"S-sorry, Onii-chan is still not back!"
Izumi pauses, his shoe halfway off his foot. He makes eye contact with Ruka for the first time since she opened the door and he immediately went into a tangent about how much he couldn't stand Leo and his frivolities.
"Oh. I see."
Ruka nods, clutching the door in a mix of uncertainty and fear. They don't say anything, and just stare at each other, bound by the one boy who is not with them.
"Can you..." Izumi sighs; he's not good with children. "Can you pass this to him? Tell him I finished filing his bullshit, and to give me a call when he's back."
Ruka receives the papers, and nods again. "Okay."
They stare at each other for a little longer, awkward.
"Sorry, Izumi-san," she finally says, and the door moves a little.
"It's okay. Goodbye, Ruka-chan."
The door shuts on him.
Leo never called him. Izumi trusts that Ruka had told him to do so, and it is just his stubbornness that is keeping him from replying to him. Now he's banging on the Tsukinaga household door, demanding to be let in.
"Oi, Leo-kun you fucking bastard," he yells, fist slamming against the door again and again, "you better come out, or I'm gonna kick the door in!"
There's no response, and he clicks his tongue. Izumi prepares to kick, but then there's the soft sound of socks padding across the floorboards, and then the door opens.
"R-Ruka-chan." Izumi is embarrassed now, looking over at the distraught girl before him. "Sorry... for being a nuisance, I guess."
She doesn't meet his eye. "Onii-chan is still not home."
It's already been a few day since he dropped by, and if he hasn't gone home to be with his family and darling sister Ruka, something has happened to him.
"Do you know where he is?" Izumi demands, struggling to keep his composure. "Has he messaged you at all? Why has he gone missing? Ruka-chan, I thought he's doing better now? W-where is he?"
"I-I don't know, Izumi-san," she whispers back. From behind the door, her little arm reaches out, offering Izumi a piece of paper. "Onii-chan sent this yesterday."
Izumi snatches it from her and scans it. The paper is hard, like a piece of cardboard, and boasts a glowing sunset dying into an empty ocean. Palm trees, dark as shadows, swing from the wind, and are heavy with fruit. It's a postcard, and honestly, Izumi couldn't care less about the idyllic English words scribbled across it.
Instead, he flips it over to read Leo's message. The handwriting is as ugly and illegible as ever, but Izumi strains his eyes the way he has long accustomed himself to, and reads.
'Mama, Papa, Ruka,' addresses Leo. 'I've decided to go on a trip! Sorry for not informing you all earlier, and don't worry about me, okay? I've got a friend with me, and he'll take good care of me! I'm not sure when I'll come home, but I love you all. See you soon!'
Izumi is angry again; Leo is too flippant and carefree for his own good - the fact that he sees his name in the P.S. message after Leo signs off does little to reassure him.
'Oh, by the way Ruka, help me thank Sena and tell him I'll message him soon!'
Soon? There Leo goes again, with the stupid vague words he uses! If this postcard didn't belong to the Tsukinaga family, Izumi would have crushed it in a flash; right now, he can barely conceal his rage, and his hands shake.
"Thanks, Ruka-chan," Izumi tells her, and passes the postcard back. He picks up the things he dropped on the doorstep earlier, hoping to leave before he goes on another rampage and scares the poor girl. "Though your guess is as good as mine where Leo-kun is, and whether he'll contact us again."
"Um!" Ruka cries out, then retracts, squeezing her eyes shut. "I... I think Onii-chan will contact you soon, Izumi-san. I know he will."
Ruka opens her eyes, and in them, wide and watery, she reflects Izumi. 'Hm,' he thinks to himself, scornful, 'was I ever this trustful of him?'
Izumi leaves, still hazy with his thoughts.
'How naïve of us.'
Ruka is right for once; days later, Izumi receives his first postcard.
It's beach-themed like the first one, with foamy waves the colour of eggshells grazing the shore. Izumi tries to read the caption this time, something about how amazing Hawaii is or whatever. Of course, the limelight is still Leo's message, the one he's been waiting for.
'Sena!' the first line proclaims, and Izumi can already hear Leo's loud and happy yell, one that he thought he'd never hear again; his lips curl upwards. 'Sena, it's been so long! How're you doing, huh? I'm doing super duper well, thank you for asking! Hawaii is great, and I feel so alive when I'm here.
'Mama's been taking care of me too - you remember Mama, don't you? Y'know, the other day I almost walked straight into a truck, and Mama just picked me up and ran off! What a guy!'
Izumi hisses. Leo's as idiotic and helpless as ever.
