When Hakata arrived back to the festival with his fan in hand, it was easy for his brothers to tell he was in an even better mood than before, looking like he was about to burst with happiness but trying to contain it.
“Okay, okay,” he conceded to a small group of his brothers. “I was going to tell you guys after the festival, but I can’t really hold it in. Just make sure Ichi-nii doesn’t hear.”
They nodded and Hakata ushered them in closer so he could lower his voice.
“The prices skyrocketed and we just earned more than enough to buy Ichi-nii that teacup he likes so much!”
The brothers’ eyes grew wide and their mouths dropped open before they broke into cheer. They immediately rushed to spread the news to their other brothers, making sure Ichigo was out of range so he couldn’t hear.
The very next day, when Ichigo was busy with fieldwork, all 13 brothers huddled around Hakata’s laptop and cheered when Hakata clicked the “purchase” button. Now it was just waiting on the delivery but some brothers weren’t so good at hiding their excitement so even Ichigo was able to notice they looked like they had something to say, some secret they wanted to let loose. They, of course, managed to deny it when Ichigo asked, but that only increased the curiosity of the bigger brother. Of course, to hide the location of the citadel, they had a postbox at the post office in the nearby town, so as soon as Hakata received the notification it had been shipped, every day a certain set of brothers would go to the town and check to see if it has arrived yet. After two weeks, Namazuo and Honebami came home with the package, Namazuo holding it above his head like a grand prize. The brothers cheered and immediately set to ripping off the packaging to reveal a fancy box.
“Oh man, I can’t wait to see the look on Ichi-nii’s face when he sees it!” Shinano exclaimed.
“He’ll finally have his own teacup and it’ll be one he really, really loves!” Midare said.
At the time, Ichigo was finishing up cleaning the dishes after lunch as he was assigned to do and decided to return to his room to see if he could find any little brothers who had nothing else to do and play with them. But as he approached the door, he heard excited murmurs and giggling. Curious, but a little apprehensive he might be interrupting something, he hesitantly opened the door. As soon as he did, his brothers all shifted positions, as if they were hiding something.
“Ichi-nii! You’re back!” They greeted. Ichigo smiled his usual smile as he stepped into the room.
“What are you all up to?” He asked. Again they giggled, looking at each other.
“Well…” Akita held out a fancy box from behind his back. “Ta-da!”
Ichigo raised his eyebrows. “For me?”
“Goodness, I very much appreciate this. I wonder what it could be?” Ichigo excitedly took the box with a grin and walked over to the small tea table, sitting on a cushion. He put the box on the table and, as his brothers giggled more, lifted the lid.
“Oh my, a tea cup? I’ve always wanted one of my own, thank you.”
“Look at it properly, Ichi-nii!” Houchou said with a giggle.
“Yeah, look at it!” Maeda agreed.
“Oh, very well then. Let’s see…” Ichigo took out the cup from the soft velvet cushioning and inspected the brown ceramic cup, smoothing it over with his thumb. a strip of blue above the rim from the inside of the cup caught his eye and turning it towards him, he noticed the inside and let out an audible gasp, his eyes growing wide. It was just like the cup Kasen had given him when he had invited Ichigo for tea, the cup that had captivated him with it’s beauty. Shades of blue with dark spots rimmed with gold that were like “the twinkling of stars,” he had said. He looked up at his brothers. “This is… how did you…?”
They chuckled smugly.
“You said you really liked the cup,” Atsushi explained.
“So we looked it up online,” Midare continued.
“But it was reeeeaaally expensive,” added Houchou.
“S-So, um, Hakata used his stock trading to raise the money…” Gokotai said. Hakata smiled and rubbed his nose proudly.
“You did that… for me?” Ichigo said in disbelief.
“Well, you’re always spoiling us,” said Hirano.
“So we wanted to thank you in return!” said Akita. Ichigo chuckled and put the cup back in the box.
“Everyone, thank you.”
He held out his arms wide for his brothers to come and hug him, which they did, piling on top of him and almost knocking him over. It was something he was used to. To have this many little brothers love and cherish him so much that they raise money just to buy him a gift- he is truly blessed, and nothing could be more fulfilling than this.
So why does he feel as if there is something missing?
Of course there is the issue of his memory loss, but it feels more than that. Like a hole caused by the lost memories, and not the lost memories being the hole itself. Like something amidst what he can’t remember was important and precious. Whenever he finds himself pondering about this, he takes down the teacup from the shelf and looks inside it. The oil spots forming beautiful crescents of gold among the gradient blue drew him in, as if he could find the answer within them. They fascinated him, calling out to him, telling him the answer is there but no matter how long he looks, he can never find it. Yet the pattern felt almost familiar, as if he has seen it somewhere before.
It wasn’t long until Ichigo started a collection of similar items. In the general store by the town a little ways from the Citadel, Ichigo had spotted a small sapphire pendant on a gold chain. The sapphire was round and the gold it was embedded in was shaped like a crescent moon. He found himself staring at it, holding some items from the list Hasebe had given him.
“Hey Ichi-nii, what was the name of the sake Jiroutachi-san asked for? Ichi-nii?” Gotou called out, but no response.
“Ichi-nii?” Hakata repeated. Ichigo always took him with him when he went shopping, as he trusted his expertise on how to shop smart and spot a bargain. But there was still no response. Hakata and Gotou looked at each other then slowly moved closer to their big brother. “Hey, Ichi-nii? You okay?”
“Hm? Oh sorry, Hakata, Gotou. The sake, right? It’s on the list somewhere…. hold on a second,” Ichigo pushed all the items into one arm and tried to take out the list from his pocket but was struggling to balance. Hakata offered the basket he was holding and Ichigo thanked him as he put all the items inside and pulled out the list. “Let’s see here…”
“Say, Ichi-nii, did you like that pendant?” Hakata asked. The valuable item shining in an open jewellery box had naturally caught his eye and it was then that he realised this is what Ichigo was spacing out looking at.
“Oh wow, it’s really pretty!” Gotou exclaimed. “Do you like it, Ichi-nii? Do you want it?”
“What? Oh, this?” Ichigo let out a light chuckle. “I was just thinking about how lovely it was.”
“Hm, must be second-hand if it’s in a general store, plus it doesn’t look as polished as a new piece of jewellery.”
“Amazing that you can determine that, Hakata.”
“Heh, well it’s just common sense. But you know,” Hakata turned to Ichigo and looked up at him. “If you want, we got quite a bit of leftover funds from my recent stock trading, so we could totally afford it.”
