“I wonder if his hair’s grown back already,” Enta says, voice barely above a whisper in the quietness of Kazuki’s bedroom.
They’re lying side to side on Kazuki’s bed, with Kazuki between Enta’s body and the wall. Even after all this time, the closeness of Kazuki’s body still makes Enta’s head spin.
Kazuki on his back, staring dreamily at the ceiling. “It probably has,” he says, softly, as if lost in thought. Enta watches him. He loves Kazuki’s face, and he’s now free to look as much as he wants. After a moment, Kazuki continues. “He must have grown taller, too.”
Enta can’t help but frown at that. Tooi was always the tallest out of the three of them, and Kazuki is still taller than Enta. Life is unfair, it seems, in more ways than one.
There’s a calendar hanging on the wall next to Kazuki’s bed. It’s impossible to ignore, as much as Enta would like to forget its existence; a constant reminder of what, of who, they’re missing. He can’t ignore the way Kazuki has been keeping track of each day that passes, how Tooi’s release date has been circled in thick red marker.
They’ll see him tomorrow. Kazuki’s anticipation is palpable, too much for him to bear on his own. Enta knows Kazuki invited him over for his own benefit, but he’s glad. He’ll always prefer being with Kazuki than being away from him.
Over dinner, Kazuki’s parents had asked them about Tooi, with an affection and interest that seemed excessive and out of place directed at a boy they’ve never met before, especially when that boy was currently in juvie. But Enta has been watching Kazuki miss Tooi for the better part of three years, has heard him speak of Tooi with unmistakable love and gentle wistfulness in his voice, so he understands why and how Tooi’s name has found a place in Kazuki’s home. Whatever and whoever Kazuki loves, his parents will love too. Enta loves and hates them for that.
It’s a fitting emotion, one Enta has grown accustomed to.
“We should go swimming,” he says, trying to distract himself from his own selfish thoughts. “All three of us.” They’ve made vague plans of all the things they want to do with Tooi, once he’s back. He really does want to see Tooi. He wants to take him somewhere fun and pretend the three years they were apart didn’t happen.
“Yeah,” Kazuki says, and although he’s smiling, he sounds impossibly sad. “We have to make up for the lost time”. He curls into himself, getting closer to Enta in the process. He closes his eyes before he speaks. “I don’t want him to feel lonely again.”
He knows loneliness. For him, the line between romance and friendship never existed. From the moment he met Kazuki, loving him is all he’s ever known. Years ago, when he had looked down at Kazuki, still lovely in his Sara costume and eyelids moving with restless sleep, it was as if something inside of him had spilled over, had reached its limit. So much love and anger and resentment in his heart, with nowhere to go.
He kissed Kazuki without caring about the consequences. It had changed everything but so much had remained the same. Kazuki had changed, for Tooi. Enta’s feelings have remained exactly as they had always been.
So Enta watches Kazuki, like he’s always done. He never stopped. Doesn’t think he ever will.
Their eyes meet when Kazuki opens his. Enta looks away.
“Hey,” Kazuki says, “what’s bothering you?”
Enta keeps his gaze lowered. “Nothing’s bothering me.”
One of Kazuki’s hands reaches Enta’s face, pressing into his skin softly, as if urging him to turn his head and look at Kazuki. Enta can’t resist, so he does, meeting Kazuki’s gaze.
Kazuki’s concern is evident on his face. “I didn’t bring it up earlier because I didn’t want to make things awkward in front of Haruka and my parents,” Kazuki continues, “but something’s up. I can tell.”
“Well,” Enta says, “something might be up with you, but I’m fine. You’re just being annoying.” He’s painfully aware of how childish he sounds. So maybe he hasn’t managed to outgrow certain things. Maybe he’s still immature and selfish. He’s tried to be better, he really has, but it hasn't worked.
“Are you angry?”
Enta shakes his head no and exhales, loudly. Is he angry? He doesn’t know. “I’m going home,” he says, suddenly very tired.
At school, Enta has made friends that aren’t Kazuki. Him and Kazuki had ended up in different classes, so he had been forced to, at first. Soon, he found out it’s not that hard to be liked when people didn’t really know you that well. He jokes around with the girls and lets them do whatever they want to his hair, and he plays soccer with the boys. He meets up with Yamamoto and Takeda on the weekends and they go for ice cream, or to the karaoke place in Rokku that Takeda likes so much. Sometimes, he stays over at Yamamoto’s place and they play videogames and talk about everything and about nothing at all.
