Itsuki sniffles as he tries to wipe the tears off his cheeks as quickly as possible.
"Ah, ah- ow."
Itsuki turns towards the whimpers, catching a glimpse of light and bones and butterfly wings and petals flying-
There's a boy around his age halfway stuck in a thicket of briars; light purple hair tangled in the branches, costume butterfly wings stuck no matter how much the boy struggles - they're going to tear if he keeps it up.
"Wait. Don't move." The boy freezes. Itsuki slowly approaches. The tangles seem far more intimidating from close up, so he starts with detaching the branches from the butterfly wings. The boy's fingers fidget but he doesn't flinch as Itsuki tries to gently pull his hair out of the briars. The branches are more stubborn, almost stabbing as he slowly frees the boy. The amount of small cuts on his fingers grows exponentially. The moment he untangles the last strand, the boy jumps out of the thicket, leaving Itsuki behind.
The branches shoot out past him, almost as if reaching out for the boy. Itsuki darts forward, pulling the boy to the side. When he looks back, the thicket looks exactly like when he first saw it. Did he imagine it?
The boy envelopes Itsuki in a hug. Itsuki hesitantly returns it. It lasts for a longer time than he expected, but it's strangely calming. When the boy finally lets go, Itsuki almost falls over.
"Icchan!" Chizu leans in, costume butterfly wings poking Itsuki’s arm. "Are you happy here? Do you want me to Take you Away?”
Chizu lifts his finger to Itsuki's cheek, wiping away a tear he hadn't even noticed. Itsuki feels his face grow warm. "Do you want to come with me?"
Itsuki opens his mouth to speak, but the affirmation dies in his throat. He can’t go, no matter how much he wants to - his parents would never let him. He shakes his head, watching Chizu's face contort into a pout.
"Itsuki? We have to go soon!"
When Itsuki turns around, there is no Chizu in sight. He frowns.
"I hope I'll see you again." He whispers, knowing there is no one else around to hear.
Itsuki nearly faints when he catches a glimpse of familiar hair at the inter-school sports day; it doesn't help that he's feeling all too nervous about the footrace. Still, he lines up at the starting line, distracting himself by trying to spot Chizu among the milling students. He nearly misses the start signal because of it. For a moment, there isn't a thought running through his head. Then he sees light purple hair in front of him.
He finishes fourth in the heat. Chizu finishes first.
Itsuki jogs over. "Chizu-"
"Icchan!" Chizu throws his arms around him, nearly throwing him off balance. "I wanted to see you again, so I had to come here and-"
"Excuse me," a teacher gives them both a kind smile as she bends down. "You won the first heat, so you have to race again."
"Oh." Chizu's face sinks. He gives Itsuki a sheepish smile before letting the teacher lead him away. "I'll see you soon, Icchan!"
Itsuki makes sure to watch all of the footraces. He doesn't see Chizu.
Itsuki nearly drops the box he's carrying. "Chizu?" Chizu dashes towards him, arms waving wildly. "Wait! I can't hug right now." He lifts the box away from his body.
Chizu latches onto his side. "What's in it?"
"Just some wafers."
Itsuki fingers the lid of the box before deciding to open it. Chizuru leans in, mouth watering. Itsuki takes a few wafers out of the box. "Why don't you try it?"
Chizu flinches at the question. For a moment, Itsuki wonders if he said something wrong. But then, Chizu grabs two of the wafers and shoves them in his mouth.
"Be careful, you-"
"They're delicious~☆" Chizu scarfs down the rest of the offered wafers.
Itsuki can't help but giggle at the sight. "Why don't you take the rest home?"
"To your family." The wafers were originally meant for his little sister, but it isn't like there's any shortage of sweets at his house. One of the many benefits of being a confectionist's son.
Chizu takes the box gingerly, as if it might crumple under his grasp. His eyes shine with that same light that he remembers on the day he met him. "Thanks, Icchan!"
Chizu's smile remains engraved in his brain.
They run into each other so many times that summer.
Itsuki later tries to recall them.
The memories have been deemed useless by his brain, taken away in favour of equations, important dates, and books.
There are faint recollections of spending hours laying in a field of flowers, laughing with Chizu by his side.
Sometimes he wonders if Chizu was even really there.
Itsuki allows himself a small smile as he looks at his dorm room. All of his things are already unpacked and neatly put away. He still hasn't met his roommates - except for that brief run-in during orientation - but he's quite certain they'll be nice. He quickly finds himself outside; after all those hours cooped up, a breath of fresh air is a welcome change.
Arms are around his waist before he fully registers what's happening. "Chizu?!"
"You're so much taller! It's unfair."
Itsuki laughs. "You'd probably still win if we raced though."
Chizu pulls him tighter. "I'm so glad we're going to the same university."
"Jeez, how long will you be hanging off each other?"
Itsuki reflexively lets go. A frowning not-quite-Chizu stares at him. Chizu's brother. Twin brother. He extends his hand. "We've never met in person, but Chizu talks a lot about you." Never mentioned he was a twin, though. "Nice to meet you. I'm Itsuki Kata-"
"Yuzu." The disapproving look doesn't leave his face.
"Aww, Yuzu, be nice."
"What's the point? I'm not even going here."
"Itsuki!" His red-headed roommate barrels towards him at a worrying speed. "Do you have your room key? I locked myself out."
"Yeah, let's go up together."
"Why don't we accompany you?" Itsuki can't help but raise an eyebrow at how close Yuzu suddenly got to Kanade. It seems like Chizu has noticed as well, judging by the mischievous smile he has on.
"A-Alright. What's your name? I'm Kanade Ama-"
"Yuzu. I'm a first year here."
"Ah, I'm in my second year."
"I thought he wasn't studying here." Whispers Itsuki.
"No, he is." Chizu smiles, but it seems more nervous than usual.
By now, Itsuki definitely knows there is something not quite normal about Chizu and his brother. Aside from the weird inconsistencies, thinly veiled smiles and strange light - glimpses out of the corner of his eye of bones, butterfly wings and flowers and thickets, thorns with his blood spilled - there is also the strange reactions to gifts, salt and the weird bracelet Shin has taken to wearing.
Even then, he loves Chizu all the same.
"What are you doing, Chizu!" He pulls the other away from the middle of the road. "That's dangerous!"
Chizu doesn't even bother to apologize. "I had to see you. I need to give you something."
He presses a small necklace into Itsuki's hand. A pendant with a flower petal hangs off a twisted cord. It's the same colour as the flowers he saw the day they first met.
"I know it's not enough to repay everything, but I would really appreciate if you would wear it."
It's the serious tone that gets to Itsuki, the same one that asked if he wanted to be Taken Away. Maybe he's too emotional to evaluate the situation correctly - maybe it's far more dangerous than it seems but maybe he's just paranoid - Itsuki stops debating with himself over it. Chizu's been his friend for years - albeit absent often. He slides the necklace on.
A strange feeling overwhelms him. Nostalgia? Something more. He feels warm. Safe. Protected.
Maybe after all this time, he was the one who took Chizu away.