“Ah, no, it’s quite alright,” Ichigo said, shaking his head. “Those funds should be left as a backup in case we suddenly need a lot of money and don’t have enough. Besides, what would I do with a pendant?”
“If you say so.”
Ichigo smiled and pat Hakata’s head. “Now then, the sake Jiroutachi wants is…”
He walked over to where the alcohol was being shelved. Goutou and Hakata made sure Ichigo’s back was fully turned before they looked at each other and nodded in understanding. Goutou grabbed the jewellery box and closed it, trading it for Hakata's shopping basket and covering for him as he went to make the purchase.
Naturally, Ichigo was wide-eyed in surprise as they presented it to him after they returned home and put the groceries away in the kitchen.
“You two, I told you…!”
“But you seemed like you really wanted it,” Hakata said. “It’s not like we couldn’t afford it.”
“Yes, but it’s as I said, those funds are better off being used by the citadel as a whole if need be.”
“But did you want the pendant or not?” Gotou asked.
“Gotou… Hakata…” Ichigo looked down at the box in his hand, the sapphire shining. He felt drawn to it, the same way he did the teacup. He closed his eyes and inhaled before opening them again. “Yes, I suppose I wished to have it. Though I do not know why. It is not as if I have any use of a pendant.”
“But if you like it and want it, then what’s the problem?” Hakata said with a shrug.
“Well, I suppose there’s not much I can do about it now that you’ve bought it,” Ichigo ruffled Hakata’s and Gotou’s hair. “Thank you.”
He placed the open jewellery box next to the teacup on the shelf.
One day while walking in the town with Nakigitsune and Shinano, something caught Midare’s eye on the display of a window.
“Shinano, look at this!” Miadare exclaimed, tugging on his brother’s sleeve. He dragged him over to the window to get a closer look, Nakigitsune following close behind. “Isn’t this beautiful?”
On the mannequin sat a scarf around its neck. The knitted yarn was a gradient blue, going from midnight to sky blue and flecked with gold to look like the twinkling of stars. There were also crescent moons embroidered into it here and there and small gold tassels at the ends.
“Ichi-nii would love something like this, don’t you think?”
“It does kinda remind me of that teacup he loves so much,” Shinano agreed.
“Let’s get it for him!”
“Hold on,” the fox on Nakigitsune’s shoulder called out. “We don’t know how much it costs yet. Besides, we’re here to buy more seeds from the market.”
“Y-Yeah, but… it’s for Ichi-nii…” Midare mumbled.
“I’ll go in and ask how much it is,” Shinano offered and without waiting for response, did just that. He came out a minute or so later. “So apparently, that scarf is pretty expensive since this is a boutique, so everything is expensive...”
Midare pouted. “I really wanted to get it for Ichi-nii…”
Shinano looked just as defeated. Nakigitsune and his fox looked at each other, then back at Midare and Shinano.
“Hold on for a moment,” the fox said. They entered the shop and after a short while, came back out with a shopping bag and handed it to Midare and Shinano. They grabbed it and looked inside, seeing the scarf folded neatly. They looked back up at Nakigitsune with great joy.
“Thank you!” They both exclaimed.
“Since it’s a gift for Ichigo Hitofuri, Nakigitsune couldn’t really say no,” the fox said. “There’s still enough to buy some seeds but not all on the list. Let’s just tell the others that the market ran out of those.”
Nakigitsune brought a finger to his lips and smiled.
“Our little secret,” he said in his quiet voice. The two grinned and nodded, excited to show Ichi-nii their gift. Indeed, he was quite fascinated by the scarf, going over it bit by bit as he moved it with his hands. He examined everything, every inch and seemed to be lost in thought as his fingers traced an embroidered crescent moon. He somehow snapped out of it, and scolded his brothers for buying something with the citadel’s money.
“But it’s not like we weren’t able to buy enough seeds to have an abundance of food,” Shinano argued.
“Yeah, we just bought more cheaper ones and didn’t buy any bell pepper or turnip seeds,” Midare added.
“Which is fine, because I don’t actually like bell peppers,” Shinano concluded. Ichigo sighed, but smiled. He truly was blessed with caring brothers.
“Thank you, but you shouldn’t use the citadel funds just to buy your big brother a gift,” Ichigo said.
“Well, we didn’t buy it ourselves really,” Midare curled a strand of hair around his finger. “It was Nakigitsune-san, actually.”
“Yeah, it seems like he wanted to give you a gift as well,” Shinano assumed.
“I see. Well, I am grateful,” Ichigo smiled sweetly and hugged his brothers. “Although I wonder what Hasebe-dono might say if he realises there’s some funds missing because my brothers bought me a fashionable scarf.”
“... Nakigitsune can answer to that,” Shinano deflected. Ichigo tapped his nose and called him cheeky before placing the scarf next to the pendant and the teacup on the shelf
After having a fight with Ichigo, Houchou, along with Akita, Urashima and Aizen went fishing with Nihongou and Otegine supervising. However, they went missing overnight. Ichigo had spent the whole morning searching the mountains with his brothers to the point where Tsurumaru of all people was telling him to rest. But he had no time to rest when Houchou and Akita were out there, possibly hurt. But when Hotarumaru spotted smoke coming from beyond the mountains, it was almost like a miracle. Hachisuka made Nagasone stay behind, knowing he was tired from his chores that morning. Akashi hadn’t slept a wink, worried for Aizen. Ichigo was determined to go, despite Tsurumaru’s insistence he should get some rest first. Ichigo appreciated the concern of his friend, but he knew Tsurumaru couldn’t understand what it was like to be a worried older brother. Along with Tonbokiri who was worried about his comrades, and Monoyoshi for luck, they headed out. It was a rigorous trek through the mountains and a cave that Monoyoshi insisted they go through despite the others’ concerns, but by sunset they somehow made it out and found everyone at a beach on the other side of the mountains. Ichigo and Houchou made up, and happy to see his brothers, they hugged each other close and made the trek back to the citadel. Houchou fell asleep as Ichigo carried him on his back and awoke when he set him down once they reached the citadel, rubbing his eyes. They all had a bath, washing away both the filth from the beach and mountains as well as the worries from the last day. Ichigo dressed his brothers in their pajamas and lead them to their room where the rest of their brothers were already asleep. He quietly set out their futons, their new, much larger room making it easier to tiptoe around everyone.
“I’m so glad I found you and you’re both safe,” Ichigo whispered, ruffling their hair. Houchou yawned and smiled sleepily.
“Oh yeah, I almost forgot,” Akita whispered and leaned over to Houchou. “We should give Ichi-nii that.”
“That?” Ichigo repeated, tilting his head.
