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A thousand rocks in the river

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The first thing he remembers is dying.

He's cold and wet and he can't breathe and he keeps reaching up for something, someone? His arms flail and grasp at nothing.

It's not supposed to happen this way, he thinks, but he doesn't know why. This is wrong.

And then there's a hand pulling him up, two hands that pull and tug at him. He holds on and they grasp his wrists so tight.

“Hold on,” the voice says. “You can do it, Satoru.”

And that's not right, either, but he's tired and choking so he can't say anything as he hits the ground. He's coughing and retching up the river that fills his lungs as hands pat him on the back, rubbing him soothingly. There's water everywhere, even in his eyes, until he realizes he's crying. There's someone rocking him, petting his hair, shushing him even as he just can't stay awake anymore.

“It's okay.”

“You'll be fine.”

“I'll take care of you.”

No, but then he's gone into darkness for a while.


He's never really awake.

He can hear water at one point, and he's struggling against it, because he's going to drown again, but there's a sharp pinch at his arm. It's the only pain he feels for some time as he slips away into warmth, floating in a cloud where nothing touches him but a soothing hand that rocks him back and forth.

“You're a good boy.”

The voice talks to him a lot.

It's familiar, but every time he tries to think about who it is, the fog in his brain takes over and he slides away, like he's on a boat drifting in the ocean and he doesn't know if he'll ever see land. So he listens to the voice because it's the only thing he has.

“No one's going to hurt you.”

He cries sometimes, he knows that, but he doesn't know why, only that he's scared. But he doesn't know why he is scared and that makes him cry harder, try to open his eyes, and that's when the voice presses something against his forehead and there's another sharp pinch.

“Shh,” it says, “there's no need to worry.”

He listens to it.

“See, now you're smiling. Isn't that better?”

It must be.

There's so much he doesn't know, and he tells himself that he will one day.

And there's a voice inside him, different than the one that takes care of him, someone that whispers but what if you don't want to ever know?


“I think you're waking up.”

The voice sounds hesitant, but also pleased. He feels the same way.

He's known for a while that things are changing. The fog in his brain has thinned slowly, and as the cloud grew lighter, his body grew heavier. He could feel weight upon him, a thick, sometimes oppressing heat that he pushed aside until the voice came back and tucked it around him again.

There's pain, too, sometimes, that gnaws in his stomach until the voice coaxes his mouth open and he drinks cool water or hot soup that is carefully placed in his mouth a little bit at a time.

And one day, he realizes he can open his eyes.

The first thing he sees is the wooden beams of the ceiling. He turns his head slightly on the pillow and sees a small table next to him. There's a bowl of water, a cloth next to it, a chipped blue vase with red flowers.

“It's good to see you, Satoru.”

Right. His name is Satoru.

He turns his head to the direction of the voice.

The man's standing next to his bed, holding another blanket folded in his arms. He looks familiar, but not quite: like Satoru's seeing him through a pane of smoked glass. There's a touch of gray in his hair – how long has he been asleep?

He's beaming at him.

Satoru croaks out in a harsh whisper, “Yashiro-sensei.”

Yashiro's eyes crinkle. “I've been waiting for you to come back to me.”

Satoru can feel a weak smile on his own face. He's out of the darkness now, but he doesn't feel comforted. Questions run through his brain, stabbing through the remnants of the fog.

What happened to him?

Why couldn't he wake up?

Where's his mother?

The last hits him hard and he struggles to sit up.

“Sensei. Where's my mom?”

Yashiro stops smiling. He gets to his knees and takes one of Satoru's hands from underneath the mass of covers on top of him. He looks into Satoru's eyes.

“What do you remember?”

Satoru tries to think, but there's still this yawning pit in his mind, and the black void of it--

he can't breathe and he's so cold and no one's going to save him or believe him and this can't be real he fixed this he's been fine everything was fine

“Satoru!”

He opens his eyes to find himself shaking. Yashiro's gripping his hand. He looks concerned.

“I was drowning,” he whispers. “But you saved me?”

Yashiro nods. “Yes. Do you know how it happened?”

Nothing. The voice in him is silent.

Satoru shakes his head.

Yashiro's face is still serious. “You were in an accident, Satoru.”

Yes, that sounds right.

“And so was your mother.”

No, that's not--

“I was able to get you out. But your mother--” Yashiro's voice cracks. “Your mother--”

No. No. No.

