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The (Rin and) Makoto Show SP: Entertainment Beyond the Living Plane with Less Divine Intervention

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He thinks he smells the salty-fresh air of the ocean.

 

Ever-so-slowly, his eyes flutter open, to the dark sky that hangs high, a canopy stretching endlessly in his vision. He breathes, eyes glazed, a blank stare towards the high heavens as the wind rustles the grassy field he's lying on, a soft whisper that tickles on the edges of his mind.

Overhead, cherry blossom petals flutter aimlessly.

He feels like he should remember something about them cherry blossom petals, that is. Like he should remember why his heart settles into a contented staccato rhythm at the sight of them, or why his mind quietens into blissful peace. Something doesn't feel quite right, though, so he pushes himself up, shifting and drawing his limbs to himself, arms supporting his back as he sits up.

The world is an odd shade of grays, whites and black, but the cherry blossom tree looming behind him is in full bloom pink petals dancing in the wind, frail and fragile, ethereal in their short life. Before him, stretching so long he couldn't see where it begins and ends, is a river, the clear sounds of water flowing the only noise that penetrates his ears other than the wind's.

He is waiting. He knows he is. For what, he isn't really sure.

But.

Makoto  

At least he remembers his name.

----o0o-----

The boat that docks on his side of the river sways. Three children jump down, all giggles and laughter, impatient feet padding across the field, chasing each other. The man who stands on the boat with an oar stays, his red cape fluttering in the wind, eyes attentive, and Makoto approaches him.

"Why am I here?" he asks, tentative, and cool dark eyes sweep towards him, elegant but understanding at the same time.

"Because you can't go further yet," the man says, and a name rises in Makoto's memory: it's Jizou Bosatsu the deity who guards the Sanzu river, who loves children most but also guides adults. "You simply must wait."

The question leaves his lips before he knows it: "How long?"

The god doesn't answer. The boat turns away, follows the flow of the water and wades across the river, swallowed by the fog.

Makoto stares and thinks,  how long? 

----- o0o -----

The world is hazy gray most of the time, with water lapping on riverbanks and the dock. He sees shadows of people, figures of children, drifting acros the water or jumping off the dock towards the field of hawthorns that sometimes change into rows and rows of cypress trees. Sometimes he walks closer, close enough for the shadows to notice him and engage him in short conversations, but eventually they disappear towards the looming gates behind the field.

Makoto wanders to the gates, once, twice, thrice, but each time, he's unable to come much closer than ten meters from the gate.

"Are you not coming?" one of the shadows ask, as it drifts away from him closer to the gates, and Makoto smiles politely before taking small steps back until he stands in the midst of gentianas spreading blue beneath his feet.

"I'm supposed to wait," he replies.

He folds his knees and buries his fingers in a cluster of gentianas.

-----o0o-----

He feels his heart drop when someone stops suddenly, right before the gates. Makoto notes his geta, clear behind overlays of gray, amidst shadows moving down the path, footsteps disappearing into the ground. The young man looks at him, keeps his gaze, even when they're the only ones left, the last of the other souls flickering out as they pass through.

"Are you not going to go there?" Makoto says.

His response is a small tilt of his head, an unreadable expression.

"Are you waiting for me?" He looks down, to his fist balled at his thigh, fingers catching the fabric of his white kimono as he lets out a shaky whisper, "I don't think I can go yet."

He's faced with a small frown this time, blue eyes narrowed under the slight crease between his brows.

Makoto wonders why he feels a distant loneliness, when the young man bows and walks through the gates, leaving a trail of irises behind him.

-----o0o-----

The camelias disappear when he tries to touch it, dissipates under his fingers into a shower of light. He hears the boat as it docks by the river bank, a hollow thud as he turns to look.

He doesn't see anything out of the ordinary, today. Static filled figures, the low hum of passing souls. 

No one stops for him, this time.

He continues to wait, watching the lazy laps of water in the distance.

-----o0o-----

He takes to climb up the cherry blossom tree and perches himself on one of the lower branches.

Some days, the cherry blossom tree blooms and some days it doesn't. Makoto counts one and a half week before the tree blooms again, but then the days here feel like they're blurring into one another, because the sky remains dark and the world remains grayed-out and white-washed--the cherry blossom pink petals a stark contrast with everything as they ride out the wind. He climbs up the tree and watches shadows of people coming and disappearing, some of them struggles to wade through the rapid stream of the river, some of them lightning fast on the boat. He tries to keep count sometimes but always loses count in the middle.

