To an outside observer, Satoru Fujinuma almost certainly appeared to be a perfectly average man in his twenties, just one who happened to be recovering from a minor accident, or health condition. He walked a little unsteadily, stiffly, his muscles still weak, on the way to meet an old friend for lunch. If any residual fear of past threats or longing for lost days existed behind his eyes as signs of his unnatural passage through time, it went unnoticed from day to day.
Ever since his rooftop confrontation with Yashiro, the world had returned to some sense of normalcy more quickly than Satoru would have expected. He got back to work, to life, doing his best to rejoin a world that had moved on without him. He called his mother, and contacted his old editor for the first time all over again, and smiled over emailed photos of Kayo playing with Mirai, and tried to make peace with his strange situation. He spent more and more time with Kenya as he regained his strength, transitioning from brief hospital visits to catching up over meals. They lived in the same city now, somehow similar and yet so different from the days when they shared the same sleepy hometown, and his continued familiar presence was a comfort as Satoru’s memories of two different lives mixed and mingled, eroding pieces of each other to form one disjointed series of events.
As familiar as he was, Kenya still managed to catch Satoru off guard. Of all his friends, he had always been the one to understand Satoru best, clever and and perceptive enough at the age of eleven to see to the heart of him. At twenty-six he was even more clever and perceptive, never failing to notice exactly the things that Satoru was trying to hide.
Sitting across from each other at a sandwich shop, Kenya fixed Satoru with his knowing gaze and asked, “How do you feel about Kayo and Hiromi being together, truly?”
Satoru blinked at him behind his glasses, startled into silence by the question. He struggled to find the words to answer, failing to remember the ones that had come so easily when he’d spoken with Kayo herself. It felt different, having to explain to Kenya. It always felt different talking to him.
He meant exactly what he’d said to Kayo, about being glad that everyone went on living without him. All he’d wanted was to give the people he cared about a good life, even if it meant he couldn’t be a part of it. The idea of anyone waiting on him, holding themselves back for his sake, made his stomach turn. It was better this way, the way things always should have been. But still--
“I wonder a lot,” Satoru grudgingly admitted, “About how it would be if things happened differently.”
“I think we all do.” Kenya reasoned, “People, I mean. It’s natural to look backward, reconsider choices we made in the past.” His shoulders sank a little, hurt somehow, guilty, “Things that happened to us.”
Satoru nodded. Happened sounded right. He had made choices, certainly, and not all of them had been good ones. But the end result for him-- he couldn’t accept that as a choice. He may have made the wrong choice in trusting someone he shouldn’t, but Yashiro-- he happened to him, to all of them.
And he wouldn’t change the outcome for anything. This timeline was a blessing, a goal achieved. His mother was alive, as well as Yashiro’s earlier victims from the spring of 1988; Hiromi, Aya, and Kayo.
Kayo-- the one whose mere memory had set everything back in motion. Kayo, not just alive but thriving, grown up from a quiet, bitter little girl with no faith left in the world into a young woman, content in herself, married to a wonderful man, raising a baby that she had named with all the affection and optimism she had rediscovered in the years since she was saved, from Yashiro, and from her mother.
No, Satoru wouldn’t change a thing. But that didn’t stop him from wondering what his life could have been. With a minor change, with another Revival, he might have come out of his first confrontation with Yashiro unscathed, grown up alongside his friends instead of spending adolescence and early adulthood trapped in a bed.
“I think a lot about what I missed out on.” Satoru said quietly, averting his eyes from Kenya’s pitying gaze.
If he had lived those years, he could have made more memories with his classmates, had more dinners with his mother. He could have reconnected with Kayo earlier, and then- who knew?
In another life, he and Kayo could have fallen in love. But then, he might be the one already married, father to a baby boy, and he wasn’t sure how to feel about that. He wasn’t ready to be a father now, maybe not ever. He never really knew his own father, and the only person he ever tried to tie to that role in his life ended up-- Satoru suppressed a shudder, the memory of icy water chilling up his spine.
He focused on the present moment, the warmth of the restaurant they sat in, the freedom to move in his seat, and soon the memory passed.
This was the life he had now, and he was grateful for it. And he did still love Kayo, only in a different sort of way. Their connection was something deeper than friendship, calmer than romance. They were like ships passing in the night, shining morse code messages of well-wishes and encouragement, always certain that the other would reach their destination.
