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The long stairwell leading up to the temple has one hundred and forty-three steps. That's one hundred and forty-three steps Kanata takes every afternoon hoping that when they reach the top, Miyu won't wander around the house pretending she isn't looking for Ruu.


Kanata wishes that if Ruu had to leave them, that he could have left earlier, before he was old enough to tell Miyu in his small, honest voice that he loved her, and that she was beautiful. Kanata wishes he'd never heard Ruu murmur, sleepy face buried in the crook of Kanata's neck, that he loved Papa, too.


It's not that Kanata's not grateful for the eighteen months, three weeks, six days, and four hours that Ruu spent with them, it's just that Miyu has been losing a lot of weight. There are circles under her eyes and she always looks pale. And nights when he's not sleeping either, he sits outside of the closed door to her room and listens to her cry.

He wants to say to her, "It'll be okay. It'll get better."

But he realizes every time he's about to say it that this is not true. They've lost their baby, Kanata thinks, staring out at the gray morning, and their hearts are broken.


On the one month anniversary of Ruu's departure, Miyu locks herself in her room, and Kanata drinks a bottle of sake that he finds under the sink in the kitchen. He wakes up later and slings himself over the toilet, sick and dying. When he wakes up again, his head is in Miyu's lap, and she is stroking his hair. Her hand is shaking and her eyes are red but she says, "I'm sorry, Kanata. I'm so sorry." He tries to ask her why, and she just shakes her head and murmurs, "I forgot that he was your baby, too."


After this, they form some sort of silent agreement to mourn together.

When Miyu comes home from the grocery store to find that Kanata has broken every dish in the house, she just sweeps up the pieces and puts away the food. Later, when Kanata comes back inside the house, she cries into his shoulder and he clutches her so hard that there will be bruises tomorrow morning. Miyu moans that she misses him, misses him so much.

They wake up like that, tangled together on the living room floor.


The next day, Kanata remembers that he's only fourteen over breakfast.

"Lets not go to school today," he suggests.

"What should we do?" Miyu asks. She's always had too much faith in Kanata's decisions, and knowing that she will do what he tells her to do makes him wary, feel older, need to protect her.

He shrugs. "Let's be middle schoolers."

She stares at him for a minute before she starts laughing.

"Do you even know how to do that?" she asks, giggling, and it's the most beautiful thing Kanata has heard in months.

He blushes, because she's got a point. "How about you show me?" he offers.

She grins at him, wide and young and playful. She says, "Let's go."


She takes him to the mall and the arcade and he wins her a stuffed animal. They're not sure what it is, but she clutches it happily, and he can't help but blush when one of the attendants at the mall raises his eyebrow at them. Kanata knows what they must look like.

At the end of the day, though, they go home together and the temple is empty and sad. Miyu sobers up but puts on a brave face. She harasses him into helping her cook dinner, and picks an elaborate recipe. They wreck the kitchen and end up eating ramen while watching television late into the night. Miyu falls asleep there, and Kanata watches her until day breaks.

"Kanata?" she says to him the next morning, nervous. "Do you think we're a little bit married?"

They're going to be late for school at this rate, so he says, "It's fine, isn't it?" and rushes them out the door. He grabs her hand as they're bolting down one hundred and forty-three temple steps, because Miyu's known to take spectacular spills on her way down.


Miyu's right, and they're a little bit married. But that's what happens when you live with somebody for a long time. Taking turns getting groceries turns into going together, and over time they figure out a comfortable space that they can share: TV shows they both like, a morning and nighttime routine. Kanata knows to fry Miyu's eggs long enough so that the yolks are cooked all the way through and Miyu always adds a dash of sugar and cinnamon into stewed pumpkins, which ironically becomes the only dish she can make well.

Thursday, Miyu's down with the flu, and when Kanata makes an emergency grocery run and finds himself shoving maxi pads into the shopping basket without a second thought, he thinks that maybe they're more than just a little bit married.


Miyu's flu lets up enough for her to attempt school on Monday, even if Kanata insists on helping her down the steps and hovering over her making a nuisance of himself during classes.