Time becomes an odd concept, so Makoto gives up on thinking about it and focuses on the little things instead: the cracks in the tree barks, the swirl of cherry blossom petals falling into the river, the stones on the riverbank. Sometimes he sees the shadow of the boat, moving back and forth across the river, and wonders again,  how long  

There's no use to think about that, though.

-----o0o-----

"What are you waiting for?"

Makoto looks up to see monochromatic noise, a dark shape hovering next to him.

"I don't know..."

-----o0o-----

He wonders if he'll ever know, wonders if what he's waiting for is even beyond the river.

-----o0o-----

He doesn't remember ever seeing a shrub of field mustard by the bark of the cherry blossom tree, but it's there anyway, and Makoto looks at it curiously. He bends down, runs his hand over the blooming shrub of bright yellow, a reminder of sunshine in the forever gray world.

A frail stem breaks under his thumb, and he draws it in, cradles it in the crook of his palm, and  

a ball of chestnut fur in a shrub of field mustard, its eyes wide and back hunched  

"Oh," slips out of his mouth before he realizes it; the haziest of memory that makes him smile, and Makoto says, " fluffy ."

He doesn't really understand doesn't really know what it is he just remembered, but there's warmth that comes with the memory of the ball of chestnut fur hiding amongst the field mustards, bristling indignantly, ears flattened as sharp teeth clamp playfully on his fingertip.

"Fluffy," Makoto murmurs, thumb brushing the yellow petals gently, and cherishes the warmth.

-----o0o-----

There are days when he wakes up against the cherry blossom tree, to the flutters of the pale pink petals, and the thick taste of kuroki cloying in the back of his throat.

He swallows, closes his eyes, and lets the sense of guilt washes over him on those days, because  I can't fulfill my promise, I can't make good on my words, I can't  

He doesn't understand why, doesn't know what promises he makes, but the guilt and disappointment grows until it drowns the taste of kuroki, until he chokes on it.

"I'm sorry."

------o0o------

"It's been a while."

A flutter of black as the wind blows, a small shower of petals above his head.

"Oh, it's you. You're back." Makoto watches the soft sway of the dayflowers by his feet. "How long has it been?"

The young man holds out a single gold-banded lily, and Makoto remembers, with a small echo of a memory, of shimmering scarlet under the sunlight  

'I should have Haru paint you.'

"Haru?" Breathless, a gasp around his name.  Haruka eyes as blue as the water, someone close, someone important, his best friend, Haru,  Haru―who?   Makoto inhales, sharp disappointment of himself because he cannot remember more, and repeats, "Haru."

"I never did ended up painting him." Blue eyes soften as he smiles, a faraway look when he turns towards the gates. "Not too long now, I'm sure."

"Can't you stay a while?" He sends the gate fleeting look. "Haru  do you know why I'm here? Why can't I go with you? 

Haruka  says nothing, folds Makoto's fingers around the lily's stem before he goes through the gate, the hem of his kimono dissolving away into white petals.

Makoto leans back against the cherry blossom tree, asks the branches winding above him, flowers in full bloom under the dark sky, "'I should have Haru paint you', huh?"

-----o0o-----

The answer comes in a rush.

One second he is standing under the cherry blossom tree, looking up through the curtain of pink petals as the branches hang heavy and low, a curious feeling of looking for someone curling in his chest, and the next second the wind picks up, swirls the petal around him, and Makoto loses his breath because  

"Boo."

flashes of crimson, cascading down, a rogue grin stretching on the face framed by falling red strands  

"You're handsome when you're upside-down."

a kiss, fleeting and soft, yet with too much emotions he can't quite grasp--

Makoto opens his mouth, eyes fluttering close, mind clinging to the last image of memory, of crimson hair and the scent of cherry blossom cloying in the back of his throat, and the name tumbles out like a prayer.

"Rin."

-----o0o-----

Once he remembers the name, it feels like everything comes easier.

Most of the times they come in his dreams, hazy recollection of countless lives, Rin and Haruka the only constants that never change. But they're fleeting, and like any other dreams, they fade from his mind just as quickly as he wakes, leaving only the slightest trail that he grasps onto with a desperation of a dying man: a space clustered in the midst of sunflowers, the smile of a water goddess that lends Haruka's face a faint shade of red, a memory of sharing popcorn and drinks and stealing kisses in the darkness of the theatre.