“I’m happy for them.” Satoru said with finality, “I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I’m sad about anything- no, not even sad. Wistful, maybe? If anything bothers me it’s not that I ‘missed my chance with Kayo’” He waved a hand, offering up vague air quotes, “Just that I missed those kind of experiences. I never got a love letter, or went on a date. And sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to have a cliche romance, like something out of a manga.”
“A manga. Of course.” Kenya said indulgently, resting his chin on one hand as he listened.
“You know the type-- childhood friends who shared in some profound experience, separated for years, finding one another again after highschool, making eye contact from across a busy street, or in a park as cherry blossoms bloom overhead.” Satoru smiled wryly, poking fun at himself.
“It could still happen.” Kenya suggested.
“With who ?” Satoru laughed. Even in his other life, he couldn’t clearly remember any relationships like that. He barely had a social life then, much less a romantic connection. He couldn’t recall being in love, or having sex, or even admiring anyone. He had vague memories of his mother teasing him about finding a wife.
Kenya smiled, distant, as if at some memory rather than at Satoru himself, “We were all rather taken with you then, Satoru,” He said, “You were more popular than I think you realized. I’m sure you had your fair share of admirers.”
Satoru’s laughter was effectively stifled. He blinked in surprise. Him? Popular?
He thought of Yuuki’s advice on making friends, trying to see his younger self through all his former classmates’ eyes; Satoru Fujinuma, a smiling, energetic boy, full of determination, eager to reach out to those around him, always spouting some inspirational phrase or another.
I want to be a superhero.
Satoru smiled sheepishly and adjusted his glasses, “I guess I can see that.”
Amused, Kenya added, “It didn’t hurt matters that you were a cute kid, too.”
Satoru, simultaneously a self-conscious adult and, in some distant corner of his mind, a startled young boy, blushed.
Kenya huffed a gentle laugh at his wide eyed expression, “If you had been there with us through the rest of school, you would have had at least one lovestruck fool following after you.”
Satoru scoffed, unable to imagine it.
“That’s kind of you to say, Kenya.” He said, effectively brushing off the compliments and letting the topic go.
As they finished up with lunch they traded work stories, bizarre clients and neurotic colorists, and made vague plans to meet again soon, and in no time at all they went their separate ways, leaving the subject of Satoru’s missed chances at romance to fade from memory.
Except that Satoru couldn’t really stop thinking about it.
His conversation with Kenya was still bouncing around his head while he sat at his desk, trying to draw and not really getting anywhere. Satoru paused in sketching, pencil hovering above a mostly white page, considering Kenya’s choice of words.
“...you would have had at least one lovestruck fool following after you.”
Satoru frowned, staring down at the vague gesture lines drawn on the page before him. The idea that someone could have harbored a crush on him, that it might have developed further had they continued growing up together... It was an odd bit of conjecture coming from Kenya, who was always so deliberate in the way that he spoke.
Unless it wasn’t conjecture.
“...at least one…”
It was a fact, plainly stated. Kenya knew of at least one person who’d had a childhood crush on Satoru. The concept left him flustered. It was such a stupid thing to fixate on, but here he was, doing it anyway.
He set down his sketchbook and pencil, unable to focus on work, and instead turned his attention to the photos pinned up beside his desk. He took down the picture from his and Kayo’s shared birthday party, looking at it in a new light.
The person Kenya mentioned, if in fact it was a literal person and not just a theoretical crush designed to make him feel better about himself, could conceivably have been any of their classmates. But he wasn’t close with any of them before the river, before the coma. He imagined if anyone would have had a crush on him, it would be one of his close friends. He looked over each of the small, smiling faces in the photo, feeling increasingly silly as he did so.
He’d already lived one life alongside his former classmates, and in that timeline none of his friends had ever come forward to confess their feelings for him. But then, in that timeline his friendships were different, more superficial. He hadn’t befriended Kayo, then.
Staring down at the photo, Satoru came to the realization of something that was obvious, but which he’d never given any thought to; other than Kayo, all of his close friends from that time were boys.
Which was an interesting thought. He couldn’t imagine a ten year old boy in the late 80s harbouring a secret crush on a male classmate and feeling at all recognized or accepted for it. Developing feelings for another boy-- it wasn’t a possibility he’d been aware of at that age, or at least, not one he’d ever explored.
He scanned his friends’ faces, trying to recall if there was anything, some interaction, some indication, he could have missed.
He remembered Hiromi holding his hand, beaming as Satoru walked him home. It was possible… but then, Hiromi had always been an affectionate person, unafraid of closeness and vulnerability.
