Your first kiss is in the April rain.
You doubt whether he's listening to your chiding about how he should've remembered his umbrella, when all of a sudden, he turns to you, twirling on his heel, his fingers closing over yours where you're holding the umbrella.
You manage to spectacularly lose your words just at that second— several years later, he laughs when you say you felt a sneeze coming, of course it was coincidence don't laugh— and you shut your mouth and open it again like a goldfish out of water.
He takes advantage of that fleeting off-guard moment, pries the umbrella and the rational thoughts and your heart off your grip, and you're brought back to your senses when the cool drops hit your skin and there's the umbrella lying a few feet away.
You barely have time to think as he stands up on tiptoes, and presses his lips to the corner of your lips, smiles and pulls back. You're still gaping disgracefully, staring mesmerized as the drop of water that was rolling down your lip, drops down onto his and merges, he sucks a breath in, and suddenly there's a spark in the damp, and you're kissing.
This is your first kiss, in the April rain.
The first time you take a good look at the scrawny kid, is when he's lying bandaged in the hospital and you and Mikoto hear around, the kid got beaten up pretty bad, y'know that blond kid, who waters the flower beds in the school garden and sings to himself? That kid. Didn't shed one tear.
The last time that you remember meeting with this kid is when you told him not to mess about with stuff that doesn't concern him and to stay within his limits. Look where it's landed him.
He looks up at you two, smiling as brightly as ever—his leg is in a sling, you think, and he's smiling— and you chide him. You have a hunch that it's going to have little to no effect on him, but what else can you do.
Mikoto, in his turn, brings down a fist squarely on the top of the bandaged, blond head, and he's still laughing after that.
You come back to visit once more during the afternoon visiting hours, the rain beginning to fall in big drops just as you run into the hospital campus.
"Ah, Kusanagi-san!" he looks up from the small book he's holding, and smiles again, and you stop in your track. It's a disarming smile, to say the least, so intrinsic, so un-calculated. It's odd to be at a loss for once.
You quietly walk forward, to stand beside the bed, hands in your pockets, "Ya wanna get killed, kid?"
He casts a glance upwards, another one of those sweet and oddly charming smiles at you, replies, "Kusanagi-san, will you draw the curtains? I want to see the rain."
You draw the curtains as he's told you to, and watch him watch the rain mesmerized, book forgotten by his side; this is a side of him you've never seen before, this quiet, thoughtful, deep side to this boy who looks like who could chase butterflies in fields of daisies, who looks like a mountain brook.
"Do you like reading poems, Kusanagi-san?" he breaks the silence, he's looking at you, and you've never seen this shade of light in his eyes, or in anyone else's when they were looking at you, for that fact, and you realize, the countdown's began.
Your hands in your pockets, you smile your assent, ask, "Is that Yeats yer readin'?"
He's amazed, "You could tell from the cover? That's amazing, Kusanagi-san!"
A year later, elbows on the counter and eyes on you, he asks, "Do they understand? Do they read Byron, Dickinson, Auden, Wordsworth, Neruda? Have they ever known that—
there's a pleasure in pathless woods,
there's a rapture in the lonely shore,
there's a society where none intrudes,
by the deep sea, and music in its roar—
—do they understand you? Then why?"
You don't have a comeback, so you look down at the counter where his fingers rest just beside yours, just.
You ask, "Ya have 'em memorised?", he smiles, soft and slow, "Only because I've heard you say them so many times."
A year later, he's sitting with his arm around yours, shoulder to shoulder, backs against the headboard, sheets drawn up to your thighs, and you read to him,
I fear no fate, for you are my fate, my sweet
I want no world — for beautiful, you are my world, my love
And here is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
I carry your heart with me, I carry it in my heart—
you read him to sleep, and then you tuck him in— he's smiling in his sleep, fingers around your wrist— turn the lights off, and gather him in your arms, and both of you know, you know, you know that you wouldn't have it any other way, any other way at all.
Even while grumbling about how much work you have left to do and how a twenty-one year old should learn to utilize his time more fruitfully and how the said twenty-one year old should be more economic in the spending of the camera rolls, you sit through the entire afternoon, watching the videos and sorting through the pictures and writing labels for each camera film roll in your neat cursive.
You sit on the roof of the bar on summer nights, and he looks up at the sky, his eyes shining with the wonder that is woven into the very essence of Creation, his finger pointing at the stars and planets, and you're looking at him, his endless eyes reflecting galaxies and nebulae and the hazel of your own.
"Sometimes," Tatara says, his voice suddenly heavier and softer and worn at the edges and your heart clenches, "sometimes when I look inside—" his voice is smaller, his eyes still on the sky but his gaze vacant, the corner of his lips pulled into a humorless smile and it sends a chill running down your spine.
"—I see a black hole." Emptiness.
Your arm tightens around him in silence, his fingers on yours, the words hanging in the air because sometimes words spoken are the most primitive way of communicating.
Suddenly, he perks up, tugging on your yukata, "Make a wish, Izumo!" pointing his index finger at the shooting star which crosses over the setting moon. He scrunches his eyes shut, lips trembling in a silent prayer. "Amen," you say, when he opens his eyes again. "You didn't wish?" he asks, his eyes shining in the starlight, his eyes on you, your hands finding each other, fingers interlocking.
"Already kinda got mine," you laugh softly, thumb brushing over the back of his palm. When he turns his face away, back up to the sky, mumbling something along the lines of You hopeless romantic and your sappiness, you know he's blushing. You don't think, if this is not love I don't know what is, you know this is love.
