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take me back

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The sun is setting.

It turns the distant trees into matches, aflame with autumn color in the heat of summer. The sky is washed a soapy pink, foamed with clouds that fade into purple, deepen into black speckled with silent stars. The summer life that buzzes in the garden is quieting, falling into a hush as night slips thick and warm across the countryside.

Deku’s got a bottle of something dark and sweet. It’s already a third gone, his lips tinged like the sky as they spread into a lazy smile.

Kacchan’s laid out, sleeping, glowing between the rows of raspberries.

“I went to see the neighbors,” Deku whispers, sitting with very little grace and lots of popping joints next to him. “Earlier today. It was a rough affair on Marley, but my God, the baby is beautiful.”

Deku swigs, sways. “She’s got the reddest, roundest cheeks, and the lungs on that little girl! She can whine louder than you.”

Kacchan’s eyes stay closed, heavy with slumber. Deku smiles softly down at him, content to mumble on by himself.

“Mykky’s got a ring. I know, a ring! Well, it’ll be Molly’s soon, but she’ll have one to match. They both went to Millie to make ‘em—isn’t that sweet? In the same week they both showed up to get rings made, all secretive and giggly about it. They asked to use our gazebo, too. Separately, but I said yes to both of them! It’ll be a lovely ceremony, so you’re not allowed to give me any crap about our garden being full of people again.”

Deku looks out across the field they’ve turned into a veritable Garden of Eden over the years. In the center of it all is the gazebo, white-painted and strung with the garlands of seed packets Deku sewed so long ago. It feels like yesterday that they were just starting to plant the unruly tomatoes, and now there’s a sprawl of life and color where ruin used to be. Peace lives in his heart.

“Remember our wedding?” Deku murmurs, raising the bottle to his mouth again. “The whole town came. I don’t think we had a moment alone until you physically kicked them all out of the house. You yelled something about a tradition where you’re from, slammed the door, and then we didn’t so much as get out of bed for the next three days.”

Deku laughs, full and throaty, head lolling with the weight of the berry wine. “It was perfect.”

If he closes his eyes, he can see the whole ceremony, the sparkling eyes and bouquets of wildflowers. He can call up the nearly tangible memory of song and dance, of Kacchan almost shouting words in a nervous stupor—things he’d never said in front of others given freely and publicly to Deku, the only wedding gift that mattered.

“That little girl,” Deku says softly, eyes still closed. “They’ve decided to name her Hope.”

He blindly puts his hand on approximately Kacchan’s arm and sighs.

“I know you’d think it’s sappy. But names mean something to us that... I don’t know if other people really understand. They want her to grow up hopeful in a blunt way. It’ll be a title to her someday, I think—it was bestowed on her and she has to live up to it. It could be good for her, you know, to be Hope. But if it’s not, she can always pick another one. We picked ours.”

Deku sees red eyes flash in his mind. He laughs.

“Okay, you were adamant that you didn’t pick yours, that Kacchan was your name and no other existed. But I picked mine. I picked the one you gave me! Because it felt right. It felt like coming home when you said it. The old one... it could’ve been mine. In another life. But not in one with you.”

Deku slowly smooths his palm back and forth. “I think she’ll pick Hope. She’ll get older and learn and live, and I think she’ll keep picking Hope, just like we kept picking Deku and Kacchan, Kacchan and Deku.”

The last of the sun’s rays dip below the horizon and the stars burst into full glory in the ink overhead, turning the black into an endless oil swirl of purple and blue and red, a fiery multitude impossible to count.

“Hello,” Deku says, squinting up at them. He waves the bottle, the wine sloshing, half gone by now. “You think she’ll keep picking Hope like we kept picking love?”

The stars don’t answer. They’re distant, silent—they’ve kept their secrets well. They don’t answer Deku when he toasts them, when he waves hi, when he lifts little prayers for their comfort just in case they know what loneliness is like.

They’re just pretty lights in the sky.

“Mm. She’ll be a boisterous one, with lungs like hers. I can’t wait ‘til she laughs. I love when babies laugh.” Deku leans down to Kacchan, the bottle tipping dangerously far. “Psst, Kacchan. I love babies. You ever think about kids?”

He doesn’t answer, still fast asleep.

“That’s all right. We’re a village. It’ll take us all to raise her, y’know? She’s ours by extension.” Deku straightens and takes a long drink, his shoulders relaxing. “Maybe I’m just drunk. In celebration of the baby. And of Mykky and Molly in a few days, a couple months of planning, then a week of partying. The rings are really pretty. Totally different from ours, but really pretty.”

Deku stares off toward the distant forest, across the soft rolling hills and the waving grasses. With a final hard hit of the bottle he stands, unsteady, runs a calloused hand through greying curls. His old bones protest the movement, groaning, but the wine burning through his veins makes it easier. The laugh lines and crow’s feet scoring his face tell the story of a life well-lived, happy and loved—he scuffs a foot at the edge of Kacchan’s sleeping place, grass springing damp and dewy beneath his worn shoe.

“This was very unfair of you,” Deku rasps at the ground. At the thick stone scarred by a shaky chisel in the vague sense of letters, in the shape of a sound that makes his heart sing and ache all at once. The grass is thick, clogged with clover, a blanket of life over the sleeping dead.

Deku scrubs his eyes, turns back to the house lit with candles. The village past it is still vibrantly awake, friends and feasting about the baby, happy and glowing. New life deserves all the vibrancy they can muster. Hope deserves their hope. He tips the last of the wine out, watches it run dark into the earth.

“Don’t get up,” Deku whispers. “Stay asleep. Rest. I’ll see you soon.”

He pauses once, to look up at the stars. They’re still silent. Behind him, though—he shakes his head, smiling softly.

He could've sworn he heard Kacchan laugh, his wordless way of saying I love you.