He thought about Osamu at age ten, his interests squarely focused on video games and cartoons. He hadn’t seemed mature enough to develop a crush back then, more concerned about fantasy worlds then the real one.
He considered Kazu’s loud, excited support of Satoru’s apparent interest in Kayo, his help in getting them to speak to each other. He had been just as straightforward in getting to know Aya, warming to her quickly and finding a place by her side.
And Kenya-- well, what about Kenya? They were close friends, but Kenya had always been a quiet, guarded person. If he’d had romantic feelings for anyone he certainly never mentioned it.
Satoru set the old photo down on top of his discarded sketchbook, lost in puzzling over his friend’s choice of words.
Does Kenya like me? The thought came to him in a small voice, a question posed by his eleven year old self, a wondering echo in the back of his mind.
“ Did he.” Satoru corrected himself softly, “Past tense.”
But that bright, tiny, childish part of his mind was already running with the new idea, repeating the question until his whole thought process was preoccupied with it, awed and intrigued; does Kenya like me?
Satoru reached for his cellphone, thumbs moving faster than his brain as he fired off a text to Kenya, asking him to meet up for coffee sooner rather than later.
Once he was standing in the coffee shop where he and Kenya had agreed to meet, Satoru was having regrets. Not about asking to see Kenya again so soon, but because he could have asked to meet up literally anywhere else.
He didn’t really like coffee. Or, if he did, he didn’t remember how to enjoy it. He couldn’t recall how he took his coffee the first time he grew up, if he even got into the habit of drinking it at all. He ordered a something-something- mocha, the first option he saw advertised on the colorful chalkboard that looked like it might cut the bitterness of coffee with sweet chocolate.
All of this was strange, starting over and trying to rediscover the tiny personal details that made up his daily life. The feeling of two lives merging into one existence, making all of his memories overlap strangely, left Satoru uncertain of anything outside of the days affected by Revival, frantic and dense with information.
He could remember some things so vividly-- the feel of playing cards in his hands and the sound of Kayo’s quiet laughter, the shocked expression on his neighbor’s face as she walked in to find him kneeling over his mother’s body, the sight of a glove compartment overflowing with candy, the taste of homemade curry.
Everything else was more blurred, inconsequential information cleared to make room for new knowledge. Did he like coffee? Even after he had claimed a relatively private table in the corner of the cafe and taken a tentative sip, he couldn’t quite decide how he felt about it. He left it alone, steaming slightly, while he waited for Kenya to show up and order himself a cappuccino.
Kenya sat down across from him, his suit and tie crisp, suggesting he’d just left work.
“I hope I’m not taking you away from anything important.” Satoru told him.
Kenya waved him off, “Not at all. I have the time.” His smile was pleasant but distracted, mildly concerned, “I was surprised you texted me so soon, though. Is everything alright? Did something happen?”
Satoru instantly felt bad for worrying him. Kenya had probably agreed to meet with him expecting troubling news; a setback in his rehabilitation, or some insidious part of Yashiro’s plan that slipped past them now coming to fruition, “No, no, nothing like that.” He assured, “I just wanted another chance to talk to you. It’s… kind of stupid, actually.”
Kenya looked puzzled, but relieved.
“I was thinking about what you said the other day,” Satoru started, “When we were talking about childhood crushes. You said that at least one person was interested in me.”
Kenya’s eyebrows rose a fraction. He took a thoughtful sip of his drink.
“Were you talking about yourself?”
It was a little blunt, perhaps even accusatory. If it was true, Satoru might be dredging up an uncomfortable secret. And if not, Kenya might be offended by the presumption. He braced himself for either reaction.
Kenya set his drink down, definitely surprised, but not upset. Just as straightforward, he nodded once and answered, “Yes, I had quite a crush on you back then.”
He seemed to brace himself too, for any number of responses that Satoru couldn’t begin to guess at.
But all Satoru did was stare, head cocked in disbelief. He hadn’t expected-- well, he hadn’t been sure what to expect. Regardless of all the possible outcomes, he somehow hadn’t been prepared for a confirmation.
That small boyish voice spoke up to fill the space left while he was processing, and its uncertain, slightly hopeful tone carried through aloud, “Really?”
Kenya laughed lightly, the tension draining out of him. He looked at Satoru with fond relief, mirroring the expression he had worn upon seeing him awake for the first time in fifteen years.