Isn't the world all give and take, he asks, and you tell him, on quiet afternoons when the bar is empty, on nights when his fist curls tightly into your shirt in a white-knuckled grip, you tell him, no, never. Not everything is done with the expectation of something in return. Not everything needs a reason to be done, no incentives. Somethings are done just because. Not all that is given needs to be paid back in like or unlike terms. Believe, believe in the world, Tatara.
He's been looking down all this while, looking away, but now he looks up, up at you, Would you still love me if I—
You smile at him, all the warmth of your love for him lighting your eyes up, and he stops speaking. Yes, yes I would, you say, even if you didn't. In every life, in every way, in every living second of my existence, I would. You add with a small wink to his direction, but lucky me, my sweetheart loves me back.
He laughs out now, and the darkness flees in front of light.
You come to bed late at night, finishing chores after the bar's closed, tiptoeing into the bedroom lest you wake Tatara sleeping curled up underneath the covers.
You quickly change into bedclothes, hissing softly as the biting cold air hits your warm skin, and slip into bed quickly. He shifts, shifts closer. You smile into the darkness, remembering how he always asks you to come to bed early, hurriedly mumbling out a It's not warm without you after, cheeks flushed, and huffing when you laugh.
He opens his arms, slowly stirring awake and brings them up to wrap them around your neck, jaw to cheek, pressing a sleepy kiss to your chin. You bury your face in the cool strands of hair, smile, the exhaustion of the long day finally beginning to seep downwards from your skin, towards your bones, settling, a warm numbness radiating out from the core to the periphery, sleep descending before your closed eyelids like a drop of black ink in water.
Tatara snuggles closer, his head tucked under your chin, eyes closed peacefully, and lips brushing over your chest, right over your heart, whispers, Welcome home, and you're taken aback at the absolute strength in the embrace of two such frail arms, speechless, amazed, you're at peace, you're home.
Home has been so many roads that I've walked down in my sleeping,
And here with you I'm home at last—
and this is the home for my keeping.
Izumo, he says, his voice coming from somewhere vaguely around the sofa, maybe the time is three-something in the night, you're not taking care of yourself.
You look up from your second bottle of vodka and fourth cigarette of the night, try to smile, I'm not?
There's dust beneath your fingertips, a crack on the glass you're holding, holes burned in the cleaning cloth, and you know he knows.
You've carried on so long, you couldn't stop if you tried, he says, a ghost of a mellow smile in his voice, this was your song in your days, a trace of the tune hanging in the air and a hint of melancholy, a pull on the feeble strings of your heart.
The glass cracks under the pressure, you feel him wince on the sofa, and you stub the cigarette beneath your boot.
Izumo, he says, his voice coming closer and closer, the ice cool touch of his fingertips on your own, slowly prying the glass shards away, You're bleeding.
Your head shoots up at that, eyes bloodshot, your smile slow, paper-thin, terse, like it takes up the rest of the energy left in you and you smile, bitter, like the cigarette ash, burning, like the alcohol, Right back at you, sweetheart.
He smiles, small and apologetic and sad, looking down at his chest, withdrawing his hands from yours and placing them on his upper abdomen, from where they come off stained with blood.
He looks up at you again, and his smile falters a little, his smile, pale and anemic, blood pooling on the carpet and there's nothing you can do but watch.
Would you still— you hear him say, hear him try to laugh which comes off too broken at the edges, and you light the next— fifth? Sixth? The same?— cigarette, Izumo, do you—
You speak over him, looking into his eyes, Yes, yes, I do. I will even after there will be no blood, no bone, no ash, I will, till the apocalypse and into the next creation, I will, this defines my forever.
And you lean in, force of habit, and he pulls back, blood trickling down the corner of his lip, dripping down his chin, shit time's running out fast, and your breath ends on his lips, the cold vapor stinging at your eyes. He smiles, you look down, Izumo, I'm sorry, he says, it will all work out somehow. And when you look up again, he's already gone. Again.
You wake up with an empty bottle next to your temple, cold, blood clotted on your palm, a layer of dust on the counter. You still cook your eggs sunny side up, still put two sugars in your coffee, still stir the spoon anticlockwise, still make parfait in that peculiar way.
Five years later, on a quiet warm afternoon, you find an aged cardboard box in the storage, filled with used up camera rolls and labels in neat cursive and memories in sepia, with rolls after rolls filled with pictures of you, just you.
Isn't it amazing how we're all made of stardust? he says, one day we were all such insignificant particles of dust at who-knows-where in this impossibly infinite universe, drifting closer and fleeting away—
you continue, and now we're here, assembled, integrated into beings of light, significant in our own lives, expanding from finite to infinite, from dark to light, from oblivion to knowledge, from death to eternal life—
he resumes, and one day we'll retrace our way back where we came from, back to how we began, back to parallel universes, back to being stardust, maybe we'll be parts of nebulae millions of light years apart—
and you hold his hand and his gaze and his heart in yours, and say, but now, for now, we matter, now we live, now we learn know retain explore imagine sing observe wonder predict, now we love, now we are, Tatara, and now, now is forever, now is infinite—
and he smiles, leans in for a kiss, and quiet flows the time between the kisses, heartbeats steady in the trembling air, the world swings around, the sky spins, the trees go hush, hush the mountain sings—
for this moment, you're the center of the universe, timelessly eternal.
Amor in Sempiternum
Finis vitae, sed non amoris