“Mmmm, oh! Yeah,” Houchou grabbed his satchel, opened it and reached inside, his arm moving around for something, even though it looked like he was about to fall asleep on the spot. “Here it its.”
He handed over an abalone shell with blue and gold iridescent. Ichigo looked at it, falling in love with it, like he did the scarf, the pendant, the teacup.
“We found it on the beach,” Akita said, snuggling under his blanket and resting his head, about to drift off. “And we thought… that Ichi-nii… might like it…”
“It’s like your teacup…” Houchou whispered and just like that, they were both out. Ichigo smiled fondly and leaned down to peck their foreheads.
“Thank you,” he whispered. “It’s lovely.”
He blew out the lantern and climbed into his own futon. He slept with the shell clutched in his hand and put it on the shelf the very next morning.
It was mid-November when three of Ichigo’s brothers bounded into the room where Ichigo was alone, reading a book.
Their little voices brought him caused him to look up and he looked at them with a soft smile.
“What is it?”
“This is for you,” Maeda said cheerfully as Gokotai shyly handed him a bookmark.
“Oh?” Ichigo took it and looked at it. It was covered in forget-me-nots and tied at the top was a ribbon that was blue with gold trimming. “Are these the flowers from the garden?”
The three of them nodded.
“We noticed that you would always look at the forget-me-not blooms so we wanted to find a way to gift them to you,” Hirano explained.
“But flowers die so easily, so even if we picked some for you, they wouldn’t last very long…” Maeda added.
“Th-that’s when Kasen-san told us about flower pressing,” said Gokotai. “And he taught us how to do it and we made a bookmark for you using the flowers. Do you like it?”
“I do. Very much,” Ichigo said sweetly. “Thank you.”
They grinned happily, their cheeks pink with pride. They ran off again to go play, and Ichigo looked back at the bookmark, his fingers tracing the flowers. A soft blue, with a ring of gold around the center. He was not sure why such flowers fascinate him as they did, but he found himself visiting the garden to look at the forget-me-nots every day since they bloomed. His loss of memories had always been a concern of his, the last thing he remembers was burning in the flames. Everything before then was blank. But he cannot imagine that is why the flowers draw him in. No, it’s because like the teacup, and the pendant, and the scarf, and the seashell, he feels like he could find answers within them, answers to why there’s a hole in his heart that his little brothers and his new master and his comrades, old and new, and his newfound duty could not fill. It was like they were trying to remind him of something, something, something… he swears he’s seen a pattern like this before… blue, with gold rings…
But nothing came to mind.
With a defeated sigh, he put the beautiful bookmark up on the shelf with the other things he’s collected.
Not long after that day, Atsushi and Yagen handed him a trinket box, claiming it was something Master had given to them when they saw it in their room and thought out loud that it’s almost like the things Ichi-nii has collected. Their master then gifted it to them so they could then give it to Ichigo, if it is something they think he might like. Indeed, the dark blue trinket box with intricate gold hemming and the gold pattern painted on top of cherry blossoms and a small crescent moon fascinated him. It was beautiful and when he opened it, the inside was lined with a red velvet. He could keep the pendant, seashell and bookmark safe inside this. He thanked his brothers with a pat on the head and after putting the smaller items in the box he placed it on top of the shelf, using the scarf as a makeshift cushion.
“You’ve collected quite a lot of stuff recently,” Yagen said. Ichigo laughed.
“That’s because they’re all gifts from my brothers, so I cherish them deeply,” he said.
“They all seem similar in some way though,” Atsushi said.
“You haven’t even noticed?” Ichigo tilted his head. “They’re all the same colour; blue and gold. Usually there’s a crescent moon somewhere.”
For some reason, Atsushi stiffened as his eyes went wide.
“It’s like you’re collecting something specific, not just gifts from your brothers,” Yagen concluded, one hand on his hip and the other holding his chin in thought. “I mean, the reason we thought you’d like the trinket box is because it’s similar to everything else. Is there a reason why you’re drawn to such a pattern?”
Ichigo crossed his arms and narrowed his brows. “I can’t say there is a particular reason…”
A small lie. Ichigo knew that such items captivated him, drew him in… but he doesn’t know why that is in the first place. So he opted to not say anything.
“Ichi-nii…” Atsushi spoke. His eyes seemed to watch Ichigo with concern, his mouth constantly opening and closing as if he wants to say something.
“Hm? What’s wrong, Atsushi.”
“Ah… no, it’s nothing. Never mind,” Atsushi waved his hands dismissively, but Yagen raised an eyebrow at him.
“Ah, Ichigo Hitofuri, there you are.”
Everyone turned to the guest who just appeared out of nowhere. Uguisumaru was standing at the doorway.
“Are you ready to go to Kasen’s tea ceremony?” He asked. Ichigo gasped.
“Oh no, I had almost forgot!” Ichigo took the box with the teacup off the shelf and closed the lid over it. He waved goodbye to his brothers and followed after Uguisumaru. When they were gone, Yagen turned to Atsushi.
“Do you know something?” Yagen asked. “About Ichi-nii’s collection.”
“I… I don’t know if I should say just yet,” Atsushi said. “It could just be coincidence… Maybe just don’t think about it too much yet.”
Atsushi laughed nervously and Yagen raised an eyebrow again but did not question anything further.
“Is the tea to your liking?” Kasen asked.
“Yes, it is very delicious,” Uguisumaru replied.
“Thank you. Ichigo Hitofuri? Ah, he’s doing it again…”
“Hm?” Ichigo looked up from his teacup. “Oh, my apologies. The tea is very lovely, Kasen-dono.”
“I’m glad, but you know…” Kasen narrowed his eyes. “You always stare into your cup with this faraway, dreamy look in your eyes. It’s either the most captivating cup or captivating tea.”
Kasen chuckled at his own joke, and Ichigo returned the gesture. “It is quite the beautiful teacup.”
“A tenmoku teacup, yes? They are quite beautiful. However, I have never heard of someone being so captivated every time they use one.”
“Sorry, is it strange?”
“It is never strange to be in love with elegance.”
“Although,” Uguisumaru chimed in, lowering his tea cup. “What is it about it that fascinates you so much? Beautiful, yes, but not even Kasen, lover of all things beautiful and elegant is that captivated by his own tenmoku teacup.”
Ichigo looked at Uguisumaru for a moment before looking down at his own cup. His thumb grazed the rim as he tried to think of an explanation, but it was hard when he couldn’t truly understand it himself.
“It’s like looking up at the night sky,” he said. “There’s also a sense of familiarity to it, but I don’t know what that is. I look and look to see if I can find the answer, however…” he shook his head and gave them a weak smile. “Sorry, it really is strange isn’t it?”
