It’s a good harvest this year. The osmanthus smells good. Clearer, sweeter. Either that, or Akaashi just has an unreliable memory. Maybe it always smells so sweet, so heady and overwhelming when the trees are half-cleared of their bounty.
He’s never brought anybody else up to harvest before. He’s being reckless, he knows. He should’ve checked the books. Maybe he should’ve called the regional accreditation board. Ah shit, he thinks mildly, without much feeling.
Because Bokuto’s here. Bokuto, one year his senior, some four centimetres of height between them. Bokuto who helped him with the harvest this year, wielding Akashi’s good pair of shears. They’re sitting together on the grass now, their nets of flowers laying on the grass behind them. Bokuto brought water up the mountain, cooled, with ice. The sun has moved since they started working, so the water isn’t cold anymore, but still a little cooler than the spring air.
Bokuto, Bokuto, Akaashi thinks. Bokuto has made him reckless, and he doesn’t even mind. As his mother would say, he is lovesick. Truly ill. Witches used to call it an illness. They had medicines for it. Akaashi has seen the historical copies of the comprehensive guide. It’s been updated, but is that all it takes?
Akaashi drinks his water. It’s cool in his mouth, down his throat. He swallows hard, a little greedy with the water.
Thirst, and wanting. They’re similar. Dehydration leads to fainting. Decision-making is impaired. When it comes to Bokuto, Akaashi is vaguely aware that he doesn’t make the best decisions. Well, he doesn’t admit that very much either - that he’s making bad choices. Akaashi’s been thinking that Bokuto makes him act differently. That pre-Bokuto, given the same scenarios, Akashi might have approached things differently. It’s not about bad or good, just different.
Pre-Bokuto, Akaashi would never have brought anybody up the mountain. Firstly, because nobody had ever asked, and second, because who wants to spend a beautiful spring day harvesting a million tiny flowers? It’s a terrible proposition.
But Bokuto - Akaashi mentioned it in passing. That he’ll be busy, he has to wait for a perfect day for the harvest. And Bokuto peppered him with questions, starting with “what are you up to?” and ending with “can I help?” Akaashi had barely thought about it before saying yes. He tried to make up for it afterwards, by saying how they have to get up early, and it’s a long walk, and it’ll be heavy, carrying all those flowers down. Akaashi had been convinced that these were all good reasons for non-magical boys to find something else to do. Make some excuse, remember a non-existent family lunch to attend. He wouldn’t have been offended. Akaashi agreed, actually.
It’s a complete waste of a perfect spring day. “You probably have something better to do,” Akaashi had said.
Apparently Bokuto had nothing better to do.
So now, sun on his shoes and the rest of him sheltered by the patchy shade of a young wisteria tree, Akaashi sits beside Bokuto as he drinks cool water. He swallows again, and he follows the feeling down his throat, melting. Water tastes the best when you’re thirsty.
“Thank you for helping,” Akaashi says.
“No, it’s …” he trails off. Akaashi turns to look. Bokuto’s looking up at the wisteria flowers. He’s looking, but it seems that he isn’t really. “It’s fine. I really like this.”
“It’s hard work though,” Akaashi offers. This part of being ill - so terribly, awfully lovesick, he also doesn’t understand. The constant putting down. The surely not, the craving and yet the simultaneous denial. He is a starving man who refuses to eat. It’s exhausting. Still, his mouth keeps on moving even as he disapproves of all he says. “My feet hurt. Do yours?”
Bokuto laughs. “Akaa-shi,” he draws out the name, “everything hurts.”
For such a serious complaint, Bokuto laughs so bright, so loud. So easily, like he’s not hurting at all. Akaashi believes him though. He gets it. “Sorry. I told you it’s hard work though.”
“Nah, nah,” Bokuto defends, “I’m not complaining.”
Akaahis thinks it sounds like complaining. The words do, that is. The tone, not so much. He’s not speaking like he usually does. Something is off, but it doesn’t feel like a bad type of off. Once again, Akaashi notices that it’s different, but he still second-guesses. Because even though he’s a witch, he is human first, and that comes with being uncertain about things.
It means having to ask, clearly, plainly, “what’s wrong?” Because Akaashi can’t know just by looking. He needs to ask, otherwise Bokuto won’t give. Because people are so heavy, so full of secrets big or small, and also so terribly foolish. Akaashi is the same. He has a belly full of wanting, all of it because of Bokuto. And that too is a secret, such a huge secret. It overwhelms, heady and sweeter than osmanthus flowers.