Sometimes it's a word or a phrase, popping in his mind like bubbles rippling on the water surface, and he'd end up murmuring the word over and over again for the longest time, until he begins to remember.

Today, there is only one word:  train .

Makoto trails his fingers in a patch of soft ground, making long, winding paths as he hums the word over and over under his breath, pausing when images tickle the edge of his mind: a bright grin that greets him as he rushes into the station, a soft kiss against his jaw welcoming him home.

"Station," Makoto breathes. "Train station."

The memory dances lightly in his head: dots of different colours, rows of characters naming each dot, attentive Rin by his side, listening, gaze following his finger as it makes a line from one dot to another. Makoto digs the tip of his thumb into the soil, feels the dirt sneaks under his nail, and writes down Rin's name on the ground.

He remembers Rin's bright, reckless grin as he steps into the train and the door closes behind him, remembers the surge of surprise and happiness because Rin doesn't disappear in a blink of an eye. He remembers excited eyes glued to the train window, remembers the giddy clutch of Rin's fingers against his arms, nails digging into skin as they kiss and kiss, and  

The ring catches the dim light of sunset through the train window, and Makoto hides a smile as he rolls it carefully in his palm. It's a silly idea, and the ring isn't even worth a dime, cheap plastic that kids sometimes play with, but he hopes Rin would humo u r him a little. What kind of face he would make, Makoto thinks, lips curving up in a smile, imagining the indignant look Rin would give him when he slips the ring onto Rin's finger. 

He'd look cute, Makoto decides, as the train screeches angrily and he stumbles, in the midst of other passengers' shrieks the plastic ring rolling away from his hand, and the world spirals  

He stops, breath catching, eyes widening in fear. The memory floats away, but this time he doesn't try to reach for it, doesn't try to clutch onto it. There's a sense of horror washing over him, leaving his fingers trembling as they dig into the soil, hard.

He doesn't want to remember that. He doesn't.

"Train," he whispers, shakily, and latches to the last image of Rin's grin pressed against the train window.

-----o0o-----

The tip of his finger touches something soft, light like velvet, a gentle brush down his knuckles, a tickle around his wrists. Makoto wakes up to a bush of yews growing around his tree, curling up the trunk, fanning out just under the lowest branch. He lets his arm dangle down, feels the leaves prickle his skin, caresses the red buds gently between his fingers.

He thinks the sky looks dark today, more than usual.

He can't quite see.

The branches above blurs into black -- a stroke of green seeping in when looks aside -- and he watches a drop of water slide down his arm as his vision clears.

Lips part around a wisp of air when the memory resurfaces   warm breath on his cheek, a millimetre away, a motion caught, two seconds too long, red hair kissing his shoulders, down his arm,  slipping away― 

Rin left him with a storm of cherry blossoms, his name a pain in his chest, a choked gasp.

'Rin ' 

'Rin? Where are you?'

-----o0o-----

He sees stems of scabiosa in a slim vase--purples and pinks and yellows--bending under the gentle fingers of a woman in faded pastel-coloured kimono, her hair cascading down to her hips, her smile too small and empty.

"They're wilting," she tells him, and Makoto can't remember who she, can't remember where he is, but his eyes follow the curves of the stems, the falling petals that scatter on the smooth surface of the table. She tilts her head sideways, shadows falling over her face, and Makoto thinks,  it shouldn't be you .

"Let them be," he says instead, with a smile that isn't quite directed to her. "It's a reminder."

She doesn't pause, gathers up the fallen purple petals instead. "Of what?"

Of red hair fussed by the wind, and shades of crimson between pale pink cherry blossom petals. Of a meeting that happens too late, hands covering his ears as if trying to block away reality, of kisses and touches that feel like making up for lost time as well as not having enough time. Of pained eyes looking back at him in regret, and a stem of scabiosa between slender fingers, purple petals bruised into darker hue.

Of the steps towards where a small shrine and a cherry blossom tree reside, and the many times in the day he talks himself not to climb them, not to turn around and run away, not to find his way back to what he's lost.

"Of his pain."

Everything blurs to thick layers of reds, one second of Rin on the lowest branch, arms filled with stems of scabiosa, face hidden in the shadow of his hair, vivid and crystal clear as he says,

"Congratulations, Makoto."