“Not at all,” Kasen reassured. “We all have things that tie as to the past that we are drawn and attached to.”
“What do you mean?” Ichigo tilted his head.
“Well, your previous master was Lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi, right?” Ichigo nodded. “He probably had a cup just like that one and that is why you feel it is familiar.”
“Oh… I suppose that is possible…” Ichigo looked down again and bit his lip. He didn’t want to say that that answer didn’t really explain anything.
“Now then, would you both like another cup?”
“What do you guys think? Strange, right?”
Yagen had gathered his brothers and Nakigitsune in their room while Ichigo was on a sortie. They carefully took their older brother’s collection down from the shelf and spread it out among the tea table to examine them.
“They are pretty similar,” Gotou concluded.
“Yeah, they got all that blue and gold,” Shinano included. “Not to mention crescent moons on some of them.”
“Well, I wanted to get Ichi-nii the scarf because it was so similar to the cup and pendant he likes so much!” Midare exclaimed.
“Well, wanting a teacup I can understand as he’d put some use into it. But why would he want a pendant?” Hirano asked.
“He just thinks it’s pretty?” Akita suggested.
“Guys, Ichi-nii probably just likes a certain aesthetic, there’s nothing to it,” Atsushi said matter-of-factly.
“Are you sure? Because about a week ago, you seemed to realise something was up,” Yagen narrowed his eyes at him.
“I just had a thought of a possibility, but I realise there’s no way it could be.”
Yagen just continued to glare at Astushi so he had to avert his eyes.
“Hmm but you know,” Houchou leaned over to look closer. “These all seem kinda familiar somehow.”
“I thought so too,” said Maeda. “Like I’ve seen something like this before.”
“But where? What could it mean?” Hakata pondered.
“M-Maybe it has something to do with Ichi-nii’s lost memories?” Gokotai proposed. Atsushi seemed to stammer a little.
“But how? The only ones who were with Ichi-nii back then were Honebami and Namazuo,” Nakigitsune’s fox said. “But…”
“Yeah, we both don’t have any memories of back then,” said Namazuo, who was guarding the door with Honebami just in case Ichigo comes back. “Just like Ichi-nii.”
“Sorry, but we wouldn’t know,” Honebami said.
“Although I can’t help but feel like it’s familiar too.”
They all pondered for a while longer, but unable to come up with anything. However, Atsushi in particular was pondering something else entirely. There is a strong possibility what he thought it could be was correct despite what he told Yagen and the others. However, he made a promise to not say a word. Still, something like this… it was a positive step in the right direction, right?
“Hey Atsushi, you okay? You’re kinda lost in thought there,” Yagen said to him.
“Ah, no, I’m fine,” Atsushi deflected.
“Are you sure? You’re sweating a little, do you need some medicine?” Yagen’s glasses reflected the light menacingly as he reached into his lab coat to take out a vial of liquid.
“Yeah, no thanks.”
“Ichi-nii is coming!” Namazuo warned and the others scrambled to put the things away and back on the shelf and then pretend like they were all doing something else when Ichigo opens the door and sees all his little brothers.
“Welcome back, Ichi-nii!” Houchou, Gokotai and Akita greeted, running up to him. They were backup, using their cute charm to distract Ichigo from noticing anything amiss if there was anything. “How was your sortie?”
“Tough, but we managed to pull through with little to no injury,” Ichigo said, smiling gently as he kneeled down and pet his brothers’ heads. “Let me change, and we can play that game you’ve been wanting to try. ‘Soccer’, was it?”
Some of the brothers cheered. Ichigo laughed.
“Alright, how about I meet you out on the field after changing?”
The brothers grabbed the soccer ball they got from master, left the room and headed out to the field. They passed by someone sipping tea on the porch.
“Oh? What are you little ones up to?” He inquired. “You all seem excited for something.”
“Mikazuki-san!” They turned to him and grinned. Mikazuki Munechika smiled back.
“Guess what, we’re going to play soccer with Ichi-nii!” Akita exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air.
“Oho, sounds like fun. Are you heading out to the field? Then I’ll be able to watch from here. It’ll be like I’m having fun with you,” Mikazuki laughed and some of the others giggled before running off again. Only Atsushi lagged behind, turning to look at him over his shoulder.
“Hm?” Mikazuki tilted his head. “Is anything the matter?”
“No, it’s nothing,” Atsushi shook his head. “See you later, Mikazuki.”
He ran after his brothers and caught some of their conversation as they waited for Ichigo on the field.
“Mikazuki-san is nice, isn’t he?” Maeda said.
“And beautiful!” Midare chimed in.
“Y-Yeah, being with him always makes me feel calm,” Gokotai said. Then there was a sudden pause.
Then it hit them.
It was a day in late December when Kasen had invited Ichigo for tea again. Taking his box with the teacup, he made his way slowly, watching the light snowfall. He can’t admit that he likes the cold that much, but snow was always so beautiful. A perfect day for some nice, hot tea. He wasn’t surprised to run into Uguisumaru on the way, however he was surprised to see another guest already in the room, kneeling down and waiting patiently.
“Oh, Uguisumaru and Ichigo Hitofuri, will you be joining us today as well?” Mikazuki greeted. “Splendid, splendid. Tea is always best with company.”
“Much agreed,” Uguisumaru said, taking a spot next to him. Ichigo hesitated to move. He found himself always hesitant around the heavenly sword. Not just physically, but he found he was unable to speak, unable to think. He wondered how others did it so easily, how they felt they could talk so casually to such a revered sword. Perhaps it is because they are not as unworthy as Ichigo is? Tainted sword that he is, qualities stripped by the fire.
“What’s the matter, Ichigo?” Kasen asked. “Come sit, we’re about to begin.”
Ichigo found he was able to move when beckoned and sat opposite of Mikazuki and Uguisumaru, all sitting in perfect seiza. Mikazuki was as elegant as ever as he waited patiently for his tea. Ichigo found he couldn’t keep his eyes off him, only for a moment as he took his cup out from the box and waited his turn to pass it to Kasen.
“Your tea is always delectable,” Mikazuki praises after he takes a few sips when Kasen hands him a cup.
“I am very flattered, Mikazuki-dono,” Kasen said politely with a small bow. “Would you like another cup?”
“As would I, if I may,” Uguisumaru requested.
“Certainly. What about you Ichigo Hitofuri? ...Ichigo? Oh, you’re not staring into your cup anymore,” Kasen said with a chuckle. “Did something else captivate you instead?”