“Sure.” He said simply, and when Satoru failed to look convinced, continued, “I don’t know why you’re so shocked. You’re great- you were,” He changed tenses seamlessly, “You were brave, and kind. When we started working together to help Kayo and the others, you were… inspiring.” He trailed off, smiling, and then, with a touch of embarrassment, added, “And I liked your hair.”
Satoru fought the urge to reach up and fiddle with his bangs, suddenly more aware of them, “Oh.” He said, because he had to say something . He wrapped his hands tightly around his cup, watching the steam rise through the hole in the plastic lid.
It was hard to reconcile his memories of Kenya, mature and level headed, the same boy who had spoken so seriously with him about tracking a killer, and talked him down from a terrible decision on a sidewalk overpass, with the mental image of… what was the phrase he’d used? A lovestruck fool?
Kenya was cooler than him at age eleven, and he was certainly cooler than him at twenty-six. He was stylish, for one, and smart. He was a lawyer , and handsome, and well spoken, a good partner, someone his mom would approve of--
“How are you still single?”
Satoru flinched as the words came out of his mouth. I didn’t mean to say that out loud.
Kenya looked shocked for a moment, his face coloring slightly. He recovered quickly though, brushing the question off with a tight answer, “I’ve been too busy for a relationship.” His eyes glinted with something close to suspicion, and Satoru was reminded of Kenya asking to speak to him alone outside of class all those years ago, commenting on how different Satoru had become, seemingly overnight, “Regardless-- yes, I had a crush on you when we were children. I apologize if it’s made you uncomfortable.”
“What? No, not at all!” Satoru insisted, “I’m just… surprised. I had no idea.” His mind raced, searching scattered memories for the evidence he’d so clearly missed.
Kenya’s expression softened and he shrugged, “I wasn’t particularly vocal about it. Besides, at the time it wasn’t important-- we had other things to worry about.”
Satoru frowned at that unpleasant bit of truth. Kenya had kept his feelings to himself, probably for a variety of reasons, but most of all because the stakes had been too high to spend time figuring out puppy love. Satoru could relate; whatever inkling of a crush he may have had on Kayo back then was ignored in favor of keeping her safe.
And Kenya-- he hadn’t thought of Kenya as an option before. But now, so much older than eleven, picking up their friendship right where it had left off in the days before Satoru became comatose, he thought about it.
Kenya, who he cared for, who had been with him for some of the best and worst moments of his life, who met up with him regularly for meals, who had such warm brown eyes, who was stunningly intelligent, who saw through him and knew him exactly the way he needed to be known--
Why not Kenya? The thought sent a thrill of nervous excitement through him.
“Plus you were always fairly oblivious in matters pertaining to yourself .” Kenya mused, but Satoru barely heard him, his thoughts rushing ten steps ahead.
Now that the option was available, at least theoretically, the idea made his heart beat double time. If he had known back then, if Kenya had told him how he felt--
“But that’s all in the past.” Kenya said, a gentle dismissal that left a purposeful opening for Satoru to change the subject if he chose.
“Kenya,” Satoru said, locking eyes with him, “Do you want to reconnect with me as adults and rekindle a childhood crush?”
Kenya’s eyes widened in surprise, his face going pinker, “I- Satoru… how do you just say things like that?” He looked genuinely taken aback, his usually calm and collected demeanor shaken at the question.
“Sorry, that was sudden.” Satoru said, at the same time that Kenya asked, voice lowered, “Are you gay?”
Satoru blinked at him, searching for an answer in his own mind. Was he… Well, he was….
He was someone who had slept through the years that should have been his sexual awakening. Any ideas he might have had on love or sex in his other life had all but faded out of his memory, and this time around he’d never had a chance to figure out that aspect of himself. He was new to this, all of it.
While being a virgin at the age of twenty six wasn’t entirely uncommon, he’d never even kissed anyone before, and so far it hadn’t felt like a priority. Just as Kenya had held off acting on his crush during a time of crisis, Satoru hadn’t put much of his brain power into questioning his sexual preferences yet, being far more concerned with relearning how to walk, and finally catching Yashiro, and shaking off occasional flashbacks to icy waters and buried mittens.
“I’m still figuring that out.” Satoru admitted.
Kenya nodded, understanding dawning on his face, “You skipped adolescence. It must be confusing.”
Satoru smiled down at the cup in his hands, feeling the heat of it sink into his hands as another point of warmth bloomed in his chest, “You always understood me really well, Kenya.” He looked back up, determined, “That’s why I want to try, if you’re still interested. I think there’s something to be said for falling for your best friend.”
