“I don’t know what to say. There’s no one here. Talking to no one is illogical.”
“I know, Shouta, but just… try. It might help. Try talking to him.”
“He can’t hear me. He’s dead.”
It’s far less of a foreign concept now than it was back then. It doesn’t take any prodding or convincing now. It even comes naturally to him in a way it hadn’t back then.
“The sun came out today.” Shouta starts, tilting his head up to look at the sky. The vast, clear blue sky stares back at him, cloudless and with the sun shining bright. The warmth from it spreads across his body. Shouta draws in a deep breath. “It’s been raining for three days, you know. The school grounds flooded. My kids’ dorm has a leak.”
He looks back down. There’s evidence of the rain all over the grounds. The grass still looks wet, the places where it’s patchy or exposed due to fresh digging has turned to mud, mud that sticks on the bottom of Shouta’s boots. This morning, there’d still been leftover drizzling, and Shouta can see the wetness drying on the stones and plaques. The sun has made fast work of warming the world up again,
“Hizashi and I had trouble fixing it,” He goes on, frowning. His voice is the only one here. It’s not the only sound, though, something that Shouta is thankful for. Sometimes, when he comes, it’s deadly silent. It’s those times when Shouta starts hearing things. “I had to go up to the rooftop while it was pouring. I got drenched. Hizashi said I looked like a wet cat. The kids made fun of me, too. I guess I can’t blame them too much. I did fix that leak, though.”
The corners of his lips twitch up into a small smile. He falls silent for a moment, letting the memories he usually pushes away fill his mind. He closes his eyes and behind his eyelids, he can see it.
“Shouta, like this. You’re not doing it right.”
“Why do I have to learn how to smile? I hate cameras.”
“I know, I know, but what if you ever have to do a press conference or something? It’s a useful skill to have.”
“Like this, Shouta!”
“You’re not helping, Hizashi. Maybe I should give you lessons, too.”
Shouta never did quite learn how to smile. Hizashi had, at least. It’s nice to see his trademark grin on magazine covers and advertisements. Hizashi doesn’t know it—though he probably has his suspicions—but Shouta has an entire box filled with advertisements and press photos and magazine pictures he’s cut out over the years. He thinks that maybe, the boy he’s talking to now would be proud, even if he’d tease Shouta about it.
He can hear that sometimes, though in his head it turns into volatile words and insults, things Shouta knows he’d never say. It’s hard sometimes. That voice sounds exactly like him.
“Sometimes I think I might bring the rain with me.” Shouta sighs, looking up at the sky one last time before he crouches down. The wet ground squishes under his boots and Shouta steadies himself, careful not to slip. “It’s irrational, but it rains more when I’m around. I think it rained almost the entire time we were in our second year.”
Shouta glances down at himself. His fingers are curled over the stems of the flowers he’s holding. Shouta likes routine; he doesn’t know if he could survive without it. The florists know him by now, know that he’s due to come here every Sunday, most of the time alone but sometimes accompanied by another. They have the flowers ready on the counter for him every Sunday at noon, like clockwork, without Shouta even having to call ahead.
Purple and yellow, lavender and daisies and tulips. Sometimes a rose or two if he requests it. It’s always the same, and it has been for the past fifteen years. He didn’t understand it at first. It felt totally irrational. Once someone is gone, they’re gone for good. There’s no one to hear his voice right now, or see the flowers he’s brought.
But Hizashi had been right. It makes him feel better.
“I hear you a lot.” Shouta runs his fingers over the stems of the flowers. There’s no roses today and no thorns to worry about. “I know it’s not you, of course. It just sounds a lot like you. Those things you say—I know you’d never say them to me. You’d never insult me like that. Hizashi’s finally managed to convince me of that.”
He’s still smiling, just a little.
“Sometimes, though, it is things you’d say, especially when I’m working. All those blind encouragements you used to give me—I hear them.” He remembers something else, something more recent. “I heard you yelling at me back when my kids first got attacked. You told me not to do what I did, but you still told me I’d be okay. Even when I was resolved to die there.”
He’s always wondered what would’ve happened if he’d died at the unforeseen training simulation. It would’ve been a bloody, gorey death. He imagines he would’ve been either crushed or disintegrated. Both feel like an appropriately similar death to the one his friend experienced. He wonders if he’d been in pain or if it would’ve been quick.
Quick, he hopes, but he remembers how much pain he’d been in when he’d been held down and had his orbital bone crushed and his arm nearly disintegrated. He’d truly thought he was going to die there. He’d resolved himself to it the moment he’d thrown himself into that battle, alone and with twenty kids to protect.
He’s come to terms with dying more than once this semester while trying to prevent student deaths. It’s easy to resolve himself to die. It’s hard to experience the pain that comes with death, without death itself.
“Turns out, you were right. It was okay. I was able to hold off until help came.” Shouta gets down lower to the ground. Kneeling, he can feel with way his knees sink a little into the ground. He’s going to have mud all over his pants by the time he’s done. Hizashi’s going to be annoyed with having to do even more laundry today. “Same with the training camp and the yakuza raid. It’s pretty easy for you to tell me to just hold on a little longer from where you are, isn’t it?”
He says the last part with a quiet, breathy laugh.