He laughed and Ichigo broke out of his trance, turning to Kasen, face turning red.
“Wh-what?” He stuttered.
“I am joking. Perhaps you have gotten used to your cup now.”
Ichigo wasn’t sure. He looked down at his cup and yes, it was still as beautiful and captivating as ever, however… there was something else even more so. He looked up and caught Mikazuki’s eye. He almost felt his heart leap out of his throat out of fear that this gesture alone was overstepping his bounds, but then Mikazuki offered him a kind smile and Ichigo somehow felt all tension leave his body. Mikazuki then broke eye contact just as quickly as it had occurred when he turned to Kasen to receive his cup back, but Ichigo still managed to get a glimpse of his eyes.
A beautiful gradient blue sky with golden crescent moons.
Some time after new years, Honebami and Namazuo sat out on the porch, watching the snow-covered scenery.
“So even though everyone thinks Ichi-nii’s collection has something to do with Mikazuki-san, no one is doing anything about it,” Namazuo said with a sigh.
“It’s not as if it’s something easy to bring up,” Honebami said.
“Yeah, I guess. And it’s not like we know for sure it’s about Mikazuki-san.”
“But we do know why the stuff felt familiar.”
“Hmm, I wonder… Hey, you and Mikazuki-san were pretty close once upon a time, right?”
Honebami blinked, then averted his eyes sadly.
“Yes, we were Ashikaga treasures once, but… as you know…” he trailed off.
“Yeah, yeah no memories,” Namazuo let out a loud, defeated moan. “There’s gotta be some way we can figure out if there’s a connection or not, right?”
Honebami hummed but gave no answer, also at a lost. As if on cue, Atsushi walked past them.
“Actually… there might be someone who knows,” Namazuo muttered under his breath. “Hey, Atsushi!”
“Hm?” Atsushi turned to the two of them who were watching him with curious eyes. “What is it?”
Atsushi stepped closer.
He stepped closer still.
“Come on, closer!”
Atsushi sat in between Honebami and Namazuo, a little apprehensive, but neither did anything and he made the foolish mistake of letting his guard down. As soon as Namazuo sensed it, he quickly wrapped his arm around Atsushi’s neck and pulled him into a headlock.
“H-Hey, what’s the big idea Namazuo-niisan!?”
Namazuo just laughed as he struggled. “Hey now, hey now! You know something don’t you?”
“About the connection between Ichi-nii’s collection and Mikazuki,” Honebami said.
“Wh… what makes you think that?”
“You act kinda weird whenever it’s mentioned,” Namazuo stated. “Yagen told us.”
“I told you! I don’t know anything!” Atsushi protested, still struggling.
“I’m not letting go until you tell us the truth.” Namazuo squeezed tighter.
“Okay! Okay! I yield!” Atsushi tapped the floor and Namazuo let go. “Yeesh. Alright, fine. I promised not to say anything, so I hope he can forgive me. Then again, I only promised not to tell Ichi-nii so… I guess this is a loophole?”
“What is it?” Honebami asked.
“Kinda sucks you guys don’t remember, then I wouldn’t have to explain, but maybe the two of you deserve to know at least.”
“What is it?!” Namazuo asked, impatience growing.
“Ichi-nii and Mikazuki-san used to know each other,” he finally said. “Back in Osaka Castle.”
“What?” Namazuo’s and Honebami’s eyes grew wide.
“Mikazuki-san’s master was Lady Nene at the time, Lord Hideyoshi’s wife,” Atsushi explained. “Apparently he had gifted Mikazuki-san to her.”
“Lord Hideyoshi’s wife?” Namazuo repeated.
“Yeah, and since we are influenced by our masters and their bonds, I’m sure Ichi-nii and Mikazuki-san had a bond similar to that.”
“Similar to Lady Nene’s and Lord Hideyoshi’s bond?” Honebami repeated.
“So, like, married?” Namazuo said outright.
“... Yeah. Something like that.”
Namazuo and Honebami exchanged a look.
“I’m pretty sure that’s why Ichi-nii has been collecting all that stuff, why the teacup captivated him in the first place. It reminded him of Mikazuki-san, but I don’t think he’s realised it yet,” Atsushi said matter-of-factly, his expression somewhat grave. “It’s possible Ichi-nii still remembers Mikazuki-san, most likely subconsciously.”
“That… kinda explains quite a bit, actually,” Namazuo said. “Whenever Ichi-nii is near Mikazuki-san, he goes all quiet, but he looks at him a lot.”
“Like he’s watching him,” Honebami added. “In battle, he always seems to fight close to him too.”
Namazuo hummed, then suddenly stood up and stretched his arms.
“Alright, there’s only one thing to do,” he said cheerfully before putting his hands on his hips and turning to his brothers. “Okay Honebami, let’s go. We got some planning to do.”
“We do?” Honebami tilted his head. Namazuo gave him a wink.
Tsurumaru wasn’t someone Ichigo considered himself close to, but did think of him as a good friend after knowing him for many years. They’d converse on the occasion or just when passing by but it’s not very often they have tea together let alone in Ichigo’s room. But Tsurumaru had been walking past when he noticed Ichigo was sitting alone in his room, reading a book at a tea table.
“No little brothers today?” He asked.
“Most are out on chores or expeditions,” Ichigo replied. “The others are doing their own thing. We have plans for later in the afternoon when their duties are done, however.”
“But you’re alone for now, right? How about I keep you company?”
Before Ichigo could respond, Tsurumaru asserted himself into the room and sat by the table opposite of Ichigo.
“No one else to spend time with?”
“Mitsu-bou and Sada-bou are busy in the kitchen and Kara-bou is on one of those expeditions.”
“Ah, so you’re bored.”
“Well, if you’re going to stay in my room, I should be a courteous host. I’ll go make some tea.”
Ichigo put down his book and warned Tsurumaru not to touch anything before he left. Tsurumaru rested his chin in his hand and tapped his fingers on the table as he looked around. The Awataguchi quarters sure was big. Then again there was a lot of them. But surprisingly, for as many as they were, the room was rather neat and tidy. Well, he could only guess the strict Ichigo Hitofuri made his brothers clean up after themselves. But then something in particular caught his eye. On a shelf against the wall as an ornamental trinket box, an intricate scarf and a teacup sitting upright in a box. He wondered what those were and decided to let curiosity get the better of him and stood up to go take a look. Ichigo said not to touch anything, but he didn’t say anything about looking. He couldn’t exactly notice anything special about them, but a crescent moon on the scarf stood out to him. He heard footsteps approaching and quickly assumed his previous position. Ichigo entered with a tray of teacups and a pot, as well as a plate of dango. He thanked Tsurumaru for waiting, sat back down at the table and poured Tsurumaru his cup before pouring his own.