With a pained gasp, Makoto jerks awake, arms shooting out as if reaching for something that isn't there, and the dream-memory fades with a breath.

"Rin..."

It leaves him with a painful, tangible thought:  I hurt him. 

-----o0o-----

The memories don't come easily, but when he remembers, it's like the images dancing lightly on the edges of his mind, like fingertips dancing across his memory: gold-banded lilies a stark contrast with crimson strands, blue eyes sweeping over black-and-white sketches, a tuft of blond hair glittering almost gold under the same warm light of the bonfire that gives a wicked glint on a pair of glasses, a cool smile framed with hair as dark as the colour of midnight sky.

The taste of kuroki, shared in the midst of an ocean of deep purple and dots of yellow. A vow, made in between kisses, renewed over and over again as he turns twenty-fifteen-thirty five-sixty one-forty two-eighty. Rogue grins and determined eyes, stubborn looks and a pair of cat ears flattened in embarrassment, fingers lacing with his own and naps under the canopies of sunflowers.

I, to you, forever.

They are dreams, fleeting and hazy, teasing at him like playful cats batting their paws at their master. Makoto wakes up to fringed orchids blooming all around him, petals bent under the weight of his white robe, and he closes his eyes back, trying to chase the pieces of memories rapidly fading as the haze in his mind clears.

But he remembers. Bits and pieces, like mismatched puzzles of so many lives he'd lived through. Not enough, never enough, and he finds himself gathering fringed orchids into his arms and burying his face into the bunch of them, hiding the wet patches on his cheeks.

"Why can't I go back," he murmurs, the next time the boat docks on his side of the river, this time to let a shadow of a young girl hop off, feet hesitant for a second before she runs across the field and vanishes. "If I can't go any further from here, why can't I go back instead?"

The god regards him quietly. "It is not your path to be reincarnated again."

"But he's waiting for me, isn't he?" It's the only sure thing he remembers Rin is waiting, because it's Makoto's job to find him, again and again and again. He shifts, finds asters clustering the spaces between his feet, trailing down a path to the cherry blossom tree. "I need to find him, don't I? Isn't that what I need to do?"

The oar makes a quiet noise as it gently touches the surface of the water the boat is turning away, leaving him with no answer as usual. Except this time the god pauses with a small quirk of his lips, the long sleeves of his robes scraping against the bottom of the boat.

"You remember fast," he remarks, much to Makoto's confusion. "It usually takes centuries for souls before they remember important things. Except for gifted ones, of coursemaybe you are one."

The river takes the boat away.

Under Makoto's feet, asters breathe to life.

-----o0o-----

"Don't you dare," Rin's voice breaks, trembles with both fear and anger under Makoto's hands. "Don't you fucking dare, Makoto, I swear to god "

Their breath mingles harshly as their foreheads bump, and Rin struggles against him, against the tree. Makoto kisses Rin, tastes peach and tears at the back of his tongue, and wills Rin to understand, wills Rin to stop fighting, wills Rin to listen.  I'll find you , he thinks,  I'll always find you again― and Rin goes slack in his hold.

"I'm sorry, Rin," he whispers, over and over, to the broken look in Rin's eyes. "I'm sorry. I don't want you to see this. This part of humanity."

Then he pushes away, and Rin follows, chases after him, only for Haruka's seal to slam him back against the tree, keeping him bound tight, and Makoto closes his eyes and Rin screams, enraged. The sweet taste of peach is gone, replaced by the scent of smoke thick in his throat, and Makoto turns away, strides past Haruka, leaves Rin behind, where it's safe, where he could find him, again and again  and again― 

"It's my turn to wait, now," Makoto whispers as he wakes up, white camellias spreading all the way to the dock, where the boat just leaves with a gentle, echoing thud, leaving figures of children running towards the gate with laughter trailing behind them. He stares at the white camellias wistfully, resisting the urge to reach out and twist their stems.

"Will you find me too, Rin?"

"Don't be stupid."

"Hurry," he murmurs, breath hitching as he draws his knees up, burying his head into his arms. It's painful, so painful, and he doesn't know how Rin handles this, every lifetime, over and over again. "Hurry and find me, Rin."

-----o0o-----

"He picked a fight with a  kitten , Makoto."

Haruka stayed a while, this time, lets the water lap at his geta as he walks down the riverbank. Makoto doesn't dare come near, sits on the dock instead as he listens, Haruka's soft voice in-between rhythmic splashes.

