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“How do you think Rakan is handling college, Touji?” asked Narushige, a while into their first visit to Rakan’s world since the boy they owed and dedicated their lives to, during house-cleaning duty. “I know he writes us letters as often as he can, but I worry about having him and Senroh all to themselves in an unfamiliar place.” Narushige sighed. “Maybe he shouldn’t have gone after all.”

Touji rolled his eyes. “Don’t say that, Narushige-san. You know Rakan spent a long time mulling over his decision. We were the ones to reassure him the house would be looked after in his absence and that he should go if that’s what he really wanted to do.”

Narushige hmphed. “Senroh was the one putting weird ideas in his head… How outrageous to think that a Sanome of all people needs to learn about plants from someone else! To even move away from home just to do that! I don’t know what they were thinking.”

Touji knew Narushige just needed to vent out his frustration for a bit, but even so, he couldn’t help retorting and preventing him from getting further worked up.

“We’ve gone over this multiple times, Narushige-san. Rakan wants to open his own flowershop. Of course, he could do that right away, but he’d rather not rely on his powers as the Sanome and work for it the regular way. I think he’s doing the right thing. This is one of the important milestones for the people living in this world, and I’m glad Rakan is able to experience it like everyone else. I know that, for all your complaints, you also think this was the correct choice to take.” Narushige looked away, but didn’t dare deny it. “So it’s up to us to support Rakan as we’ve always done and trust that he’ll take proper care of himself. I’m sure for all his flaws, Senroh will do a good job of that too. We can believe in them.”

Narushige, now appeased, allowed his mouth to turn up in a smile, though he still looked uneasy. “I know, I know. Still, I just worry, that’s all.”

Touji felt his heart ache and an unwavering need to make that forced smile go away and be replaced by a genuine one.

“Maybe we can find a way to visit them some time.”

Narushige’s eyes widened in surprise and there was a glint there that hadn’t been before. “You think? That would be lovely. I’m sure they could use a break once in a while.”

Touji hummed in acquiescence. “We’re not the only ones missing each other’s company. A friend’s face can chase away the burden of a stressful moment in no time at all.”

“As much as it pains me to say this, we should probably discuss the details with Senroh. We have never left Rakan’s hometown before and I’m not sure how to go about travelling in this world. It’d be awful if we got lost somehow and couldn’t find our way back.”

“I’ve been taking driving lessons, I can go pick you up tomorrow,” replied Senroh when they presented their proposition later that evening.

At least that settled it, but by driving he meant conducting those weird boxes that rolled around really fast, right? Somehow, that didn’t sound very reassuring. Still, if they could see Rakan in the end, after so long since they’d last been together… it would be worth going through anything.

According to Senroh, the trip would take 2 hours. The workings of this world and how different it was to theirs still amazed the two of them. It was hard to get used to, but it was the world Rakan had grown up in, and where he chose to live the rest of his life, after all – it was a world Rakan loved, and thus they couldn’t feel any different towards it than their precious friend did.


 

Rakan had finally reached the end of yet another exhausting day of classes and started walking on the stone-paved path that led towards the campus’ gates.

Chigusa often waited there for him to be ready to go home, whenever he could finish his shift at his latest part-time job early. (Following a long string of attempts at several different occupations, he’d gone back to waiting at a small café; Rakan agreed that that seemed to be the work that suited him best and capitalized on his skills and natural beauty.) Then, they’d take the subway together and walk the rest of the way to their shared apartment.

After careful consideration, Rakan had ended up relenting on letting Chigusa try for a driving license. After all, it was a necessary skill to have in this day and age, and saved them the trouble of the long travel by bus to reach Rakan’s hometown when they had time to make the trip during the holidays. Unlike himself, who couldn’t be trusted with a steering wheel even in a dire emergency, he had expected Chigusa to immediately take to driving. However, it seemed Chigusa’s talent and appreciation for car mechanics hadn’t quite extended to the ability to drive fluidly and safely. Thus, they usually forwent going anywhere by car, except when no other option was forth-coming.

In the meantime, Rakan had made his way to the gates but there was no Chigusa in sight. That was odd, since Rakan was confident he’d heard Chigusa mention being off work today. Maybe he had an important errand to make? Not giving the fact any more thought, the young boy headed toward the subway station by himself.

He was nearing their apartment block when his brain noticed a change to the usual environment,  forcibly pulling him out deep thought. The car’s not here… Did someone steal it? What’s going on?

Quickening his step, Rakan ran up the stairs and opened the apartment door.

“Chigusa, are you there?” he asked while locking the door.

But the apartment was empty, and there were no signs of Chigusa having arrived yet. So he was the one who took the car after all… What for, though? Rakan was getting curious.

Too physically tired to start preparing dinner yet, he let himself slump on the sofa and rest just for a short while.

However, he’d apparently fallen asleep without meaning to, because next thing he knew of there was the noise of the door being unlocked and several people’s muffled steps and hushed voices.

Still groggy with sleep, Rakan raised himself to peek at the disturbers of his nap. At first, his eyes couldn’t make out the shapes in the dark and when they were able to, Rakan thought to himself that maybe he was still dreaming.

But the way the faces of Chigusa and his two companions (Touji and Narushige-san!) lighted up with open affection and mild humour at what Rakan recognized that instant was probably his messy bedhead look, quickly brought him to full alertness and the realization that this was real, that after so many months apart, the four of them were finally together again.

Following the initial shock of finding Rakan half-asleep, the three newcomers were quick to dive headfast into the sofa and smother Rakan in a five-minute group hug session that would have been a source of embarrassment in any other circumstance but could only be heart-warming otherwise.

“S-stop! I can’t breathe!” squealed Rakan, his voice sprinkled with mirth and fondness. He couldn’t tell when it happened, but they’d all started grinning and giggling at some point, and now Chigusa was trying to turn the whole thing into a tickling fight.

Rather than their initial separation, Rakan had been afraid moving away and entering college would drive a wedge into their bond.

Before, him and Chigusa had managed to keep in contact with Narushige, Touji, and the numbered children by paying regular visits through the connection between worlds. They’d take turns and ease the ache of being literal worlds apart.

But now, he feared adding even more physical distance between them, cutting down on their already short time together, would cause their relationship to fizzle out with time.

It was such a relief to know that his fears were completely unfounded. These were friends he had made for life, and even if it hurt that they couldn’t spent all of their days together, experiencing new adventures – like  they had been able to in a time that seemed so long ago and even unreal sometimes – it filled his heart to the brim with joy to know that they would stay strong and connected and still be able to enjoy moments of reprieve with each other in the future.