From a distance, he has seen Kazuki make friends of his own. At some point in the past three years, Enta started living a life that didn’t revolve around Kazuki, and he likes it. He does.
And if when he’s upset Yamamoto simply sighs and asks his friend Takatsuki from class A2 if she can go find Kazuki for him, well. It’s only natural that him and Kazuki are still best friends, right? Of course their other friends will notice. And if when Takatsuki had made a passing comment about how nice it must be to be friends with a guy as handsome as Kazuki, Enta had agreed that yes, it was, that was only him being honest. Nothing wrong with that.
They found a good balance, him and Kazuki. So much trial and error and so many badly hidden secrets brought to light, but now, they can spend time together without the pressure of knowing that just one word, one touch, would break them. They have so much to talk about every day, so much to tell each other. Enta loves listening to Kazuki talk, about his new friends or about soccer or the upcoming test he hasn’t studied for or about his annoying English teacher, or about Haruka. Some days, he doesn’t even mention Tooi at all.
Sometimes, when Kazuki catches him staring, he stares back, and smiles.
It’s in moments like this when he wonders if it has all just been a very convincing, very elaborated lie.
He sits up on the bed, feet on the floor, but when he’s about to get up, he hesitates. Before he can gather his conviction to leave again, he feels Kazuki’s weight shifting, moving closer. Enta turns to look at him, to find Kazuki crawling on his hands and knees towards him.
He doesn’t give Enta any time to react. He places a hand on Enta’s shoulder, and he leans in close, so close Enta can feel his breath on his face. He cocks his head to the side. “Don’t be angry,” Kazuki says, voice airy and sweet.
It makes Enta melt. He opens his mouth to tell Kazuki he isn’t angry, that he can never stay angry at him for long and that Kazuki should know that by now, but he doesn’t get a chance to speak.
He only has a second to prepare before Kazuki leans in closer still.
The second time they kiss, it’s Kazuki who initiates, one hand placed gently on Enta’s cheek. Enta closes his eyes and kisses back with all the inexperience and eagerness of someone that’s only ever been in love with one person. Kazuki’s mouth tastes vaguely ofthe natto he had earlier, and it’s a bit gross, in all honesty, but it doesn’t matter. He feels warm all over and his thoughts go foggy. There’s nothing more important than Kazuki’s soft lips on his. Kazuki moves in a way that’s unexpectedly demanding, and it’s easy to let him take the lead. His mind goes blank, and by the time Kazuki pulls away, Enta’s face is flushed hot and his heart is racing, threatening to jump right off his chest.
Kazuki smiles. “Sorry,” he says, but he doesn’t sound sorry at all. “Was that alright?”
“You know it was alright,” Enta says, and it’s humiliating. Of course Kazuki knows. He has to know. “More than alright.”
“Then can you tell me what’s wrong?”
Enta can’t, as a matter of fact. If Kazuki had meant to make him relax, his method of choice had the complete opposite effect. “The kiss. Did you mean it?”
“Yes. Of course,” Kazuki replies, as if it’s the most obvious thing.
Maybe it is. It’s so hard to believe, something straight out of Enta’s most recurring and familiar fantasies. But his mouth is still warm with the imprint of Kazuki’s lips. He knows that this Kazuki, his Kazuki, happy and honest and sweet, would never lie to him. Not like this.
Still, Enta needs to know. The skin of his cheeks feels like it’s burning. “Do you,” the words are hard to form, and they drop from his lips slowly, “want to kiss Kuji?”
“Yes. Do you?”
“Do you like Tooi?”
“Of course I like him.” There’s more Enta wants to say, but he can’t seem to put his thoughts into words. Kazuki keeps looking at him, expectantly. “Ah, this is stupid.” There’s no point in lying to Kazuki, is it? He doesn’t want to lie to Kazuki, not anymore, but being honest is still as scary as it had been when he was fourteen. “I’m scared,” he confesses. It’s irrational. Things have already changed and there’s no coming back. He had three long years to get used to it, and failed miserably.
“Enta…” there’s pity in Kazuki’s voice. Once upon a time, Enta would have felt like he didn’t deserve it. Now, he just hates it, hates it so much he could scream. “Scared of what?” Kazuki continues, oblivious to Enta’s anger.