"That sounds cute, actually," Makoto says, hiding a giggle behind curled fingers.

Droplets of water splatters upwards near his feet, with the way Haruka turns. They trickle back down into the river with a plop, along with an unamused stare. "It really isn't."

"You  say  that..."

"I mean it," he huffs. "He started spitting at it.  His tail was bushed. "

"Cute."

Haruka kicks at the water, pouts at his rippled reflection. "Only you."

"I'm glad you guys are having fun," Makoto says distantly.  I wish I could've been there. 

He sees the way Haruka's eyes are downcast, dark with words left unsaid.  I wish you could, too  and  I wish I could help. 

"Don't worry about it too much, Haru." He traces patterns along the wooden dock, feels the little grains and ridges tickle his index finger. "We can't do anything about it."

It doesn't quite reach his eyes, brows furrowed and strained lines at the edge of his lips, but Haruka smiles. "He keeps hiding the stuff he doesn't want to eat in his haori."

"He still does that?" An amused tilt of his head.

"Yeah."

"Persimmons?"

"Yeah." Makoto could see the way Haruka softens this time, expression filled with quiet endearment. "I wish he'd just die already. You can take care of him again, then."

"That's not very nice, Haru."

Haruka shrugs, an easy roll of his his shoulders as he looks down and away. "Things would be so much easier if I could just free him now."

Makoto's chest tightens, when he sees Haruka slap his hands across his mouth, eyes widened considerably. Surely, he doesn't mean―  He could see― 

"Haru?" He tries, tries to stop the hammering in his heart, tries to  hope.  Lips part around a staggering breath, Makoto finds himself leaning forward, pushing back against the dock,  hovering above the chance that he might― 

"You...can... do that...?"

"I'm sorry," Haruka says with a heavy exhale, wisps of air passing between the gaps of his fingers, tears he tries to hold back. "I shouldn't have said that." His hands drops to his side, clutches the material of his kimono in balled fists. Haruka keeps his head down, to the water rippling around his ankles.

" Haru..."  Makoto says behind a gasp. He stops himself, when he doesn't know what to say, lets the syllables of his name titter between them.  Maybe there isn't anything else to say. This is how it's supposed to be.  He lets out a sigh, finds it in him to smile down at his feet, dangling freely, toes curled. "I guess it's only fair, huh?"

"I wish I could." Wrinkles form around where Haruka's hands loosen. He smooth e s them away with a short swipe down. "But it's not up to me."

Don't worry about it too much," Makoto says again. A small chuckle, he sets his hands on his lap, fingers laced together. "I understand."

"It wont be too long, I promise." He hears a splash as Haruka leaves the water, makes his way across the riverbank and up to the dock. "Please wait a bit more?"

Haruka passes the gate in a flurry of hydrangeas. One blue flower floats down in front of him, doesn't disappear with the rest. Makoto catches it in an open palm, follows the thin veins across the petals before lightly curling his hand.

He falls asleep with the flower on his cheek, dreams of Rin curled up next to him, ears tickling his cheeks in a little cat nap. He watches Rin's nose twitch, when he delivers a soft tap to the tip, feels a bitter-sweet nostalgia, when he sees red hair splayed over a bed of calliopsises.

"I miss you," he whispers over Rin's cat ears, his breath brushing over chestnut fur, passing over yellow petals.

-----o0o-----

Sometimes, despite the tug he could feel that prevents him from going too far, Makoto goes down to the water.

He goes far enough to watch them lap on the tips of his toes, biting cold that tickles when they leave, and remembers a time where he would run down from a castle towards the beach where the waves kiss the shore, scooping up handful of sands that smells and tastes like salt.  Let's go to the ocean , he thinks wistfully, bending down to touch the water, letting them stream through his fingers.

"Note that though we may be apart," forefinger painting invisible shapes on the surface of the water, the tinniest of splashing noises as his own haori submerges. "If I am to hear that you pine for me "

He frowns, words trailing into emptiness where the memory stops, hangs at nothing.

It tugs at the back of his mind, when he finally stands back up, spines straightening as he looks up to the ever-grey sky. A memory that's on the tip of his tongue, so close Makoto feels like he could taste it. He shifts, steps back to the rows of cockscombs blossoming along the riverbank, and repeats, "If I am to hear that you pine "

Cockscombs sway in the quiet breeze, trails of crimson petals that lead back towards the cherry blossom petals, and Makoto sees brilliant red strands cascading down in curtains, blending shades with the flowers, stray bangs framing sleepy eyes.

