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This, Too, Is Happiness

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spring 2017-2018. epilogue. 
cherry blossom: beginnings. impermanence. rebirth.


“Can I taste yours?”

“…”

“Hey, are you listening to me? I said, can I taste your ice cream?”

“…”

“…Ignoring me, huh…”

Chomp.

Finally distracted from his reverie, Asougi Kazuma glanced down to see Naruhodou Ryuunosuke already leaning over and taking a giant bite of ice cream from his cone. “Why are you asking me if you’re going to do it regardless?” he asked, deeply amused, and Ryuunosuke blushed and drew away.

“You weren’t paying attention to me,” he replied, puffing his cheeks, as if trying to escape his crime by being adorable. “This is your just desserts.”

“That… is one of the most terrible jokes I’ve ever heard,” Kazuma said, though he was laughing anyway.

Casually, he reached out and wiped the smudge of bright purple ice cream that had gotten on Ryuunosuke’s round face with a paper napkin. Ryuunosuke, meanwhile, was still eyeing the ice cream in Kazuma’s hand and mumbling, “Asougi, I—”

“Sure.”—instantly.

“Stop answering my questions before I finish asking them,” Ryuunosuke huffed.

“You’re just extremely easy to read.”

“It’s creeping me out,” Ryuunosuke said, even as he still stared longingly at the ice cream.

Naruhodou Ryuunosuke’s puppy-dog eyes, Asougi Kazuma privately thought as he felt himself melt at the sight, should be banned as a weapon of mass destruction.

Unable to resist that face any longer, he finally surrendered his cone over, and proceeded to enjoy the sight of Ryuunosuke devouring his second ice cream of the day.

Behind their bench, the splashing sounds of the fountain as the cascading water hit the marble basin was strangely soothing. With nothing else to occupy his hands, Kazuma idly ripped the wrapper off from the bread that they had bought earlier and tried to attract the pigeons cooing around them by tearing off pieces and tossing them on the ground. Overhead, the sky was cloudy and gray, but Ryuunosuke seemed quite cheerful as he stared up at the clouds.

Kazuma glanced at Ryuunosuke, noticing that the ice cream he had relinquished just minutes ago had already disappeared into Ryuunosuke’s mouth. “Sometimes, I think they created ‘inhale’ as a synonym for eating just for you, Naruhodou,” he remarked, just mildly surprised.

“Beetroot-flavored ice cream, finally crossed off the list.” Ryuunosuke grinned. “My chicken-flavored ice cream from earlier was pretty okay too. You should’ve tried some. You might’ve liked it better than real chicken.”

“I think I’d sooner eat a real chicken than be anywhere near that stuff. Chicken-flavored ice cream just sounds gross.”

“Yeah, right.” Ryuunosuke laughed. “Best be thankful that I know you too much to actually take you up on that dare.”

Kazuma chortled, but then felt the first raindrop hit his cheek. He looked up with a disappointed expression. “…I think we should start packing up. From the smell of it, it’s going to be a downpour.”

“Good thinking.” Even though he looked as if he was fine with just sitting in the rain, Ryuunosuke sighed and started gathering up the stuff scattered on the bench. Kazuma was already opening up their umbrella, and amiably, Ryuunosuke let himself get pulled to his feet. They walked in intimate silence, his cold hand clasped in a warmer one.

At this time of year, the flowers were just starting to open in London, and the weak sunlight, coupled with the rainclouds overhead, meant that it was still quite chilly. Kazuma was wearing his well-worn brown coat and a red scarf that they had purchased yesterday—the ends of the scarf fluttered lightly behind him, as if carried by an invisible warm breeze, and Ryuunosuke thought that the sight was quite charming. The accident had left Kazuma with a slight limp that marred his previous soldierly gait, though it wouldn’t have been very apparent to the casual onlooker. Ryuunosuke figured that he himself can only detect it because they were walking side-by-side like this.

Other than that, the fresh-sprung grass crunched pleasantly underfoot, the tender green leaves were unfurling from their branches overhead, Kazuma’s hand was warm around his, and he felt at peace with the world.

“How many years have we known each other, Asougi?” he found himself asking.

Kazuma frowned. “I’d say… around five years this summer. A nice solid number.”

“Really? Just five?” Ryuunosuke laughed. “It felt like a lifetime to me.”

“I’d say we did quite well for ourselves to reach this long.”

“We tolerate each other a little too well.”

“That’s part of the reason.” Kazuma smiled. “But mostly it was because…”

“You’re still in love with me?”

“Of course, silly.”