'Hey, Sena, you're probably wondering when I'm coming back. I don't know, haha! I need to find myself, and I know I'll be able to do it in this trip. So don't worry, okay? I'll talk to you soon!'
That's the end of the postcard, and Izumi sits there, exhausted all of a sudden. Of course he'd enjoy himself around that Madara guy... Leo'd be fine. Why did he even bother that much?
Izumi's heart clenches, and he wants to tear the postcard to pieces.
He doesn't; he puts it away, and tries to forget Tsukinaga Leo.
'Sena, how are you doing?'
'Woohoo, I'm in Paris now, Sena! It's gorgeous!'
'Yo, Sena!' The postcards rain in. Sometimes he receives one every few weeks, other times he receives two in the span of five days. Its content varies wildly too - some days Leo talks about what magnificent country he's in; some days he's fixated about an exceptionally talented street busker; some days his postcards have no words, and are just music scripts he composed.
The first few times Izumi tries to transcribe the music, but fails miserably at it and throws the postcards away in frustration. Then he fishes them out from the garbage can, one by one, and gets Ritsu to transcribe and record them for him.
He listens to the songs, wondering where in the world Leo is, and what he was thinking when he composed this piece. He listens to the songs, and they play as Izumi receives his last postcard from Leo.
At first glance Izumi can't recognise the country Leo is in, but has learnt that for the most part Leo tells him where he currently is. He turns the postcard over.
'Dear Sena,' it reads, 'I'm going to be back soon, I promise. This journey has taught me so many things, and reminded me of what's important in my life. Sena, I think... I think I'm in love.'
Izumi stops reading, and his world crashes down. The back of his neck sears, hot like dry ice. There's got to be... Is this really Leo... Who?
'I can't tell you who right now, Sena-' Leo's next line has him crying out in frustration '-but I think you know who it is. After all, there's only been one person in my life who has been willing to stand with me, and believed in me all this while. When I see you again, I'll make sure I tell you who it is.'
This time, Izumi doesn't even bother concealing his anger, nor retaining it. He rips the paper in two, roaring, and then rips it up again.
"There's only been one person in your life who has been willing to stand for you, and believe in you?" he repeats, the words hot and painful in his mouth. "Are you blind or something? What about your family? What about Ruka? What about me?"
The four pieces of the postcard lay torn and haphazard on the floor, and viciously, Izumi stomps on them.
"Love, huh? Disgusting," Izumi sneers, giving an extra hard stomp.
It's in that exact moment that Izumi realises why all this while Leo had sent him postcards rather than an email, a text. It's not because it's romantic, as Leo puts it gleefully, but because this way, he doesn't need to hear Izumi's response.
'Leo-kun, I'm fine - are you doing okay?'
'You're eating right, aren't you? Make sure you eat lots and get strong again.'
'Who is it that you love? I thought you loved me, Leo-kun.'
The postcards he never wrote back swim in his mind like guppies, the words flickering and shining, the scales on their bodies. In his chest his heart thumps, dull and longing. His body is detached, weightless, and Izumi doesn't know how long he stares at the remnants on the ground.
That night he picks them up and incinerates them.
'You're hearing things,' Izumi tells himself immediately, but his head snaps up so fast - too fast - searching.
Then his vision clears, and he sees him.
Leo stands in the middle of the station, set apart from the crowd. His smile is shy, hopeful at first, but when he meets eyes with Izumi, his smile widens.
He calls out again. "Sena!"
If he had been the same Izumi he was months ago, he knows that he would have lurched forward and made a grab for him so that he could hold him close and ascertain that that's the real Leo. He reminds himself he's not the same anymore, he's grown.
Yet perhaps you never truly disappear, perhaps there are still traces of the old you that remain - for Izumi still feels it in his bones for him to... that he must...
Izumi's pride chokes him; he steels himself against it, and walks forward.
Once upon a time Leo's smile had been infectious, the way it spread itself across his face, the way it was directed at Izumi, and only Izumi. Seeing it still makes his heart ache - just a little - as Leo rushes over to him, arms wide open.
There's something in his hand - a postcard? - but Izumi stays strong; he's going to give him a taste of his own medicine. He walks forward, eyes reflecting what's ahead like glass, just as Leo misses him, and clings onto air.
From Izumi's earphones flow a seamless melody. It's from the second last postcard he received, the one before Leo confesses love. A song of love, Leo titled it, one that tunes out everything unnecessary, one that tears a whole apart.
Leo is nothing but stone. There's a sharp pain in his chest, echoing with every step Izumi takes away from him.
Where is he going? Why is he walking away from you? He hasn't... moved on now, has he?
He can't have.
The little postcard in his hand crumples a little with how tightly he grips it. 'The one I love,' it reads, 'is you.'