"For me," Makoto murmurs, blinks away the memory: the splay of red, the haze of contentment. It skitters on the edge of his mind, giving him another trail. "As the Inaba mountain pines.."

He stops, closes his eyes, and remembers with a clarity that hurts: of Rin rousing himself awake, eyelids heavy with sleep, draped over the lowest branch of the tree, and cockscombs blooming between bushes.

He opens his mouth, and lets the rest of the words slip out silently:  I shall return to you. 

-----o0o-----

A shadow of soul fleets over the corner of his eyes, and Makoto turns to ask: "Do you remember what date was it?"

He thinks he sees a speck of soft pink in the shadow's silhouette, but it's gone before he could take a better look. The shadow stays there, head tilted upwards as if thinking, remembering, and its words a sliver of whisper: "I don't remember."

"Ah," Makoto nods, lips crooking into a wistful smile. "I heard it's hard for us to remember."

"I remember how old I was," the shadow says, light as a feather, even as its edges begin to shimmer and vanish. "I died when I was ninety."

Ninety. That's how long he's been here, at the very least, but he thinks it might have been much longer. Much, much longer, because he's seen Haruka three times and reincarnation is supposed to take time, isn't it?

"Goodbye," the shadow says to him, almost cheerful. "Have a good next life."

It vanishes into nothingness, leaving only wisps of white fog behind, and Makoto curls his toes in the midst of white-yellow chamomiles, eyes closing, his words a trail or quiet murmur: "I won't have one."

Rin won't even know that I won't be back.

-----o0o-----

"I'm not wearing a flower crown," Rin says stubbornly, eyes narrowed at forget-me-nots in Makoto and Haruka's hands, fragile petals weaved very carefully. The sky is a layer of orange and yellow, and the horizon tilts behind the rows of pine trees. Another dream, Makoto realizes, and looks back down to the forget-me-nots.

He remembers this.

Rin's voice continues, "This is not that kind of wedding."

"There's no such thing as  that kind of wedding , Rin," Haruka counters evenly. "There's just wedding."

Forget-me-nots haze the edges of his vision with blue, colours blending ito layers of pale white that floats around him as Makoto hears himself chuckle, sounding too faraway and not-quite-there. Then everything ripples, and Rin is crouching before him, palms open, blue petals scattering down from his hands and a lone golden ring sits on the cent re .

"Do you like it," his voice echoes, tentative and hopeful, but the way Rin blinks one time too many, the way he touches the ring almost reverently and angles it to catch the remaining rays of sunset, the way he exhales shakily is crystal clear.

"Nise no chigiri wo chikau," Rin's voice lilts, almost too soft. He lifts his eyes, and his smile trembles. "This is a marriage vow."

A vow for two worlds. "I vow that even if I die, I won't change my mind," each syllable familiar an oath re - sworn in every lifetime, finally given shape. Makoto breathes in the scent of cherry blossom, of kuroki, of Rin, as red strands fill his vision, dyeing the world in a colour so inherently Rin. "And I vow to be with you "

"Even until the next world," the words trail, Rin's voice a wisp in his ear, fading with each syllable, and Makoto inhales the last of his scent before the wind takes it away, 

-----o0o-----

Makoto finds Haruka  at the dock, blinking curiously at his empty hands as the other souls float past him. He tilts his head, waits for Haruka  to walk towards him by the tree.

Seconds ticks by, and Haruka  stays there, unmoving, probably trying to find life in his open palms. 

"Haru?" he calls out.

"You can't bring stuff from the living world here," Haruka  replies. 

"...We're dead, Haru." Makoto walks towards Haruka , mindful of the insistent tug he feels around his body. He can't wander too far away. 

"I wanted to bring you something." It's been a while, since he has seen that petulant pout. Comforting, a warmth settles in his chest.

"You should know that better than I do, Haru."  Stop being silly just for my sake,  he almost says with a laugh.

"I asked Rin to bury me with that burnet he keeps in your book." Haruka wiggles his fingers and lets his hand drop to his sides. He looks up, gives Makoto a hard stare, expression completely serious. "Do you think he'll try to dig up my grave and get it back?"

"Haru..." Makoto misses this   this familiarity. Everyday banters, idle conversations. 

"I really wish I could do something for you."