“Nothing,” Bokuto says. “Nothing,” he repeats, and it sounds exactly not like nothing, so it slips clumsily from Akaashi’s mouth -
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” Bokuto rushes to answer.
But it’s slipping out now. Akaashi can see it in the wisteria shadows. Sunlight seeps through the gaps, bright against Bokuto’s skin, all across his hair. But through it all, Akaashi can see the faintest flush across his cheeks. Perhaps the start of a sunburn, perhaps just the blooming of effort, the body’s evidence of exertion.
But they’ve been sitting in the shade for a while now. They’ve had half the water between them. Bokuto insists it’s nothing, but he blushes.
The breeze loosens the wisteria blooms. They fall, scattered across their laps, purple and sticky and sweet. Akaashi feels one land on his hair. He reaches up for it, about to bat it away.
Bokuto leans over and murmurs, “can I?”
Akaashi always hears his bike first. It starts as a distant hum, and then a more apparent rumble as it rises into view. Today, Akaashi watches Bokuto’s approach over the hot road from his usual waiting spot on the front porch, accompanied by the distant chirp of the forest creatures. Bokuto pulls up and brakes, and Akaashi comes to regret his choice to wait outside, now that he stands and he can feel the damp of sweat on the back of his neck. But otherwise, it’s a good kind of warm day. Oppressive, exhaustingly sunny, but not so much that he’d rather be indoors.
The kind of day where he doesn’t mind being outdoors, so long as he collapses on the tatami floor at home in the evening with a bowl of sliced watermelon.
Akaashi greets Bokuto and he says “hey” back. This is a short exchange of greetings, because there isn’t much more to say. Akaashi clambers on the back of the bike, feet on the pegs, arms around Bokuto, because he insisted the first time, and it’s the only way to ride at great speed.
They ride together downhill before turning at a natural fork. Bokuto climbs a different uphill road. Akaashi has never been up here. It’s a mysterious uphill, leading to a place so close to home, yet so far away, so utterly unknown. The higher they climb, the greater the sun burns. Akaashi wishes he brought a hat. He’s woefully under-prepared. But also this shouldn’t take long.
The trees thin the higher they go. The road widens at the top, spreading into an empty clearing. An aged tree stump sits at the edge of the mountaintop. Worn smooth by wind and rain. Bokuto kills the engine and flips down the kickstand with one foot. They clamber off, bike rocking with the change in weight. It’s hot up here. Baking. The ground is bleached cream, sandy over the rocky ground. Akaashi will have to knock it off later, from where it’s lodged in the soles of his sneakers.
“Ah, there!” Bokuto says, eyes to the sky, hand lifted to shield from the sun. He has a hat, but the cap doesn’t block out all the light. His other arm, he holds high, finger pointed at a distant object marring the spotless blue of a blinding summer day.
Akaashi tries to follow. Pointing to places in the sky is something everybody does, even though it’s hopelessly inaccurate. Akaashi has been victim to this before, out flying, his sister ahead of him, one arm outstretched. It’s easier this time though, because it’s a clear summer day. He squints. The shape, before just an odd blot against the endless blue, is now taking form. Akaashi sees wings now, and a white underbelly.
It’s loud up here, the wind is strong atop a mountain. It’s fine though, they aren’t talking. Both of them stand, faces turned skyward, following the path of a plane. They can make out the propellers now. It circles the town, seeking out the right path for a landing.
Akaashi wonders how Bokuto feels, watching the postal service plane land. It arrives every few days, and they hear it at school during lunchtime when it passes overhead. Bokuto stops talking whenever he hears it. They all do. Usually, they’re indoors, so there’s no good view. But they stop anyway, until the drone of the flight overhead fades. They start talking again afterwards, and say nothing about the plane, about Bokuto’s dreams. Akaashi has a feeling that this time, they’ll talk about it. The plane, flying.
The plane finds its path to earth. It completes its tilt, wings levelling out. Akaashi watches it begin its descent, eyes never leaving the winged shape - painted white, yet so dark against the sky. He follows, until he can barely see it, a pale smudge against a dark runway, laced with tall grasses and a wire fence.
Akaashi can feel the wind against his neck, still warm and heavy, yet still a relief against sweaty skin. The plane has landed, the sky is empty again.
Bokuto fills the quiet between them, “it’s a good view, right?”
“Yeah,” Akaashi agrees. Of course it is. But Bokuto is talking about more than the distant blue of a faraway ocean, more than the buildings made small by distance. He means those things yes, but most of all he means the plane, the view of its lovely wings, the unseeable motion of its propellers. “Bokuto-san,” he says his name first, almost a plea, like asking for permission. Akaashi hopes he isn’t overstepping, but he doesn’t really hope because he feels safe already. “Do you want to build planes, or do you want to fly them?”