“Why don’t you use that teacup up there?” Tsurumaru asked, gesturing to the one on the shelf.
“Hm? Oh, I only use that one for tea ceremonies. It’s a special cup, you see,” Ichigo said and took a sip.
“Oh? How so?”
“It is a teacup my little brothers worked hard to buy for me since I loved the one Kasen had given me at a tea ceremony very much.”
“Yeah? Why’s that?”
“It was a very beautiful cup, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I was captivated by it before I knew it.”
“Captivated by a teacup?”
“If you saw it perhaps you’d understand.”
“Can I see it, then?”
“Can I have a look at your teacup?”
Ichigo hesitated for a moment. Tsurumaru was a good person, but he was unpredictable in his pursuit for surprises. Still, even he wouldn’t do anything to harm something important to someone, right?
Ichigo stood up and went over to take the box with the cup off the shelf. He returned to the table and placed it there, carefully handing the cup over and warning Tsurumaru to be gentle, which he reassured Ichigo he would be. He examined the cup, turning it this way and that. The oil spots design was indeed beautiful, but it definitely reminded him of something, or rather someone.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Ichigo said with a fond smile.
“Yeah,” Tsurumaru replied, putting the cup back in the box. “Kinda reminds me of Mikazuki a bit, though.”
Ichigo spat out his tea.
“M-M-Mikazuki-dono? W-Why would you say that?” He stammered.
“Like, his eyes and stuff. You know? How they’re blue but they got those gold circles around his pupils, like crescent moons.”
“I-I-Is that so?” Ichigo felt the blood rush to his cheeks.
“You were captivated by a teacup that looks like Mikazuki?” Tsurumaru teased with a sly grin and chuckle.
“Complete coincidence!” Ichigo protested.
“Then why is your face so red?”
“Because, I can’t believe you would say something so embarrassing!”
“I don’t know, don’t you think you’re overreacting for a coincidence?”
Ichigo opened his mouth and closed it again. He inhaled and exhaled, closing his eyes and calming himself down. He took a sip of tea before opening his mouth to speak but Tsurumaru interrupted him.
“Well now this is a surprise,” he said, folding his hands under his chin. “Our role model big brother has a crush on the most beautiful of the five heavenly swords.”
Ichigo immediately flushed.
“H-How are you coming to that conclusion, Tsurumaru-dono?” He stammered, struggling to get the words out as his brain screamed. “All b-because of a t-teacup?”
Tsurumaru nodded towards the shelf again. “That scarf up there. Pretty beautiful for a scarf. It’s also got a crescent moon on it. Is it yours?”
“Wh-... yes, it is mine, but it was a gift from my brothers.”
“What about that trinket box? It’s also beautiful from here but is there anything special about it? You got anything in it? Like a lock of Mikazuki’s hair?”
“Don’t be ridiculous!”
“Unless you show it to me, I’m going to just assume that’s what’s inside.”
Ichigo frowned. “Why do you want to see it so bad?”
“Just want to test my little theory.”
Ichigo narrowed his eyes further, but obliged, getting up and taking the box off the shelf and handling it to Tsurumaru.
“Please be careful with it, it was also a gift from my brothers, which was a gift from Master-”
“Hey, look, there’s a crescent moon right there!”
Ichigo felt like he was going to overheat at this point. With a cheeky grin, Tsurumaru opened the box. First he took out the pendant, then the sea shell.
“Wow, what a Mikazuki-esque pendant, and doesn’t this sea shell remind you of Mikazuki too?”
“Tsurumaru-dono…” Ichigo was almost at his wit’s end until Tsurumaru took out the bookmark.
“Forget-me-nots, huh?” He said. Surprisingly, his voice became softer. “You got that memory loss, don’t you?”
“Yes, anything before the fire, I cannot remember,” Ichigo said, looking down at his cup with his tea, thumb grazing the clay.
“What is? My memory loss?”
“No, the fact you kept a bookmark with forget-me-nots on it,” Tsurumaru said, placing it gently on the table. “They usually symbolise remembrance and memories, but did you know in hanakotoba, they also mean true love?”
Ichigo could only blink at him, surprised he knew such a thing. Tsurumaru laughed.
“I learnt that from Kasen.”
Ichigo looked down again. “Yes… I know… but to assume I have feelings for Mikazuki-dono simply because of a few items I have collected…”
“It’s not just that,” Tsurumaru shook his head. “Mikazuki is kinda like family, and you’re an old friend, so it was pretty hard not to notice the way you look at each other.”
“I don’t really get the full story, but I’m going to assume Mikazuki has something to do with your past. The part you don’t remember.”
“I… I have no idea.” Ichigo’s head was swimming with thousands of thoughts that it was hard to focus.
“Well, either way,” Tsurumaru stood up and stretched. “I’m like 99% sure whatever feelings you have, it’s completely mutual.”
There was so much to unpack and so much Ichigo wanted to ask but all he could muster was, “99%?”
“Well, you know the old man is quite elusive. Hard to know what he’s thinking, but I don’t think you have to worry too much about rejection if you wanna confess,” Tsurumaru chuckled as he headed to the door. “Oh yeah, and thanks for the tea.”
He left, closing the door behind him and Ichigo sat alone with his collection on the table. He looked over it, touching each item, holding them in his hand as he examined each one. Too much happened all at once that it was hard to process, but if what Tsurumaru said was true… Ichigo shook his head. What kind of arrogance would it be for him to have romantic feelings for someone like Mikazuki, someone completely out of his league? And yet, now that Tsurumaru had brought it up, it was hard to deny the items that he claimed to have captivated him were all similar in nature. He picked up the teacup and examined it’s beauty again. When he first gazed into a cup like this, it gave him a great joy unlike any other. A captivation one might describe as akin to falling in love. But you can’t really fall in love with a teacup. However, even now it was calling out him, something familiar, something distant. He had somehow felt as if he would find the answers to his lost past within these items.
He hadn’t realised the answer was right in front of him the whole time.
In the first week of february, the weather was getting slightly warmer. Snow had stopped falling and the snow on the ground was thinning away. It was then that Honebami and Namazuo decided to execute their plan. They laid picnic blanket under the big cherry blossom tree in the field, food and tea courtesy of Shokudaikiri and Ichigo’s collection they snuck out of their room when he wasn’t inside as the finishing touch. Now they just needed the guests of honour.