"You've done more than enough, Haru."  For the both of us. 

"I'll try to bring you my drawing, next time." Haruka  offers him a small smile, when he walks towards the gates. "I bet you're starting to forget his face."

"Has it been that long?" Makoto asks, a waver of guilt in his voice.  I made him wait again. I can't go back to him. 

"Stop being stupid." One last look back, and Haruka  leaves with a whisper into the air. "Just wait for a bit more."

Wait―

Is this how he felt―

It's ammobiums  and lily of the valley , this time, a few sprouts by the gates where Haruka  stood , spreads of white dotted with yellows .

A little while more

-----o0o-----

"Why don't you get along with cats when you're a cat?" A question Makoto doesn't quite remember ever asking, his voice own voice sounding far and muffled. He wonders if this is  a dream, or if the Rin in front of him is from a distant memory.

Rin turns to him looking dejected, cat ears flattened down his head. "It's not like I asked for it..."

"You could try being nice to them?" He scratches the cat cradled in his arms behind the ears, throws Rin a disproving stare when he starts hissing.

"I do!" Rin says, completely contradictory to what he's currently doing.

"Rin, please."

"I don't know!" He starts makes faces at the white cat. "They just don't like me."

"You should maybe try stop antagonising them, for starts?"

Rin's response is -- predictably -- spitting at the cat some more.  Somewhere by their side, there's the sound of Haruka yawning before piping up, "It's because Makoto is Rin's territory."

"It's not fuck you, Haru."

Makoto holds the cat up, laughs when he takes its paws to bat at Rin's nose.

"Now, now ―"  His voices   fizzles out. He wonders what he was going to say. White noise phases in, drowning out his voice as dots of dark static filters in, leaving him dizzy, disoriented, an uncomfortable fall into  

"See, Makoto? Some cats  do  like me!" Rin's hugging a black kitten this time, and huh, odd,  Makoto finds himself a little lost.  When did this― 

"One, out of the many cats we've met throughout your lifetime," he hears himself say, but it doesn't  feel― 

"Don't be rude." Makoto follows Rin's finger, pointing to another cat curled up on Rin's lap, a ginger tabby.

It doesn't feel like he's real. He feels like watching a diorama, Rin and himself inside a film reel, words streaming from his mouth removed from his own thoughts.  It ripples, every so often, the edges of Rin's figure  distorting   whenever he shifts, as if ready to scatter and dissolve  any second.

"Oh, I remember him." From a life once lived, a fuzzy memory stretching centuries back. "He was stuck on your tree."

"He shares food with me now," Rin says proudly, puffing out his chest.

"It's nice seeing you actually have cat friends." He snickers, hopes the Rin doesn't catch the teasing lilt.

"Yup! They curl up around me for naps, sometimes. It's nice."

"I'd like to see that."  The words are   quiet, wistful Makoto doesn't think he's ever seen it, doesn't think he'll be able to see it now. "I'm sure you'd look very cute."

Once again, everything ripples around Rin's indignant look, and the world f ades out   into dark statics with a buzzing sound.

-----o0o-----

He stays under the shower of cherry blossom petals swirling above his head, raining down upon him and beds of pale yellow patrinias. He gathers the petals in his palms, brings them against his cheek, feels them tickle the corner of his lips.

"Although its scent still lingers on," he breathes carefully. "The form of a flower has scattered away."

He holds himself still as the wind picks up, whisking the petals away from his hands but rains more of them all around him. He closes his eyes and pretends it's Rin, showering his room with roses and nemophilas and dogwoods.

He pretends that when he opens his eyes, he could reach up and kisses Rin with a petal separating their lips.

-----o0o-----

It's odd, he thinks. He can't recall a time when he wakes up to the sounds of water against the boat's hull, always up long before it's near. He doesn't know what it means for him, when the last remnants of his dreams were strands of red, curling around his wrist and tangling up his arm, pulling him out of sleep and into the waking world. His arm outstretched in front of him, in the midst of a step forward,  Makoto realises― 

He thinks his breath might have stopped, when he sees a flash of red in the distance, hears wooden bells along with soft thuds of a rowing oar.

He curls his fingers, lets his arm fall to his side, tastes salt on the edge of his lips.

"This won't do," he laughs softly to himself, wipes his cheeks with his sleeves. "He's here and I'm still ―" 

He takes two steps, stops at the very end of the dock, feels his toes curl on the cool wood of his geta, watches the boat come closer with ever building excit e ment.