Bokuto doesn’t look at him when he answers. “Flying, I guess.”
The sun is still bright. Hot against his bare arms, on the high points of his cheek. When Akaashi looks at Bokuto, he’s the same. The light carves itself bright down his skin, and leaves shadows in odd places. But still, Akaashi will remember this as a beautiful sight - that this is how Bokuto looks against a pure blue sky, in fine weather. He drinks in the details, that Bokuto’s eyes look watery - perhaps from sun or dust, or the faraway dream of flying.
Akaashi wonders what Bokuto will look like one day, in a cockpit.
Akaashi is at the fish store - the good one his mother says, the one that doesn't smell so much. So he’s contemplating salmon tails when he sees Bokuto.
He doesn’t notice him immediately. The store is busy, the way it always is on a Sunday afternoon. Other customers excuse themselves as they squeeze by. Akaashi waits his turn to be served, still contemplating how many salmon tails, and maybe he’ll buy some prawns. There’s a sale, and they look good. He turns his own ticket over, around his finger. It curls, the numbers warp with the paper.
Akaashi steps aside to let another customer consider the prawns. They reach up to take a ticket. When they step away, across the ice and the piles of snapper and sea bream, Akaashi sees Bokuto.
“Bokuto-san,” Akashi says, like reflex. He’s forgotten, how comfortable the syllables sound on his tongue. But it’s different now. He’s realising how long it’s been since he last called out Bokuto’s name. When was the last time?
Akaashi never finishes the thought. One of the girls working behind the counter asks what he wants. Reeling, he blinks before pointing to the salmon tails. He is sucked into a familiar conversation, how many grams, is that okay. The fish is weighed and wrapped. Punctuated by a short whir of the sticker machine.
Akaashi reaches up to accept his parcel of fish. The transaction ceases, and suddenly Akaashi wishes it didn’t end. Suddenly, Akaashi feels so fucking ridiculous, the enormity, the intense absurdity of the situation is sinking in now. He’s standing in a fish shop with a bag of salmon tails, and he’s trying to figure out - what happened? What happened to him? What happened to them? Was there ever a them?
Bokuto’s here now though, he approaches, apologising to an elderly woman asking for half a kilo of prawns. Somebody at the far end of the store calls out seventy-four. “Akaashi,” Bokuto says, empty-handed.
Akaashi almost asks what Bokuto’s buying, or is seventy-four his number.
Bokuto doesn’t let him. “Hey, I haven’t seen you in forever.”
Akaashi knows it isn’t forever. It hasn’t been that long even. Akaashi’s seen Bokuto. They go to the same school. There are two libraries where students study - the school library and the public library. Akaashi’s seen Bokuto at both. Akaashi waved some of those times. So they’ve seen each other. “We talked …” Akaashi trails off, looking for a time frame. He ends up with, “yeah, it’s been a while.”
The elderly lady brushes by, she heads out the door with her half a kilo of prawns. Another customer follows, a younger woman. Akaashi wonders, what is Bokuto here for? Does he wait? Do they keep standing here?
Bokuto ends up asking, “hey, uh, can you wait for me?”
Akaashi says yes. He steps outside and finds his umbrella amongst the prickly and colourful pile of strangers’ umbrellas. Maybe one of them is Bokuto’s. Akaashi holds his umbrella, still folded, the handle damp in his hands, and waits under the flimsy awning of the fish store. Akaashi’s boots are getting wet. He watches the wind through the rain, how it huffs and sends the rain spitting, flying onto the pavement, across his trousers. It’s fine though. Akaashi can wait.
Akaashi isn’t sure how many customers pass him by. A little girl looks up at him as she passes by. She’s wearing yellow rain boots.
“Akaashi, thanks for waiting.”
Bokuto arrives, one hand in his pocket and the other clutching a bag. It looks heavy. Akaashi forces himself to look at Bokuto. He wonders, what does Bokuto see when he looks at him? Is his expression neutral? Or does it show? How he can’t believe it, how long have they been apart? How did this happen? Nothing has happened, and that’s become something. The wind blows again, like a heavy sigh. The rain moves with it, splatters against Akaashi’s trousers again. “It’s fine. Of course.”