Kenya gripped his cup tightly with one hand. He looked so serious-- when didn’t he look serious-- but after a moment a smile broke through his somber expression, “I only had a crush, Satoru,” He teased, “I never said anything about falling for you.”
Satoru grinned, “Right, because that’s the next step-- the one we haven’t gotten to yet. We reconnect and fall for each other.”
“We already reconnected though,” Kenya argued lightheartedly, “And considering my feelings, then we’re already halfway there.” He gestured to the cafe table between them, the pair of coffees set close together, “We’ve basically been going on dates this whole time.”
Satoru’s face went hot, “If I had realized that I would have dressed better.”
Kenya laughed out loud at that, the whole motion bright and unguarded. He looked suddenly younger, closer to the boy Satoru remembered. The memories he had at age eleven came into focus, clear as a recording.
Kenya had said that he was a cute kid, but he didn’t think he could even begin to compare to Kenya himself. He was adorable at eleven, and handsome now, with just a hint of boyishness still lingering about him.
“I remember liking your eyes,” Satoru said, suddenly, speaking softly, “Whenever I saw you on the way into school, and the sun was in just the right place, it lit up your eyes-- golden-brown, like honey.”
Kenya’s breath caught, stuttering in surprise.
“Probably a weird thing to notice,” Satoru said with a shrug, “I always figured it was because I wanted to draw the effect- picking up little details like that and filing them away as art reference,” He laughed lightly at himself as realization dawned, “But in retrospect I probably just thought you were cute.”
Kenya was blushing, his hands braced against the table as he looked into Satoru’s eyes, searching, “How,” He said slowly, “Are you so smooth after being in a coma for fifteen years?
Kayo said I had a silver tongue , his younger self helpfully supplied.
“I’m not smooth at all,” Satoru answered, “I just don’t know when to shut my mouth, and sometimes charming words fall out.
Kenya laughed again, breathless, “That sounds more accurate.”
Satoru kind of wanted to kiss him. It was too soon to do that though, right? It would be weird.
His eleven year old self, brave with the carelessness of youth, chimed in with an eager chant of do it, do it, do it, do it!
He really was the worst influence on himself.
“Kenya,” Satoru said, working off his own momentum, “Can I kiss you?
Now Kenya looked comically startled, staring at Satoru in disbelief before glancing furtively around the cafe, “We-- we’re in public, Satoru.”
“No one’s paying attention to us.” Satoru reasoned, looking back over his shoulder at the other customers milling about, minding their own business. He didn’t mean it as a challenge, but when he turned to meet Kenya’s eyes he found a look of determination there.
“Fine.” Kenya said shortly. Competent as anything, he leaned across the small table between them and cupped Satoru’s cheek, kissing him softly.
My first kiss , Satoru thought, startled into inaction for a moment, before leaning into the contact. He returned the kiss, careful at first, then with more heat. It felt so much more natural than he’d expected, an extension of any other touch. He parted his lips, intending to deepen the kiss, but Kenya hesitated.
They moved apart, though Kenya’s palm stayed pressed warm and comforting against Satoru’s cheek, anchoring them together in the moment, “This is all new,” He said, “I don’t want to overwhelm you.”
All of Satoru’s senses cried out for a physical intimacy he hadn’t realized he’d been missing, to be warm and close and safe, but still somehow exhilarated, on edge--
“I want to be overwhelmed.”
Satoru watched as Kenya went perfectly still, looking like he’d had the breath knocked out of him. Realization hit, sending a flush of embarrassed, excited heat through him; I didn’t mean to say that out loud.
Kenya sighed shakily and leaned in to kiss Satoru gently, just once more. He dropped his hand to the table, his wrist just barely touching Satoru’s own, “We shouldn’t rush this,” He said, “We have the luxury of time, and we deserve to use it.”
“That’s--” Satoru searched for the right word amidst the buzzing in his brain, “Reasonable of you.”
“I’m good at reason.” Kenya said, which was objectively true but seemed like a funny thing to say after a first kiss, “I hope you don’t mind.”
Satoru shook his head, “No, it’s… probably for the best.”
As much as he wanted to just keep running with this, it was new territory for him. And, in a way, he supposed it was probably new for Kenya too. It was better to take their time and figure things out together, piece by piece.
Satoru turned his hand palm up on the table, an invitation, “Can I hold your hand?”
Kenya smiled fondly. He slid his hand comfortably into Satoru’s, understated and affectionate, “I always wanted you to.”