It takes only a few seconds for him to realize it's him saying it, his voice getting louder and louder until it breaks painfully out of him in a wail. His throat hurts and his lungs are seizing up and he's starting to thrash weakly on the bed.

There's a pinch at his arm again and then his former teacher is lifting and holding him, hugging him tightly. “It's going to be all right, Satoru.”

“No!”

“You just need to rest now. I'm sorry. I should have waited to tell you.”

Satoru's face is blurring with tears and he's pressed tightly into Yashiro's chest so he can't see his face. There's a hand in his hair, stroking through it and the cloud is coming back into his mind. His body is going limp. His eyes shut.

The darkness, this time, is a comfort.

“It's all right. You have me and I won't let you be alone.”

There's a kiss on his forehead and--

“Sleep.”


 

“Mom and I—she wanted to celebrate my graduation.”

“Yes.”

“We were—going to go somewhere?”

“That's right.”

“And then--”

And then.

“Don't push yourself,” Yashiro says, and takes his hand. After Satoru woke up, red-eyed and hollow, he was propped up on a series of pillows while Yashiro fed him some rice porridge that he choked down. Throughout it all, Yashiro was attentive, asking Satoru if he was comfortable, if he needed to use the bathroom, if there was anything he wanted?

His mother.

He lets his hand lay limp in Yashiro's firm grasp and stares down at the blankets wrapped around him. “I need to—”

“You don't have to remember anything if you don't want to.”

“But I need to know what happened!” His voice is loud, and it hurts his throat so he drops it back down to a lower volume. “How long was I asleep?”

“Six months,” he replies. “But it felt longer.”

Satoru can't grasp it. Half a year asleep and he thinks his teacher—ex-teacher—is right. It feels like it's been years, a whole lifetime lived in the fog. “I'm sorry, Yashiro-sensei,” he says. “I just don't understand why you're here. I don't understand anything.”

“It's okay. After your mother...” and stops when he sees Satoru's face. “After the accident, someone needed to take care of you.”

“Shouldn't I be in a hospital?”

Yashiro shakes his head. “You were in one for a while, but it was pretty clear they weren't taking good care of you. So I told them that I would.” His fingers stroke Satoru's hand. “You didn't have anyone else to look after you.”

He's lying, the voice in his head says, but he pushes it out. Why would he lie about taking care of him?

“But you're not my teacher anymore. That's too much--”

He smiles patiently. “It's fine, Satoru. Unless you don't like me anymore.”

“No, sensei, that's not it...” Satoru trails off when he sees the teasing look on the man's face. “That's not fair.”

He laughs. “Of course not.” His face is amused and he winks at Satoru's unconscious pout. “You should really start calling me Yashiro. You are an adult now.”

That's right.

His name is Satoru Fujinuma.

He's eighteen years old.

His mother may never wake up and he has no idea how to deal with that since he's alone and she would know what to do but he doesn't and he starts to panic, his breathing coming faster until Yashiro takes both of his hands now and stares into his eyes and says, “Don't worry, Satoru. I will always take care of you.”


It shouldn't be that easy, but it is.

Satoru's body is so weak. Six months lying in bed after plunging into a river has left him unsteady, shaky. He's not a complete invalid, but his muscles are fond of giving out any time they think he's done something too strenuous – which these days means moving faster than a snail's pace. He needs Yashiro to help him sit up to eat, to take careful steps around the room, to use the toilet. At least he's discreet about that.

Bathing, on the other hand...

“You don't have to help me do this, Yashiro” Satoru says. He knows his cheeks are crimson at this point, holding on to Yashiro with one hand who grips his arm tightly in return. “I can manage this.”

“Can you, Satoru?” Yashiro has the same expression he used on students in his class who clearly hadn't done their homework. “If I let go right now, you'd be able to sit down on your own.”

Satoru looks away. “No,” he mutters after a minute of awkward silence. “It's just--”

“I've already seen everything, Satoru,” he says. He's smiling again. “Besides, we're family.”

This is not at all comforting, especially as Yashiro looks positively gleeful grabbing the shampoo bottle and a soft washcloth.

It's even more disconcerting twenty minutes later, when Satoru's soaking in the tub, to hear Yashiro say lowly, so quiet he can barely hear it, “After all, we wouldn't want you to drown.”

The warmth of the water isn't enough to make the chills in his body go away after that.

Yashiro, thankfully, doesn't repeat it again.