Kazuma’s answer was unashamedly straightforward, like he had been during the beautiful summer of four years ago.

Perhaps overwhelmed by this barefaced reply, Ryuunosuke was silent for a long, long while.

The rain fell on their umbrella in a gentle rhythmic pitter-patter.

“If, in the future…” Ryuunosuke finally said, slowly.

“Hm?” Kazuma’s dark eyes were just focused on the path before them.

“If in the future, there came a time when I could marry you…” he found himself remarking. “I bet my parents would be more than happy to take you in. …They’d let you in the family register, easy as anything.”

“Your mother is a charming woman,” Kazuma said warmly, smiling at the memory. “And… the idea of marrying into the Naruhodou family doesn’t sound so bad.”

Ryuunosuke chuckled. “Yeah. She loves you to bits. Makes me wonder if my mother and I had a type.” He paused, as if he had just been struck by a realization. “Oh, but if we both become Naruhodou, we’d have to start calling each other by first names, huh? Kazuma-san.” He tested the sound of it on his tongue, reminiscent of a cat cautiously sticking its nose into a dish of warm milk. “Hey, Kazuma-san.”

At this, Kazuma was only silent, and raised his scarf so that half of his face was obscured by the scarf. However, Ryuunosuke could still see, from what little of his face was left uncovered, that Kazuma was slightly blushing.

“Why are you so red, Kazuma-san?”

“I…” Kazuma huffed and reddened even more, if that was possible. “…Stop saying my name. It’s embarrassing.”

“Old-fashioned. Would you prefer me to call you Kazuma-sama?” Ryuunosuke teased him—“The honorific is not the issue here, Naruhodou,” Kazuma muttered—but then he suddenly dropped the smile, making Kazuma glance at him in slight worry.

“Naruhodou? What’s the matter?”

“…Actually, speaking of parents, I… I’ve also been thinking a little if you wanted to go on a trip to Shikoku for a bit. With me. For when we get back.”

Kazuma’s eyes predictably darkened. “What for?”

“You haven’t gone home since you’re, what, nineteen or twenty?” Ryuunosuke frowned. “It’s almost ten years. Don’t you miss your dad or something?”

Kazuma sighed. “Why are we talking about this?”

Ryuunosuke smiled crookedly. “Haven’t you once wondered how I paid for all those hospital bills, considering my pitiful salary?”

Kazuma looked away, frowning. “So you did manage to get in touch with him.”

“He’s your father, Asougi,” Ryuunosuke murmured. “You can’t keep him from worrying after you.”

“I knew that.” Kazuma fixed him with a glare, but Ryuunosuke didn’t back down, and after a good round of the both of them just staring stonily at each other, he conceded with a deep sigh. “Fine. One trip. One short trip. Then stop badgering me about it.”

Ryuunosuke grinned. “Fine. I promise.” He smiled gently. “Besides, your mom probably really misses you too.”

Kazuma finally smiled. “Yeah. I should visit her.”

Overhead, the rain was starting to pick up. The ground was becoming harder to walk on, and their shoes were already quite splattered with mud. However, the bus stop was very close, and the pair quickened their pace to catch the bus that had just pulled up. Once they had already settled in their seats, Kazuma finally let his head fall back on his seat, exhausted.

“Tired?” Ryuunosuke asked, worriedly.

“A little.” Kazuma grimaced. “We’ve been around all day.”

“We’re gonna take a while in this traffic,” Ryuunosuke commented. “Maybe you should take a short nap. I’ll wake you up when we’re almost there.”

“No, I think I’ll be fine for a while longer,” Kazuma said stubbornly, and leaned slightly against Ryuunosuke’s shoulder. They were engulfed in companionable warmth, and while Kazuma had refused his suggestion of a nap, Ryuunosuke could see his eyelids starting to droop despite themselves. Smiling, he started to speak, if only to keep Kazuma alert for a few more minutes.

“It’s still surreal to me that I’m already in my thirties.”

“I’ve been thirty years old for months ahead of you, Naruhodou. It’s not that bad.” Kazuma glanced at him. “Besides, you don’t seem a day over twenty, it’s almost amazing. You’re doomed to sound like a young boy forever.”

“Uu. Why are you so grown-up compared to me when we’re supposed to be the same age?”

Apparently still weary, Kazuma just smiled. His eyelids seemed heavier than ever.

“It’s funny how, when I was in high school, people in their thirties seemed so old to me. Now that I’m thirty myself, it just seems kind of… the same, really.”

“Mm,” Kazuma mumbled. Ryuunosuke looked over, and chuckled when he found that Kazuma was already asleep.