They found Ichigo walking idly around the citadel. He had been like that lately, distracted and somewhat absent-minded. They managed to convince Ichigo to follow them, claiming they had something to show him. They immediately grabbed his hands and dragged him all the way to the tree, ignoring his protests to slow down. Ichigo was surprised to see the picnic set up and asked what it was for.
“For you and someone special!” Namazuo said with a grin. “Sit, sit!”
Ichigo did so without really thinking about it even though he was still slightly confused.
“What is going on, who is this ‘someone special’?” He asked. “Wait, is this my collection? Why is it here?”
“All our brothers gifted you with something since the teacup,” Honebami said. “So this is our gift to you.”
“The last and final gift for your collection!”
Ichigo was just even more confused.
“I really don’t understand, what is going on you two?”
“You’ll see,” Namazuo said with a smug grin. “Now then, we’ll leave you to it. Bye, Ichi-nii! Good luck!”
“Good luck,” Honebami repeated and with that, they ran off down the hill and towards the citadel. Ichigo, though still confused as ever, decided to wait and see what they had planned. Who this special someone was he’s supposedly to share the picnic with. He thought of pouring tea to pass the time but thought it rude to start drinking or eating before the guest arrived, so he just waited patiently. Eventually, he heard footsteps and when he turned towards them he felt his heart beat loud and fast and the blood rush to cheeks.
“Oh my, Ichigo Hitofuri. What’s all this?” Mikazuki said with a smile, a piece of paper in his hand. “I received an anonymous letter to come to the cherry blossom tree but I never imagined a picnic with you would be waiting for me here.”
Ichigo opened his mouth, but no sound came out. Like usual, he found it hard to speak to the beautiful swords. Mikazuki tilted his head, still smiling, and the action itself caused his heart to pound louder and his cheeks burn hotter.
“Hahaha, I thought it was going to be another one of Tsurumaru’s attempts to surprise me so I came out because I thought it’d be interesting to see what it is,” Mikazuki spoke again. “But this is much more surprising than anything Tsurumaru has attempted. May I sit?”
Again, Ichigo could not speak, but he was at least able to nod and gesture to a spot next to him. Mikazuki thanked him and sat. Ichigo was almost at a loss for what to do next until Mikazuki reached over to the teapot on the tray and Ichigo immediately grabbed it for him.
“Allow me,” he managed to say and poured Mikazuki his tea.
“My, what a gentleman,” Mikazuki laughed. Ichigo’s cheeks burned again. They sipped some tea for a few moments longer until Mikazuki spoke up again. “So what is this all about, anyway?”
“A-Ah…” Ichigo averted his eyes, embarrassed. “My brothers were the one who…”
“I see. But whatever for?”
Now that Ichigo thought about it, he realised what this was all about. Had Tsurumaru talked to his brothers? Or, like Tsurumaru, had they figured something out on their own? But could he go through with it? He had only just figured out his own feelings and it took someone else to help him realise them, and the processing stage was going a little slow.
“You know, it is a little odd to have a picnic in the winter,” Mikazuki said, taking a sip. “But it’s actually quite nice. But I suppose spring is coming. Look,” Ichigo followed to where Mikazuki was pointing up at the tree. “It’s already starting to bud.”
“So it is…” Ichigo muttered. “Remember the year before, in November when it bloomed?”
“Ah yes, I remember. It was odd to see blossoms in the winter, but then again this is an odd tree.”
Mikazuki laughed again and Ichigo couldn’t help but think about how melodic it sounded. He took another sip before it seemed like something caught his eye.
“Oh, isn’t that your teacup there?” He pointed to the tenmoku cup in the box. “Why aren’t you using that one?”
“Ah, that’s because… I only use it for tea ceremonies, really.”
“Then why is it here?”
“Like I said, my brothers organised this. They’re the ones who brought it here…”
“I see. That’s the one your brothers bought for you, isn’t it?”
“Indeed. It’s very precious to me.”
“According to Kasen, you seem very absorbed in the cup during tea ceremonies, that you are ‘captivated by its beauty’ or something like that,” Mikazuki smiled at him.
“However, at the last tea ceremony I had with you, you barely looked at your cup at all. Why is that? Grew bored of it?”
“N-No, it is still the most beautiful teacup I’ve ever seen,” Ichigo responded sheepishly.
Because I had something, or rather someone even more beautiful in front of me, Ichigo thought but dared not say out loud.
“Kasen was just exaggerating…” Ichigo gave a weak smile, rubbing the back of his neck. Mikazuki just hummed and took another sip of tea. Ichigo wasn’t sure he could take anymore. His heart hadn’t stopped pounding nor had his cheeks stopped burning, causing his mind to haze over and his hands to sweat. He was surely going to die. He was going to die.
Although dying by Mikazuki’s hands didn’t sound all too bad.
“This scarf is lovely and so is this trinket box.”
Mikazuki’s voice pulled him back to reality and he realised Mikazuki had wrapped the scarf around himself and was holding the box in front of him.
“May I?” Mikazuki asked. Ichigo nodded and Mikazuki proceeded to open the box and look at the trinkets inside. “Oh my, what a lovely pendant.”
“Yes, I saw it in the general store and it captivated me before I knew it.” Ichigo wasn’t sure why he said that, but the smile Mikazuki gave him was somehow mysterious.
“This shell is lovely too, where did you find it?”
“My brothers found it when they shipwrecked on a beach behind the mountains and gave it to me because they thought I would like it.”
“Oh, right. I heard about that. I was on an expedition at the time, but I am glad they were found safe and sound. Now, what’s this…?” Mikazuki took out the bookmark and examined it. “These are… forget-me-nots?”
“Yes, my brothers learned flower pressing from Kasen, so they used the forget-me-nots from the garden and turned them into a bookmark for me.”
Mikazuki’s smile disappeared and it seemed like there was a sadness in his eyes. Such an expression shocked Ichigo as he had never seen the laidback and carefree Mikazuki wear such a face. He clutched the bookmark to his chest and let out a deep sigh.
“Tsurumaru is right… you really do have quite a collection…” he muttered. Ichigo blinked.
“Tsurumaru-dono… told you about it…?”
Mikazuki nodded and gave Ichigo a sad smile. “Forgive me, but I had been consulting with Tsurumaru for quite some time now. I made a selfish request and asked that he speak with you so I could know once and for all.”
“Consulting with Tsurumaru-dono? About what?”
Mikazuki shook his head and replaced his almost grim expression with his usual carefree smile and laughed.
“It doesn’t matter, does it? Look at all this food, we should eat some lest it go to waste.”
He reached out to grab a bento box, but Ichigo clutched his wrist. Both were shocked at his actions, but Ichigo didn’t relent.