The days fall into a routine for a while. Satoru wakes up underneath a mound of covers. He doesn't know where Yashiro sleeps since he really hasn't had the opportunity to explore the house beyond the bathroom and the large bedroom he spends most of the day sleeping in. He's just so tired all the time that even waking sometimes seems like too much work.

And Yashiro doesn't seem to mind about that. He'll bring trays of food in, pots of tea, and sit next to him, making sure he finishes all his food. Sometimes, he won't even eat, just sitting there, watching Satoru.

Run away, the voice in his head says.

“Would you like some more tea?” Yashiro asks.

“Yes,” he answers to only one of them, and his cup is filled again.

It would be stupid to run away. His body's still so weak after all.

That's the first excuse.


The second one's just as simple.

He has no idea where he is.

The house is nowhere he's been – heavy beams in the ceiling, polished wooden floors, and barred windows that light shines through dimly. His eyes water occasionally from the smoke in the fire Yashiro has going to keep the house warm and he closes them. Not that it matters. It's too dark to really see much here.

But it means that wherever he is, it's not home.

No one comes to knock on their door, and so it's always just the two of them. Occasionally, Yashiro must go out to get food, supplies, and whatever he thinks they might need, but Satoru's always sleeping when he leaves and only wakes when he hears his quiet footsteps near his bed.

Satoru is sleeping less these days, though. He's able to sit up, to walk around the room, to see the change in light through the windows and count the passage of days as the light gets less and less. It's getting colder in the house too.

Things are changing.

“You must be getting a little bored,” Yashiro says. He's sipping at his own cup of tea, smiling gently over it. “I apologize for being such a poor host.”

Satoru sets down his own cup and frowns at him. “I'm not complaining, Yashiro,” he says. “I'm sorry if- you think that I'm unhappy.”

“I was just thinking,” Yashiro continues, “That you might prefer something to do. It's too cold for you to go outside even if you are healthier these days, but it can't be entertaining to just wait around for me.”

Now that he mentions it--

“What exactly do you do these days? Are you still teaching?”

“No,” Yashiro says, placing his cup neatly on the tray. “I'm retired.”

There's volumes in what he's not saying. “Do you work somewhere else?”

“Are you worried, Satoru?” he asks, his voice lighter than his words. “Because I'm perfectly able to look after even if I'm not working.”

“But it must have been expensive to do all this – my hospital bills, this house, taking care of us both.”

Yashiro leans forward and Satoru's already put his hand into his out of instinct. “Don't worry,” he says. “Just let me know what you want and I'll get it for you.”

There are so many things Satoru wants. His mother. His friends. The life he was supposed to have before--

before you forgot everything and you need to remember it right now

Stop it, he replies.

He smiles at Yashiro. “I wouldn't mind some art supplies.”


He draws every day now, trying to recapture the fleeting images that pop in his brain. There are faces he remembers. A blond boy reading near a tree, his hair shining in the sun. A quiet girl in her red coat looking gravely towards something only she sees.

His mother, always smiling at him.

“They're busy, Satoru,” Yashiro said, when he asked about Kenya and Kayo. “They're in university now, so I'm sure they're hard at work. But I wouldn't worry. They're both very bright so they'll do fine.”

It's not exactly what he wants to hear, but it does answer his question.

Don't you want to know why they haven't come to seen you. Ask him why none of your friends know you're awake.

“That's great,” he says. “I want them to be happy.”

Yashiro pats his head gently. “You've always been such a good friend. Better than anyone deserves.”

His hand lingers and runs slowly through his hair. It's soothing in a way.

Satoru also draws people he doesn't remember.

Most are unfinished scribbles, faces that blur even as he draws them and he often crumples up the paper, frustrated that none of it lasts to remind him. Except for one.

There's a girl with long dark hair and a blue shirt. He draws her more than once, so she must be important, but--

Yashiro frowns. “Doesn't look familiar to me.”

“Maybe I met her somewhere else,” Satoru says, his voice ending in more of a question. “I just feel like I know her.”

“I wouldn't think too hard about it,” Yashiro replies “She's probably from some commercial or tv show you saw a long time ago.” He watches Satoru rub his forehead and his frown grows deeper. “Don't give yourself a headache trying to come up with an answer.”

“I guess so.”

Yashiro tucks the blanket around Satoru's shoulders tightly as he lies back down. “Now you should probably go to sleep.”