“Asougi,” he whispered to the slumbering figure, “I’m really glad you’re here.”

“I am, too,” Kazuma suddenly replied in a muffled voice, eyes still shut, and Ryuunosuke laughed and kissed him on the brow before looking out of the window. The rain was already in full force; it streamed down the pane in sheets, making London look like a blur.

Losing himself in the sights of the gloomy city, Ryuunosuke found himself remembering the astringent scent of isopropyl alcohol, and the wintry whiteness of a hospital room that he had been glad to leave behind.


The astringent scent of isopropyl alcohol, and the wintry whiteness of a painfully familiar hospital room.

Your younger self, from a year ago. Your younger self, which was a prelude to the happiness you are feeling now.

Asougi Kazuma’s hand, neatly enclosed within both of yours. The feel of his skin against your lips. His handsome dark eyes, gazing at you wonderingly as you kissed his hand. You have tuned everything else out. The sounds of the doctor and Murasame Haori entering the room. The hurried things Mikotoba Susato was telling them. Among all this chaos, you only hear one thing.

“Naruhodou,” he repeats your name, and his voice was horribly grating and rusty like nails against a chalkboard.

But at the same time, it was the most beautiful thing you’ve heard after an eternity of sadness.

And then there was—

the days,

the weeks,

the months after his awakening.

Unlike the eternity that you have spent before he opened his eyes, it seemed as if with Asougi, time now couldn’t move quickly enough. Einstein probably didn’t realize how romantic his theory of relativity could be.

The day Asougi was used to eating solid food once more, you immediately snuck in some of his favorite things and you had a grand old time eating yourselves sick without Susato’s knowledge.

It felt good to hear Asougi laugh.

It felt good to hear yourself laugh.

Is this happiness? you wonder.

—And there was also the last day of you as a teacher, in the school where you have spent quite a bit of your life in.

The letters,

the flowers, the tears,

the smiles, the promises, the jokes,

the singing, the photographs, the postcards, the nostalgia, the apologies, the thank-yous, the see-you-arounds, the rousing chorus of the classes you have taught wishing you good luck in your future endeavors—

Perhaps, perhaps you hadn’t been as bad of a teacher as you had imagined yourself to be.

“Of course not, Ryuun-sensei,” one of them cried out, indignantly.

You did your best, Ryuun-sensei, they told you, firmly.

You did your best, Naruhodou Ryuunosuke, you finally find the courage to tell yourself, after all those years.

You did your very best.

“Where are you going next, Ryuun-sensei?” someone asks you. “What are you going to do next?”

“I want to search for something,” you want to answer, but instead you smile and stay silent, and wave goodbye.

Is this happiness? you wonder yet again.

You leave a cherry blossom branch on the Murata family grave that afternoon.

“I’m going to look for it, Murata-kun,” you tell him. “The happiness that you haven’t been able to find.”

Are you happy? Asougi asks you later. In the cool spring sunlight, he is warm, and awake, and breathtakingly beautiful.

I don’t know yet, you tell him. But I’m trying to be.

Good, he tells you. I’m proud of you, partner.

Thank you, you tell him.

You never once exchange blatant words of love. But Asougi already knows, anyway.

Hey, you never tell him. Please love me forever.

Idiot, he never tells you. I’ll never not love you!


“Asougi? Wake up, we’re almost at the hotel.”

With a soft grunt, Kazuma stirred under Ryuunosuke’s touch, and he raised his head. The rain had already stopped some time ago, and the red sunset was dazzling through the small gaps between the old-fashioned buildings. Ryuunosuke’s glasses gently glinted every time the bus went through those crimson slivers of sunlight. Beneath the spectacles, his eyes were melancholic, and affectionate.

The bus was mostly empty and silent at this time of the day, except for the father and daughter in the seats across the aisle. From what little he can hear, Kazuma pieced together that the pale-haired young lady was wheedling her father to take her someplace—“Papa, we must go and see it at once!” “Iris, haven’t you heard the saying that tomorrow is another day?” “That’s hardly relevant, isn’t it?” Smiling at the silly exchange, Kazuma was about to open his mouth and surreptitiously point out the couple for Ryuunosuke, but then noticed that Ryuunosuke was once more staring out of the window quite vacantly.

“Naruhodou?”

“The cherry trees should be blooming back home right now,” Ryuunosuke was saying, wistfully.

“I guess so.” Kazuma smiled. “I think we still have time to catch them after this trip, though.”

“Mm. Let’s invite Susato-san and Murasame-san if we’re going to view them.”