It figures that when he goes to the bathroom Hanakomachi would have violent, jealous fit, and end up winging Miyu with a desk. When Kanata gets back to the classroom to find Hanakomachi sobbing violently over a passed out Miyu, he has just enough self-control not to slap Hanakomachi in the face. He carries Miyu to the nurse's office and sits with her all afternoon. She throws up four times and cries in her sleep.

"I want Ruu-kun," she sobs, feverish. "I want Ruu. Kanata—I want Ruu."

Kanata takes her searching, hot fingers in his hands, because he can't give her what she wants, he can't get her what she needs, and he's starting to feel like he's been in over his head all this time and just never noticed.

Their homeroom teacher drives them home, and Kanata carries her up the one hundred and forty-three steps.

After he's changed her into her pajamas and put her to bed, he curls up next to her on the tatami mats and cries himself to sleep.


On the upside, the next day, their class is buzzing: Hanakomachi transferred.

Kanata doesn't even pretend to feel guilty. When he goes home, he tells Miyu that Hanakomachi's parents moved; he knows that she won't really fall for it, and that she'll feel bad, but Kanata still sees the dark purple bruise on Miyu's hairline.


There is still a hole in their lives that used to be filled up with Ruu and Wanya, but if Miyu has her way, she's going to find some way to fill that up.

She suggests that they take up tennis, ping-pong, badminton, two-person activities to get their minds off the fact that they are parents without a child, and that their house is empty and unwieldy without Ruu-kun destroying everything in sight, being a terrifying two year old.

Kanata is okay at most of the sports, but Miyu manages to skin both her knees and one of her elbows. He tells her that if she has any more bright ideas, they need to be ones where there will be no blood loss involved.

He should have known that she'd make them dance.


They're surprisingly good at it. Seven thirty every night, on one of the networks largely patronized by the elderly, there is a show that teaches basic ballroom, and he and Miyu learn to waltz. He gets used to touching her and she gets used to being touched, and she teaches him how to count the beats in the music.

"How do you know this stuff?" he complains, struggling to keep up.

She smiles at him, and waits until his feet are in the right places. "I played piano."

The next day, Kanata bruises 90% of his body moving his mother's old piano out of storage and into the spare room. It used to be Ruu's and he panics for a moment that he's made a mistake, putting the piano there instead of somewhere else, but by the time Miyu finds it and starts to play, he realizes that this sadness is something that will always be there, hovering in the edges of them.


At the end of the year, they spend all of their waking hours studying for high school entrance exams. Miyu has her heart set on a an all-girl's school just a few blocks from the temple, and Kanata wants to go to the co-ed place down the street; both schools are ranked high enough that they forgo sleep and bereavement to cram.

The night before their tests, Miyu throws all of their books into the temple and locks the door. She cooks pumpkin and he makes vegetable tempura and they eat it outside on the lawn. She points out constellations with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders and Kanata listens to her talk about the stars.

"I used to be really jealous, you know," she admits. "When I was little, I thought that my parents loved the sky more than they loved me." She rests her cheek on her bent knees. Kanata wonders how much she was left alone, and wishes that hadn't been the way things had gone.

"I don't think that's true," Kanata manages to say.

She smiles a little at him. "Yeah—but even if it were, I think it'd be okay." She looks up again, and her breath catches in her throat. "They're really…really beautiful."

Occasionally, Kanata lets himself understand how important Miyu has become to him, and it always inspires blind terror.


Miyu doesn't get her first choice school, but once she realizes that this means she and Kanata will be going to the same school again, it doesn't bother her very long. She makes him model his new uniform for her, and she twirls around in her plaid skirt and tie.

One of these days, he's going to kiss her. Kanata can feel it under his skin.


In his free time—read: math class—Kanata explores the fact that he thinks he might be somebody's husband, at least in most of the ways that matter. He and Miyu live together, pay the bills (granted, with their parents' money) together, spend their free time together, and help one another with their work. Miyu makes lunch and Kanata makes dinner, and they take turns with breakfast. Also, Kanata thinks to himself ruefully, he knows when Miyu is on her period. They've washed each other's underwear and woken up together.

