin brother.
Kou doesn’t tell either his mother or uncle about it. The anniversary of his younger uncle’s death is close, and around this time of the year both of them are burned out and surly, so he doesn’t dare to disturb them with his teenage problems.
On the other hand, he’s not alright either. The photography that’s set in the center of their little family altar throw Kou off balance. The date of his death feels cold into his chest and never fails to make him restless. It makes him acutely aware of everything around him, and none of it is good - mum’s strained tone, the tense line in uncle Teru’s shoulders, the strong smell of coffee that’s always hanging in the kitchen, the quiet sobs barely muffled by the house’s walls.
Mitsuba’s touch is somehow calming in the middle of the storm, and that’s just because it feels undeniably warm against his skin. He’s not comforting in the conventional manner, always prone to teasing him, but that’s also weirdly reassuring in its own way.
He lets Kou hold his hand for the first time. He’s beaming for the rest of the week after that, and not even Amane’s constant nipping or the gloomy atmosphere of his house is enough to bother him.
Uncle Teru never talks about his little brother. Mum doesn’t either. He’s a unespoken entity made of remorse and yearn. He’s the distance between them in every tense hug and the weight that keeps their shoulders down.
Kou doesn’t ask how he died.
He knows anyway, without a single word said out loud.
He knows that he was not enough to protect anyone.
Nene was the first to go, in front of her two boys. And she died loved, but that was not enough to console either of them. Hanako retreated into his boundary, refusing to talk to anyone, and he told him to leave it alone, to switch schools and forget about his own surname and all it carried.
He said he didn’t want to lose him, too.
In the end Kou couldn’t help Mitsuba. He couldn’t save Nene. And his life didn’t feel worth living, but he kept going as long as he could, and then-
-then, at some point, Kou Minamoto was killed. And there was two kids and a crying mother and a monster, and Terunii was crying so much as he screamed his name, pressed his hands against the bleeding wound piercing his abdomen, begged him to hold on, to stay awake, stay with him pleasepleaseplease.
And he died a hero, but his futile feeling of fulfilment couldn’t hug his little sister to sleep.
“Do you like that boy?” Mum asks. Her eyes are reddened and her voice sounds hoarse and tired, but she’s trying her best to seem interested, and he feels a mushy feeling nest in his chest at the thought. It’s mixed up with frustration, though, because why can’t anyone mind their own business . “The one with the pink hair.”
“No.” Kou retorts immediately. Mum smiles lightly.
“You have a photo with him as a lockscr-”
“Can’t any of you understand what the word art means!? ”
Well, it’s obvious that Kou does like Mitsuba.
He just doesn’t want anyone to know. Because sometimes he thinks that it’s weird, the sheer force of this feeling of yearning that awakes in his chest every single time he locks eyes with Mitsuba. Kou wants and wants and wants so much it takes his breath away and makes it harder to breathe.
He’s lovesick and pining like the teenager he is, and Mitsuba keeps being both stupid and cute. Stupidly cute. It makes it difficult to keep his feelings in check and maintain his facade of slightly frustrated but fond friend.
Mitsuba, unaware of everything that he makes bloom in Kou’s chest, keeps being sarcasting and petty and so terribly charming. He takes photos of the both of them, of Amane and his telescope, Nene gardening, Tsukasa bothering Sakura with a screaming Natsuhiko in the background. Not all of them are pretty, but they are lively and colorful and perfect. Mitsuba laughs at how bad Kou is at the whole photography thing when he tries to take a selfie, and claims that he lacks an artistic eye when Kou complains that it’s exactly the same as the one Mitsuba takes.
Kou visits Mitsuba’s room once, and his wall is covered in old notes passed between them in class, pictures and invitations to birthday parties. Kou rises an eyebrow at the sight, and Mitsuba puffs out his cheeks and pinch him hard enough to make him jump.
“What? Don’t you know what a collage is, or something?”
“I didn’t say anything!”
“I can sense you thinking it, you weirdo.” Mitsuba covers his mouth with an oversized sleeve, but Kou can see the smile in his eyes. “Maybe I shouldn’t have brought you into my room, only god knows what kind of perverted fantasies will you-”
“Shut up! ”
Mitsuba yells when Kou puts a hand against his mouth, and they both struggle for a few seconds, trying to get the upper hand. At some point Mitsuba licks at his hand. Kou lets out a horrified yelp and try to smack him in the face, but the other keeps dodging it. He doesn't even know why they're fighting anymore, but everytime Mitsuba huffs it goes straight to Kou's cheeks and it's making his head light and dizzy, so he has to get him away at all cost. He triumphally shoves him against his mattress, sure of his victory because Mitsuba has the strength of a newborn bird, but he circles an arm around Kou’s neck, and down they both go.
They fall into the bed with a dull thud, and Kou takes in a deep breath. For a second they freeze, just staring at each other, both laying on their sides and just some inches between them. Without really thinking about it, because it's really difficult to get a logical thought out of the pink fog clouding his mind, Kou raises his hand to get Mitsuba’s hair off his face, and there’s something eerie about the smooth skin under his own. He thinks about scars, marking him in silvery pink. Kou remembers running his fingers over the irregular edges, hands traveling from the right side of his face to his neck, the back of his shoulders, his arms. They were rough, and always looked macabre in contrast to Mitsuba’s soft, round features and milky skin.
But that’s not right, isn’t it? Mitsuba has always been safe. He probably doesn’t even know the meaning of pain.
(Kou doesn’t either. Or he shouldn’t.)
There’s something awakening in the pit of Kou’s stomach at the look in Mitsuba’s eyes, at the feeling of having his arm still around his neck - and he’s warm and breathing and alive, and that fact shouldn’t amaze him much, but yet. The idea is breathtaking in its own right.
They share their first kiss, and Kou is shaking. His breath hitches at the feeling of Mitsuba’s lips against his, and he can’t really say who was the one that leaned in first. Maybe they just met in the middle, and Kou subdues to the warmth sprouting in his chest and the pounding in his ears. Mitsuba tightens his arm around him, solid and real and grounding in a whole new level. And it doesn’t feel like fireworks at all. It’s like a far off memory of summer evenings and spring mornings.
When they part, both red and still slightly breathless, there’s no enbrightenment, no confession.
It’s not necessary. They already knew.
Kou doesn’t fully understand what’s happening to him. Not at all. This is what he knows: He was someone, once upon a time. Someone that failed to protect those he loved. Someone that failed them. He died, and he was probably waiting for it. Life was bright until it was dull and pointless and not worth the pain that it brought with it.
And then there’s the other things. The good ones. He knows how Amane’s laugh sound even before he hears it for the first time. He has an unspoken connection with Nene that translates in badly hidden looks of frustration whenever his friends are being stupid. And loving Mitsuba comes easy. It feels like both a relief and a treat, but true nonetheless.
Kou started falling for him and the first hello , and he haven’t stopped since. Mitsuba makes it effortless. And maybe Kou was born to love him. Maybe it doesn’t matter the life or the timeline they’re into. Maybe this is just his second chance.
(Kou takes Mitsuba’s hand and he knows, from the bottom of his heart, that he won’t fail again. Not any of them.)