“Even if you were still here and we’d opened that agency, I think I still would’ve become a teacher. Hizashi and Nemuri, too. Weren’t you the first one to tell me I’d be a good teacher?” It was a rhetorical question. All of Shouta’s questions were. He’d been right that first time Hizashi had taken him here; there’s no one here. “I think you would’ve been one, too. What subject would you even have taught—? I always had to help you on exams and homework. Maybe you would’ve been a homeroom teacher with me. I would’ve really liked to see that.”
He pauses a moment and then carefully sets down the flowers just in front of the headstone. The groundskeeper comes by to pick up the dead ones every Saturday night. Shouta brings fresh ones every Sunday morning, even in the pouring rain or snow or even storms. He doesn’t like the gravestone to be bare for more than a couple hours.
“There’s this student. I told you about him before.” Shouta sits back on his knees, looking at the flowers he’d just set down. They look nice against the white stone. He and Hizashi had the headstone replaced back when they’d found success as heroes. It’d been the first thing they’d done with the large amount of income they’d made.
“He’s a lot like me. And I think he’s a lot like you, too. Hizashi brought that up to me a few days ago, but I didn’t want to talk about it. He’s right, though.” Shouta doesn’t stand yet. His voice gets a little quieter. “It’s hard talking about you still. I thought it’d get easier, but it hasn’t.”
Shouta stops again. The birds chirp in the trees, joyful that the pouring rain has finally stopped. Cars drive past on the road outside the graveyard, adding to the buzzing noise of the world around him. Shouta likes these days, when it’s not so silent he could hear a pin drop. It makes him feel better about standing out here talking to himself.
“Anyways, he’s a good kid.” Shouta finally gets up from where he’s kneeling, brushing off his pants. As expected, there’s two big spots of mud on them. At least he’s not in his hero uniform today. “I’ve been training him. Passing on my technique. He’s a fast learner. He really looks up to me, for some reason. Hizashi and I are thinking about taking him in.”
He wonders what his friend would think of that.
It still feels a little wrong for it to just be Shouta and Hizashi. Just the two of them married, just the two of them sharing a house together, just the two of them teaching. It should’ve been the three of them. Shouta and Hizashi both felt like they’d lost a part of themselves—a part of their little trio—on that day.
His and Hizashi’s anniversary is coming up. It’ll be seven years that they’ve been married.
They’d always planned for it to be the three of them, but it ended up as just Shouta and Hizashi.
He’s always loved Hizashi. Hizashi’s no ‘second best’. He’s not the leftovers from a death that Shouta never recovered from. They’d been a trio. Shouta, Hizashi, and their now dead friend. Now they’re just a regular couple with a piece missing from both of them.
“You would’ve been a good parent, too,” Shouta muses, looking back up at the sky. It’s as blue and as cloudless as ever, with no sign of the rain that’d poured for three days straight. “I just hope we can still be good parents without you. Maybe someday I’ll bring that kid here to meet you.”
Shouta lets out a breath. He forces himself to look away and look at his watch. It’s past one now. Shouta can’t stay much longer. He has to head back to the dorms; it’s his duty to watch them tonight. He needs to say his goodbyes and head home to change before going to see the students.
“Don’t worry about me,” He tells him with another small, easy smile. “Hizashi takes care of me. I take care of him. He makes sure I’m taking my medication and sleeping and eating. It’s a little harder to convince him to take care of himself, but I manage.”
He doesn’t wish his friend well; he knows no one is actually listening. There’s nothing after death. His friend is buried below his feet, nothing left of him but a skeleton after fifteen years. He can’t hear Shouta. He can’t speak back. He can’t do anything, because he’s gone.
But somehow, Shouta still feels better talking to him.
“I’ll be back next Sunday,” Shouta turns, but looks back at the headstone, reading his friend’s name engraved into it, along with his death date. “Hizashi will be with me. I’ll bring you flowers again.”
Shouta smiles a little wider.
“I love you.”
It’s easier to say it out loud to no one than it had been to say it fifteen years ago. That’s one of Shouta’s biggest regrets—he hadn’t said it more.
With that, he looks away from Oboro’s grave and walks away towards the graveyard gate, where there’s a car waiting for him, just like every other Sunday. Shouta doesn’t look back again; he knows that he’ll be back, that the grave will be waiting for him, that it’ll need more flowers and Shouta will have his time to talk. It’ll be there and Shouta will, too.
Talking to no one feels natural now. It’s taken a long, long time for Shouta to get to this point, where he can talk freely knowing that there’s no one there. It’s been fifteen years and slowly, it’s starting to feel like that missing piece might be mending, maybe. A long time ago, he used to be dragged here; now he comes here on his own, every Sunday, like clockwork.
Today, the sun is out and the rain has stopped. Birds chirp in the trees and foliage of the graveyard. Shouta’s footsteps echo through the empty grounds. He’ll be returning in a week to do this exact same thing, and even if that’s the only constant in his life, it brings him relief.
“Just try. Just try talking a little. Say… Say hello, maybe?”
“Are you crying?”
“Come on, Shouta.”
“There’s no one here! It’s useless to talk to him. It’s stupid. Irrational.”
A sniffle. From Shouta and not the other boy, who had tears rolling down his face.
“...Okay, Shouta. Lets go. We can try again next week. Maybe it’ll be better.”