Satoru nods slowly and closes his eyes, his body relaxing. He tries to think who is she, why do I know her, but the gentle stroking on his forehead makes it hard to concentrate and everything slips away.

Are you stupid?


He's dreaming and he wants to wake up.

It's so cold. It shouldn't be that way. He was warm once.

Endless white around him when he looks down and dark above and there's no one here.

His breath hangs in the air and the chill fills his lungs, so he can't call out for help. Can't whisper.

Can't breathe.

He starts to run and his feet are made of ice so all he does is slip and stumble, falling face forward, only catching himself at the last second with his hands. He's cold all over now, freezing--

he was in the river and it was so cold there too and why wasn't anyone saving them it wasn't an accident there's Yashiro and

and he's calling Satoru, Satoru

“Satoru!”

Satoru opens his eyes.

His hands are red against the snow. His clothing is damp, cold, and he's shivering so hard, kneeling against a pile of branches. His feet are bare.

“What were you thinking?” Yashiro is screaming at him, running forward with a blanket. “Where were you going?”

Run now run as fast as you can. This is your only chance. You need to save yourself.

He can barely speak through his chattering teeth, but he manages, “I don't know.”

I don't know anything about what I'm doing anymore, he thinks, and something wells up out of him . He's crying again, just like that horrible time long ago, and he can't stop.

Yashiro's wrapping him up, lifting him fully into his arms like a bride. Satoru's not sure who's shaking more at this point.

“I don't know,” he keeps repeating and Yashiro holds him tighter as they walk back to the house.

Inside, it's like walking into a fire, the blaze of it trying to work itself through his quivering body. Yashiro carries him through it, past his bed, down a dark hallway into a room that Satoru doesn't think he's ever seen before.

It must be Yashiro's.

He's laid down on a blanket. “I'm sorry,” he says.

“It's not your fault,” Yashiro replies softly. “I made a mistake.” He begins to remove Satoru's wet clothing. “I shouldn't have left you alone.”

“You couldn't have known--”

Yashiro puts a finger against Satoru's lips. “No.”

Satoru keeps watching Yashiro as he lays him bare before his eyes. He should be more embarrassed about this but after all that Yashiro's done for him, it seems like such a small thing. Why should it matter?

The warmth is finally starting to soak through him, and he finds himself almost in a dreamy state, watching as Yashiro removes his own clothes. They're both naked now, and it seems so natural to be lifted up again, carried to Yashiro's futon and laid down, waiting for him to join him.

If he can be honest with himself, it feels inevitable. Like he's taken a final step he was prepared for all this time. 

Satoru leans into Yashiro, wraps himself around him, feels fevered skin against his and the scratch of thick wool blankets. He lets Yashiro nestle his head into Satoru's neck, put one hand against his back, while the other traces patterns into his hip.

He kisses Yashiro's forehead. “I'm sorry I worried you,” he murmurs against it before pulling away.

Yashiro teeth graze against his neck, his breath hot. “I love you.” 

but you always knew that

The kiss, when it comes, is fierce and consuming. Their bodies entwine, hands reaching out for each other as they embrace. 

Satoru's touches are gentle, exploring, trying to learn something he's not sure he's ever done before. Yashiro lets his fingers roam lightly on his skin, encouraging him to go further, deeper.  He accidentally scratches Yashiro at one point. All he does is laugh and kiss Satoru again. 

But Yashiro isn't so hesitant. His hands roam everywhere, laying claim to every inch of skin. Satoru thinks that if Yashiro could, he'd find a way to strip him open, touch every bone and sinew. He won't stop touching Satoru for a second, as if he's afraid Satoru will leave again if he stops holding him. 

He won't. He's too busy concentrating on the fire burning within him. It goes to his very core, driving away the chill from the snow, from the wind, from the river--

the river that he drowned in when he was eleven and you slept for so long but you saved them all you saved them and they're happy they're safe

That's not how it happened.

you know why you know who's responsible and you saved him too and put him away but it doesn't matter anymore does it because it all happened again because of you

It can't be.

it wasn't you this time was it you weren't saving anyone it was him and he shouldn't be able to do it but he did it

There's no way.

stop hiding from yourself

The last fog is burned away.

“Yashiro,” Satoru whispers. “Why?”

Yashiro looks up at him in the dim light. His eyes are gleaming and he's never looked happier than this moment.

“Oh, Spice,” he says. “Did you wake up?”