“Welcome to Shibuya Mansion!”
Yuuki threw his arms open wide, as though to make the rundown building look bigger than it is. No, Makoto thought with a smile, that’s probably as big as the house is in Yuuki’s house.
“A-are you sure it’s okay for me to stay here?”
“Why, don’t you like it?” Yuuki’s face was suddenly in front of Makoto’s, so near he was the only thing Makoto could see or feel. “There’s always that other place…”
Only Yuuki would call that billionaire’s manor ‘that other place’, as though it was a gardening shack. Makoto shook his head. “No, I mean…” He gestured at his wheelchair helplessly, a tiny shadow of bitterness in his heart. “It’s not very convenient for me like this, right? I wouldn’t want to cause anyone any trouble.”
“Oh, is that it?” Yuuki’s worries disappeared immediately, and he shrugged. “Sixth already fixed up ramps and everything, and the President said we’re each allowed a plus-one each, as long as we don’t mind squeezing.”
“Fourth brought in his sister, Yukinko is crashing with Second—The President has kept Nyanmaru’s room available, but Fifth says it’ll be empty someday because when Nyanmaru moves back in with us, she’ll be staying with Sixth because they’ll get—”
“You talk too much, Yuuki.” Ogami’s voice was cold, but a hint of exasperation leaked into his words. “Are you going to keep your guest out in the cold?”
“Makoto’s not a guest, he’ll be staying with us from now on.”
“He’d better be, otherwise you owe me two weeks’ worth of work.” Before Makoto could feel unwelcome, though, he flashed the boy a smile that immediately made Makoto feel strangely proud and embarrassed. It was how he imagined it would feel like to get a pat on the head from the school principal, or a prince. “Once you come in here, they’re not going to let you leave.”
“I don’t want to leave,” Makoto found himself saying. “I’m here to stay.”
Ogami nodded solemnly. “Oh, and Yuuki? Don’t even think about getting Sakurakouji’s room for your friend. I plan on expanding that hole between our rooms, or taking down that wall altogether.”
“He’s a lot nicer than you made him out to be, Shigure.” Makoto played with the little rat’s paws absent-mindedly, waiting for Yuuki to return from his shower.
“It’s all an act,” Shigure grumbled. When Makoto looked at him disbelievingly, he finally relented, “Okay, so maybe he’s changed a bit. But you should have seen him back then—”
“Why does it matter what he was like back then?” Yuuki was back in the room before either of them noticed it, drying his hair. Of course he couldn’t let Shigure talk bad about Sixth to Makoto behind his back. “What’s important is who he is now, right?”
“Now, now,” Makoto hastily tried to diffuse the tension.
“He started it!” Yuuki was always the first to point fingers.
“C’mon, Shigure,” Makoto turned to his other best friend quickly. “You know how Yuuki is—”
“Like an uncontrollable horse,” Shigure snorted.
“And you’re as temperamental as a winter shower!”
“Guys…” Makoto almost felt like crying. Who would have thought the names they chose for themselves back then would still cause petty insults like this so many years later?
They were the barcode children, born and bred by Eden. They didn’t have parents to give them proper names, and Eden wouldn’t recognize them until they could prove they were useful. And if they weren’t… All they needed to identify as was the X’s on their bodies.
“Makoto is still as kind and sincere as always, though,” Yuuki cut in. “I’m glad we chose that name for you.”
For once, Shigure did not disagree.
“Guys…” Back then, he hadn’t any particular name in mind. He had a power, but he knew it wasn’t as strong as Yuuki’s or Shigure’s. Even if he gave himself a name, he wouldn’t get to keep it long—that’s what he thought. But the two of them had insisted. They insisted on giving him a name, and after that accident they insisted on keeping him alive. They never said what they had to give Eden in exchange for it. He knew anyway.
Suddenly, Yuuki stood. “It’s time for dinner. I can hear Fifth taking out the cutlery.”
He put Shigure on his shoulder—Hiyori was already helping Rui out—and pushed Makoto out of his room. He walked at a speed that was a little slower to him, and normal for Shigure, but Makoto still paled a little. He hadn’t been moving much at all, and to be moving suddenly at even half of Yuuki’s normal speed—
But he didn’t say anything. Instead, he looked up at Yuuki, watching the way his hair blew a little in the wind. Like it always did.
“Yuuki, don’t you think you should cut your hair?” Rui said as she refilled his bowl for the third time. Never underestimate the appetite of growing boys…
“Just look at yourself!” She plopped the bowl down in front of him and grabbed a fistful of his hair. “You’re all big now, and even taller than Toki—” (“Hey! I heard that!”)”—this hair makes you look like a hooligan!”