The short red strands are familiar still, bright against the white-washed and gr e y-tinted world, against the dark sky and the fog that hangs over the river. Makoto stands his ground, relishes the sound of the boat docking, and feels his lips curving up.

The sleeves of Rin's haori sweeps forward as he takes a step off the boat, shifting in the current of the wind, leaving trails of blooming dogwoods in its wake. They sway, curiously, petals letting go of the stem to ride the wind and breathe life to the field of cosmos, blooming stark red-pink-white from the cent re , spreading to the bushes of October daphnes and hydrangeas. Sunflowers wake up, stretching as Rin steps past their clusters, a blur of bright yellow in the forever grey sky.

To Rin, who washes the world in colours of flowers, Makoto smiles.

"I've been waiting for you, Rin."

Rin grins, looking almost breathless at the sight of Makoto, and oh, Makoto misses it--misses the rogue curve of Rin's lips, misses the way it crinkles his eyes. For a moment they stand, in the midst of colo u rful petals that drowns the grays and whites of this world, and then Rin closes his eyes, and the first tear falls.

"So," his voice doesn't break, and the grin remains, as Rin takes a step forward. Makoto is so, so proud of him. "I saw the ocean."

It rips out a chuckle off Makoto's throat. He makes his own first step, too, steady if a bit tentative, eyes never leaving Rin's own. "Yeah."

"It was really beautiful." Rin's eyes are bright, brighter than Makoto has ever remembered seeing, spelling out freedom better than anything he could ever think. Each syllable is a breathless wonder, tinted with a sense of satisfaction and achievement, accompanied with one step for every word. "It was amazing!"

Makoto nods, eyes wet. Takes another step closer. "Yeah."

"And you know, the sounds of the waves? They were different from the ones we used to listen to back in the castle and the scent of the sea! The horizon in the distance, like a border between the sky and the sea!" Rin's breath catches with excitement, the last word snatched by the air, a pause between his steps as he gathers himself together. "Albatross and the noises of seagulls, and just the mesh of colours, Makoto everything was so blue !"

"I'm sorry I couldn't see it with you," Makoto says, but he's smiling, smiling so wide despite the cracks in his voice, the heat behind his eyelids, the tears that clings to his cheeks proud and happy and so very relieved. "I'm sorry I couldn't fulfil our promise."

He stops, and by his feet, comet orchids blossom in trails, petals fluttering awake by the wind's whisper.

Rin huffs out a laugh, grin widening, almost feral now. "Well, I guess it's now my turn to show it to you, huh?"

The sleeves of Rin's haori flaps by the wind as he surges forward, and Makoto meets him halfway, closing their distance in three quick steps, arms closing around each other, forehead resting briefly and breaths mingling, thick, before their lips meet, a fleeting touch that deepens with a sigh  

Among curtains of petals unfurling awake, memories burst, filling the air with a scent almost sickeningly sweet, riding the   rustling wind  and whispering against their hair, M akoto   glimpses snapshots of their lives together reflected in Rin's eyes , a long journey that finally comes to a close, a sense of respite well-earned.  He closes his eyes, basks in the comfort of home that Rin gives him,  and gives in to the pull of  memor y  ree ls unfolding   behind his eyelids.

The blur of sceneries behind the train window, a farewell to an old tree, an old friend. The stone side   walk that welcomes them home. The deep blue of ocean, the clear horizon that stretches wide, a highland overlooking the waves chasing one another, crashing hard onto the corrals. Haruka, with a smile touched by a faint sadness but also contentment, bluebells raining down around him as the world turns hazy, a gratitude that echoes endlessly along with the last goodbye that would never be a real goodbye. 

Petals that dance across the wind, worming their way between strands of hair blue and yellow and red and purple and pink and the thick taste of kuroki, rival l ing the scent of cherry blossom, a memory of coming back, to the very beginning.

Home, at last.

His fingers tangle in short red strands as he lets Rin go, tasting smiles and tears and relief, and Rin grins at him, sharp teeth flashing before the grin softens into a fond smile.

"I'm home," he whispers into the scant air between them, and Makoto closes his eyes, feels the feather-light words dancing on the corner of his lips.

"Welcome home."

Underneath them, tucked neatly in the scant space between their feet, a lone comet orchid blooms alive. 

-----o0oFINo0o-----