“Mikazuki-dono… what is going on?” He asked, courage building up within him from somewhere. “Did you send Tsurumaru-dono to my room to talk to me that day? Why?”
“Mikazuki-dono, you are a mystery to me.”
This time it was Mikazuki’s turn for his eyes to go wide and blink in confusion. Ichigo let go of his wrist and placed his own hand back on his thigh.
“My apologies, for grabbing you like that.”
Mikazuki hummed. “It’s fine. But what do you mean?”
Ichigo looked down, preparing the words in his head.
“What… am I to you?” He began, slowly lifting his head. “What are you to me? Why did I start collecting all these similar items? Why did a teacup that looks like your eyes captivate me without me realising the true reason so? Why is it that looking at you gives me the same kind of joyful feeling I get from looking at the teacup, except more so? Why did it take the interference of someone else to make me realise what I might be truly feeling for you? Why were you the one to send that someone else to me to do so?”
“My… that’s a lot of questions,” Mikazuki still smiled, he looked at Ichigo, but not directly, no. His eyes were staring straight through. The bravery Ichigo was feeling had increased with every word and he realised now there was no turning back, not at this point.
“Then, allow me to ask one single question that is possibly the most important. Mikazuki-dono,” he said, as serious as he could and he had caught Mikazuki’s attention. “What is your connection to my past?”
“Ah,” Mikazuki looked away from Ichigo, ahead of himself towards the distance.
“Please,” Ichigo reached out and touched Mikazuki’s arm. It was an action he didn’t think about but after he did it he worried if he was imposing with the gesture. He never had the courage to touch Mikazuki, thinking himself as unworthy, but now here he was. He had to admit, he was scared. Not sure what of, but he was scared. Would Mikazuki leave before he found the answer he was looking for? Would his feelings go unrequited? Would Mikazuki scoff at him for even daring to think about having romantic feelings for sword many leagues above him?
But all Mikazuki did was look down at Ichigo’s hand, still smiling sadly.
“No fair,” he muttered. “That’s cruel of you, Ichigo.”
Ichigo blinked. “What?”
Mikazuki looked up, smiling so sadly that Ichigo had almost thought he saw tears in his eyes.
“Fine. I’ll tell you.”
And so he did. About Osaka Castle, about Lord Hideyoshi and Lady Nene, their respective masters, about their bond as spouses and how as their swords they shared a similar bond. About Honebami and Namazuo who were with them. How Mikazuki left with Lady Nene after Hideyoshi’s death and stayed with her at a temple until her death. How she could see the flames from the castle from her temple on that fateful day. How he spent 600 years trying to convince himself it’s all in a past, but a bond tethered cannot be severed so easily, and, surprising Ichigo from confessing something so emotional as that was not usually in his character, admitted to the heartbreak he felt when Ichigo did not remember him when he arrived at the Citadel.
“But to think, this whole time you may have subconsciously remembered me?” Mikazuki said, and his laugh this time was unlike any Ichigo had heard before. It was dry, almost defeated. “That’s why you’re cruel.”
Ichigo was at a loss of what to say.
“I… I’m sorry,” was all he could say. Mikazuki shook his head.
“No, it’s not your fault. You didn’t cause the fire.”
“Perhaps not, but…” in a brave gesture he took Mikazuki’s hand in his. “Even if my mind has forgotten, my heart seems to have somehow still remembered. Even if you find it cruel, I am glad I still remember you in some way. I am just sorry it took me so long to realise that I ended up collecting a bunch of things that meant something to me without realising why.”
There was a moment of silence, then laughter. Quiet at first, and slow, but it built up and up and until Mikazuki had thrown his head back and let out a loud, joyous laugh. Ichigo smiled.
“Oh, pardon me,” Mikazuki said as he calmed down. “I just felt so happy I couldn’t help myself.”
“I’m glad. Your laughter is wonderful.”
Mikazuki blinked, then smirked. “Easy there. You have yet to properly confess.”
“Eh? Did I not make my feelings clear already?”
“Sounded vague to me,” he teased.
“Alright, shall I tell it to you straight then?”
“Mikazuki,” Mikazuki corrected. “Just ‘Mikazuki’ from now on.”
Ichigo smiled and nodded. He covered Mikazuki’s hand and shifted his position to kneeling on one knee, as if proposing. He cleared his throat, and continued.
“Though memories of our past I have not, our bond is still true. It took many nights for the sun to dawn on my realisation but Mikazuki, I am in love with you.”
There was a beat of silence, Mikazuki blinked, expression unchanged. Then, he raised an eyebrow and stifled a chuckle.
“Did you… did you just confess through poetry? What was so straight about that?”
“Was it… no good?”
“Hahahaha, no, no that was just like you. Ahahaha!” Mikazuki laughed again. “Alright then. I love you too, haha.”
This time, Ichigo stifled a chuckle.
“No, it’s just… simple, to the point. Very like you.”
“Well, maybe one day I’ll wax poetry to you.”
“I look forward to it.”
They looked at each other for a while, examining the other’s features. Mikazuki spoke up again, his voice soft.
“Say, remember when we went on a sortie together a few months ago? When you grazed your knuckles against mine after Ookanehira was announced captain?”
Ichigo’s face immediately went red, remembering the incident. He was standing next to Mikazuki during the roll call before the sortie and while he tried to keep a cool demeanor, he hadn’t realised his hand was gravitating towards Mikazuki’s until their knuckles touched and Mikazuki reacted. Ichigo had realised what he was doing then and apologised for bumping hands and turned away before Mikazuki could see how red his face had become.
“Ah, that was embarrassing, I’m sorry I-”
Mikazuki shook his head. “That actually made me happy.”
He smiled fondly and Ichigo returned the smile. “I’m glad, then. Even though at the time I wasn’t sure why I did such a thing, I realise now.”
“Haha. Well, feel free to hold my hand anytime from now on.”
“Alright. I shall take you up on that offer.”
They fell silent again, just for a moment until Ichigo spoke in an almost whisper.
“I guess this means from now on, we’re…”
“.... May I kiss you?”
Before leaning in, Ichigo looked into Mikazuki’s eyes once more, eyes that looked straight at him this time, not through. Eyes that were more captivating than a teacup, more beautiful than the night sky.
Eyes that held the answers he had been looking for all this time.
As a certain group of brothers giggled and squealed among themselves as they watched two figures in the distance under the tree lean in and touch lips, Namazuo turned to Honebami and grinned.
“Guess you could say Ichi-nii’s collection is now complete.”
Honebami nodded once and smiled contently. “Indeed.”