Yuuki tilted his head. “So?”
“So?! What will people think when you go out on the streets? Especially since you still like to hide in the alleys like a stray cat, what if people try to pick a fight with you—”
Makoto laughed quietly. They sounded just like a normal family.
“If they pick a fight with me I’ll kill them.”
“Don’t waste your powers like that!”
“Geez, you’re sounding just like a mom,” Toki grumbled, digging his ear with his pinky. Anyone could see he was picking a fight; the fact that Yuuki was now taller than him riled him up really bad. But instead of rising to the challenge as everyone thought she would, Prince… blushed?
Makoto wasn’t the only one stunned.
“M-me? A m-mom? D-don’t kid me!”
“I think it’s a good idea,” Yuuki said suddenly, before Rui could start destroying everything with her beetroot face again. “We never had a mom, right? Makoto, Shigure.”
“Why would I need--!” But even Shigure quieted down at the look on Makoto’s face.
A mom… huh?
“A mom, eh?” Kouji mused from the kitchen entrance. “Aren’t you more of a… big sister?”
There was another moment of silence. Everyone suddenly wouldn’t look at Prince—or at least, not directly. When they peeked, though, they saw her expression was calm… Gentle, even. For a moment Makoto thought about the little brother Yuuki told him about once, Saechika. They said he was burned without a trace, and his sister never even got to see him one last time. But—
But it seemed she was okay now.
“I’m too young to be your mom,” she laughed, ruffling Yuuki’s and Makoto’s hair at the same time, and with a bit more force than most normal moms would use. Makoto’s scalp was stinging long after she let go. “B-but, o-one day, m-maybe…”
Her voice became steadily slower, almost inaudible. “…I would like to be a mom.”
But by then Kouji had gone.
Yuuki was still trying to get the knots out of his hair half an hour later, and Makoto could see then that he genuinely entertained the idea of cutting it all off.
“What, you don’t want me to?”
“N-not really, it’s just that…” Makoto knew there was no point saying it any softer—Yuuki would hear it all the same. “I like seeing your hair flying in the wind, when you go really fast.”
“…You don’t like it when I go fast, do you?” Yuuki didn’t shy away, or hide. He looked straight into Makoto’s eyes, because that was the kind of person Yuuki was. Straightforward, unafraid to say if he liked or disliked a person. “I could hear your heartbeat just now. You don’t like it.”
Sometimes, though, he can be considerate in his own way.
“You can say it. I was scared.” Makoto lowered his gaze. “I am scared.”
Every time he saw Yuuki fly past, every time he saw Yuuki’s long hair flutter in the wind, he was proud and at the same time terrified. Terrified that Yuuki would hurt himself, like that day; terrified that it would be somewhere he couldn’t reach.
“I—I’ll never be as fast as you, but I always loved to watch you fly...”
He still didn’t look up, but snippets of that red hair fell down before his eyes. By the time he raised his head in surprise, Yuuki’s hair was no longer than his ears.
“I’ve changed, Makoto. We’ve all grown. There’s no use holding on to who we used to be.”
He ruffled up his short hair and held Makoto’s shoulders, looking at his reflection in his friend’s eyes. Finally, he smiled with satisfaction. “I like how this looks.”
Makoto nodded mutely, a lump in his throat. Yuuki did look good… cleaner, fresher, sunnier, like what he was like now. Gone was the little stray cat who occasionally slinked into the shadows to lick his wounds—Yuuki was stronger now. Because he wasn’t alone anymore.
“I’ve never been alone, because I’ve always had you.” After so long of listening to Makoto’s morse code, waiting for him to wake, Yuuki felt as though he would never understood anyone’s heartbeat as well as he understood Makoto’s. “And now that I’ve got you back for real, I’m not going anywhere anymore in a hurry.”
Before Makoto could react he had lifted him up in his arms. “You were right, that wheelchair isn’t very convenient. So you better learn how to walk again fast, ‘kay? I’ll help you.”
Slowly Yuuki lowered Makoto onto the ground, helping him balance on his feet. Every time Yuuki helped Makoto out with his physiotherapy, Makoto couldn’t help but wonder how hard it must be for his friend, known as the Speed of Sound, to keep up with his crawling pace.
But this time, looking at Yuuki’s clean new haircut, he knew he would never see his friend flying away from him at a speed he can’t catch up with anymore.
Yuuki caught him staring, and scratched his scalp with a grin. “From now on, I will walk with you. Okay?”