Enta clenches his fists. Now or never, he thinks. “That you won’t like me anymore.”
“That won’t happen,” Kazuki shakes his head. Enta looks away. Kazuki sighs. “Listen. When he comes back, let’s talk about it. All three of us, together”.
“All three of us…” It sounds impossible. Wilder and more wonderful than Enta’s dreams could ever be.
Kazuki nods. “It’s getting late,” he says.. He stands up in one swift movement and offers Enta a hand, in a gesture so familiar it almost feels like deja vu. Enta has never been able to resist it, so he takes Kazuki’s hand and lets him help Enta get on his feet. Once they’re standing together, side by side, instead of letting go, Kazuki’s hold on him only gets tighter. “I’ll walk you home,” he says
They walk in silence, and Kazuki doesn’t let go until they reach Enta’s house. Even if everything is about to change once again, if only Enta can keep these moments in his heart, if these feelings remain, if Kazuki’s hand is still on his as they move forward, then he’ll be alright.
They go to their spot, all three of them, and lie together under the sun by the river as they wait for their clothes to dry. Enta props himself up on an elbow so he can look at Tooi’s face as he speaks. Kazuki listens intently as well, fingers intertwined with Tooi’s. Tooi seems content to be between them, and there’s a confidence in his posture, in his mannerisms, that wasn’t there before. He looks grown up, even if he hasn’t changed much. He still has the same dark eyes and the same boyish freckles, but the tension and fatigue that used to plague his face are gone. It makes Enta wonder how he and Kazuki must look like to him, if he can pick up on the subtle changes that they can’t see in themselves.
He tells them about the people he met, the boys he befriended, the ones that left and the ones that stayed. The books he was allowed to read, and foods that he had missed, and how cold it would get at night, even under the covers of his bed. How much his body is aching to play soccer on a proper field again. I don’t want him to feel alone again, Kazuki had said, and Enta knows what he meant now. He can’t bear it, thinking of Tooi, all alone, while the two of them had each other.
Enta tells him about school, and about soccer. Kazuki lets him speak for both of them. They talk about the future, and for the first time, Enta can think about it and not feel like he’s drowning or like he’s running out of time. It isn’t scary, not anymore.
Tooi’s eyes are locked to Kazuki’s as he says “I really missed you.” Enta can see their hands clasped tight together, and it’s impossible to miss the love and content in Kazuki’s expression. There’s a small flicker of jealousy he can’t contain, but it’s short-lived. “Both of you,” Tooi adds, this time looking at Enta.
Afterwards, when the sun begins to set, Kazuki drags them into a store nearby and insists on getting snacks and drinks for the three of them. Tooi and Enta wait outside, leaning back against the wall, a discreet distance between them. They talk about mundane, unimportant things, and it’s easy, like it always was between them, except this time there are no rough edges. Tooi asks him about his sister and his grandmother, and it fills Enta with a gratitude and affection he’s sure are showing on his face. Unlike before, when they were younger, Tooi’s inherent kindness doesn’t leave him blindsided. He can respond to it, relish on the feeling. He understands, with sudden clarity, why Kazuki loves Tooi so much.
Tooi, who had seen the ugliest parts of Enta and had decided he was worth keeping around.
So maybe Enta has always liked Tooi, alright. He can admit that now. But right here, in this moment, he likes Tooi more than he ever has before. He tries to sound casual when he speaks. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
“Yeah?” asks Tooi, resting his head back on the well, neck on display.
Quickly, Enta kisses the corner of Tooi’s mouth. When he pulls back, Tooi is looking at him with a gentle smile on his face. Tooi has always been unreasonably handsome, the bastard, but right now, he’s glowing.
Happiness suits him, Enta thinks.
“I missed you too,” he says. Tooi doesn’t reply, but his hand finds Enta’s and holds on tight, and that’s all Enta needs.
Kazuki’s laugh comes from behind them. When Enta turns to him, he’s carrying plastic bags on both if his hands, and he’s smiling, radiant and lovely. It makes Enta’s heart ache, even now. He meets Tooi’s gaze again, and Enta knows he’s feeling it too, that sweet, tender pain.
“Seems like we’re even now,” Kazuki says.
“Yeah,” Enta agrees, “we are.”