For a little while, they raised a child together, too.


Kanata knows how pretty Miyu is, he just never anticipated that anybody else would notice. This is stupid, he admits, because over the years, how many boys have fallen all over themselves for her? Santa was at least subtle about it—Yaboshi Seiya kept visiting Earth for a reason, and Kanata was pretty sure it was because of Miyu's shiny hair.

So when she comes home one night red-faced and upset, it only takes him a few minutes to coax the truth out of her. She tells him somebody wrote a confession letter to her, and she doesn't know what to do.

"I don't even know who he is," she murmurs.

They are washing their dinner dishes, and Kanata figures that it's okay if he links a few of his fingers with a few of hers underneath the suds. She smiles at that, and he smiles back.

Yeah, they might be a lot married.


After Miyu meets her confessor, Kanata is waiting for her at the entrance of the school. When she shuffles over to change out of her school shoes, and her eyes look red like she's been crying.

Kanata panics. "What happened? Are you okay?"

"Un," Miyu murmurs. "Nothing. I told him I was honored but didn't like him that way." She pauses. "He was a little upset."

Kanata narrows his eyes. "Upset."

She doesn't meet his eyes. "Hey, Kanata, did you know? A lot of people at this school say that I'm your live-in girlfriend." She tries to smile, and it looks terrible. "It's so nice that you're so popular, Kanata."

Kanata knows enough to know that somewhere in there, Miyu meant somebody called her a slut.


Later, after the fight and after Miyu has cried and begged Kanata to stop and after the teachers yelling and pulling Katana and one of Miyu's classmates apart, Kanata pulls Miyu into a hug.

"Don't do that again," Miyu whispers into his shoulder. "I was so worried."

"I won't," he lies. He'd do it again in a heartbeat.


She's busy fussing over his split knuckles when he leans over and presses his mouth awkwardly against the corner of hers. She freezes, eyes growing huge and luminous before her face flushes red.

"Thanks," he says, shaking. He doesn't know why he did that.

It takes her a second, but she shakes her head, and looks at her hands, shaking in her lap, and murmurs, "Uhn—it's fine."

Kanata guesses it is. So he does it again, the next morning, helping her put together their lunches, and again that day at night when he's helping her gather laundry off the lines, and once more, lingering and sweet and awkwardly wonderful over dinner dishes.


And that's their love story: quiet, for all the shouting early on.

But Miyu never complains that there are no grand declarations and that the first time he says "I love you" it's when they're both seventeen, in a crush of skin on skin on the futon in Miyu's room, mouths hot and swollen and gasping. She knows him and he knows her and they finally, finally know each other.


Sometimes, Kanata still catches Miyu gazing out to the sky. She's spent her whole life loathing or longing for the heavens, he knows, and it puts her in a space where she hangs between the ache of Ruu being gone and the visceral jealousy of the stars winning her parents' affections.

When he finds her like this, he wraps his arms around her shoulders and kisses the place where her neck curves into her back and lets her sigh, leaning into him.

Though it's all he can do, it seems to be enough for her, and sometimes he finds himself so grateful for this he cannot find the words, falls silent against the shape of her.


The long stairwell leading up to the temple has one hundred and forty-three steps. That's one hundred and forty-steps Kanata takes hoping that when they reach the top, Miyu won't wander around the house looking for something before she realizes with sudden sadness that it's Ruu.

"I wonder if he remembers us," she asks sometimes.

Kanata remembers this question from long ago, when they were younger and smaller and not quite so brokenhearted, but the answer has changed.

"I hope he doesn't," he says gently. "Maybe that's our last gift to him."

"I suppose that's ours to bear," she murmurs.

"Yeah," he agrees, but he looks sidelong at her, the faint shimmer of the ring that had made it onto Miyu's hand the last day of their high school career distracting him. "But it's still ours."

And when he looks up, Miyu's smile is glorious.