“Sounds fine to me.”

Once they arrived at their stop, they finally got off the bus and walked the few meters back to the hotel.

The pavement was damp, and pedestrians were once again starting to populate the streets. The streetlights were flickering to life as the last light of the sun finally gave way to the night. The sweetness of the ice cream still lingered on Kazuma’s tongue. Once more, Ryuunosuke’s cold fingers had irresistibly entwined themselves with his. He was humming an English nursery rhyme to himself, and the sound of his off-key singing was oddly endearing in the deep twilight.

London Bridge?”

“Oh, you got it right, Asougi.”

“Way to go, me. It barely sounded like it.”

“Uu, so mean…”

Kazuma laughed at Ryuunosuke’s dejected sighing.

Some time later, Ryuunosuke was finally soaking in the extra-large bathtub in their room, the hot water soothing his aching muscles. Kazuma, who had come into the bathroom late, was just finishing scrubbing himself. He finally joined Ryuunosuke in the tub after washing off the suds, and they just spent the next few minutes together in companionable silence. Kazuma was about to nod back to sleep when Ryuunosuke suddenly spoke.

“You look so much like your dad when you have your hair swept back like that,” Ryuunosuke grinned, as he drew his bare knees to his chest to allow Kazuma more room in the tub.

Kazuma sighed with an annoyed look, before taking off the towel that was keeping his hair out of his face and letting it fall back into place. “Thanks for reminding me I look so much like him.”

“Sorry.” However, Ryuunosuke was laughing. “Hey, this tub is pretty large, huh?”

“Yeah. The one you have at home can barely fit one person in it, let alone both of us.”

“Only too right…”

Kazuma fell silent once more, and irresistibly, combed his hair back again and put the folded towel on his head. His eyes had slid closed. Ryuunosuke eyed the beads of water sliding alluringly down the curve of Kazuma’s bare throat, and smiled sadly when he caught sight of the scars on his shoulder.

“Hey, don’t fall asleep in here or you’ll overheat,” he said somberly, and Kazuma opened his eyes once more and flashed him a smile.

“You’re the blushing one,” he pointed out, wickedly. “What are you thinking of, Naruhodou?”

“Shut up.” Ryuunosuke splashed some water at Kazuma’s face, which he bore with gentlemanly grace. “Just shut up.”

“Hey, you spoke first.”

“Well, don’t sleep in here.”

“Fine,” Kazuma replied lazily, and rolled his shoulders back. “Ugh. I got dragged around by you for the better part of the day.”

“And you let yourself get dragged around by me.” Ryuunosuke laughed. “Are we going to see Baker Street tomorrow? I think Susato-san would like a souvenir from the museum.”

“Well, sure. Why not.”

“The ice cream was delicious,” Ryuunosuke said. “Let’s go again tomorrow. I have to try everything on their menu.”

“You really have to watch your weight,” Kazuma teased him. “Let’s walk all the way to the restaurant to burn off your calories.”

“Which I’ll regain during dinner, anyway.”

“Then after dinner we’ll just have to walk back here. No problem.”

The both of them took a bit of time picking out what to wear for dinner after the bath, but Ryuunosuke finally settled on one of his go-to ensembles when he was still a teacher: a dark blue long-sleeved shirt paired with a gray blazer, and navy-blue trousers. Kazuma was just wearing one of his work suits, a particularly simple yet well-cut black one, with a white shirt underneath and without the tie. He carried the suit jacket over his arm, with the air of a particularly fashionable professional.

Ryuunosuke thought how ridiculously good-looking this person was, and privately wondered if he looked like trash standing next to him.

“You should straighten your shoulders,” Kazuma told him rather severely, and Ryuunosuke sighed before following his advice. “There. Now, raise your chin, and take my hand, and we’re ready to go.”

Ryuunosuke looked down at the hand Kazuma was offering him.

“Are you ready, partner?”

Kazuma’s dark eyes were inquiring, and hastily, Ryuunosuke took his hand.

“Yeah. I am.”

The resulting smile on Kazuma’s face was brilliant.

“Excellent. Then let’s go, shall we, Naruhodou?”

“Right. Lead the way, Asougi.”

With their hands linked between them, they finally headed outdoors, into the chillier London evening.

The sound of the door shutting behind them seemed like such a contented sound.


Spring, far-off spring, as I close my eyes, right there
You, who has given me love, I hear your nostalgic voice
Spring, as-yet-unseen spring, whenever I feel lost and stop
You, who has given me dreams, your gaze embraces me…