Bokuto’s hair is spiked the usual way. But it’s humid, so it doesn’t stay. Akaashi wonders if he’s told Bokuto before, that he doesn’t mind it when his hair falls a little. They got caught in the rain once, Akaashi ran with his binder held up above his head. Bokuto just ran, and didn’t protect his hair. They’d stopped under the awning of a hairdresser’s, and Bokuto had laughed, and run his fingers back through his hair, slicked back with rain.
“Uh, are you in a rush?”
“No. Not really.”
“Oh, good - ah,” Bokuto looks away again. Akaashi gets it. It feels wrong, to look straight at somebody for too long, “do you have time to head somewhere? Coffee?”
Akaashi thinks about the salmon tails, and the piles of ice in the fish store. His salmon tails are wrapped in plastic and then butcher paper. Akaashi isn’t carrying ice. But it’s cold. His fingertips are numb, and if he looks, maybe his knuckles are a little red. So Akaashi steps out in the rain and unfolds his umbrella, “sure. Where do you want to go?”
Bokuto flips up the hood of his jacket, and steps out with Akaashi.
Akaashi swaps hands, so he holds his umbrella between them. He wonders, did Bokuto come all this way without an umbrella. It’s possible.
“Do you want coffee? Or?”
“Coffee is fine.” Akaashi doesn’t really feel like coffee. But he feels like all the rest of it - the walk down the street, the warm interior of their usual haunt, sliding into a seat opposite Bokuto. The coffee itself, it’s just a cover. Akaashi doesn’t even have to order coffee. He might get tea.
“But anyway,” Bokuto says as they walk, “I’m sorry I haven’t been around much.”
All of what he says sounds wrong. Akaashi looks at Bokuto, frowning slightly. “You’ve been busy? It’s fine.” But that’s not true either. Bokuto probably thinks what Akaashi says sounds all wrong.
“Yeah, I guess.”
This too, sounds wrong to Akaashi. Because it’s not a secret, that Bokuto’s applying to a good university in a faraway city, closer to the ocean. He wants to be a pilot. Nobody operates airlines out of this quiet mountainside town. They grow apples here. Fishermen unload crates of crabs at the riverport. Nobody flies planes here. “Exams are soon right?”
“Yeah,” Bokuto agrees. “I think I’ll be okay.”
Of course he will. They stop at a traffic light. The streets are empty, but their signal is red. Akaashi feels an urge to cross anyway. Instead, he says, “I’m sure you’ll make it.”
Even if he doesn’t, there are other programs where Bokuto could qualify. Worse comes to worst, Bokuto once said, he’ll apply to the air force. It’ll be so much harder, but he’ll have a good chance still.
Akaashi would be happy for Bokuto if it were any other option, except that last one. Don’t do that, he’d said at the time. Bokuto had laughed and agreed. Too light-heartedly.
“Thanks Akaashi. I hope so.”
The light turns green. They take a wide stride, over the pooling rainwater in the gutter. Akaashi holds the umbrella steady, but his hand aches a little. He aches in other ways too, that are less definable. “When is it all over?”
Akaashi asks because it’s a safe question. He’s heard it before, the dates, the timeline. He knows it, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded again - that Bokuto sits exams at the end of the month, and then he finds out results right before Christmas.
Akaashi says what he’s said before, the last time they went over this. “Some people must have really bad Christmases.”
Bokuto laughs now, just like he did before. “Yeah.”
“You won’t though,” Akaashi says firmly. He means it. He can see the warm yellow of the cafe down the street. Akaashi can almost smell it, the hit of coffee in the air when they crack open the door. What is less vivid is the idea of Bokuto leaving.
“I don’t know,” Bokuto admits. “I think it would suck to leave.”
Yeah, it would. Akaashi doesn’t say this. Of course he can’t. “But you’re headed somewhere good. You can’t be a pilot here.”
“Yeah, I know. But y’know.”
“Yeah.” It sucks, and he’s allowed to say that. People are like that. They want one thing, but they see all the downsides to the thing they want too. Akaashi is the same.
See, he wants Bokuto. Akaashi has already figured this out months ago. But Bokuto is going to be a pilot, and he’s a year older, and he’s bright, he’ll find his way to a cockpit, and then he’ll fly away, even further away. And Akaashi is a good flier, but the capital is still eight hours away in fine weather, and Bokuto plans on going further.
The river never freezes over. Some mornings, there are sheets of ice - translucent, lying across the water. But the fishing boats and ferries cut their way through, shattering the ice. The pieces melt as the sun rises.
That’s how Akashi feels this morning. He’s melting. He can feel it, he’s falling apart.
The air is so cold, his nose hurts, he can’t feel his cheeks. He forgot his scarf. He never does this. Akaashi has favourite flying gear - a short cloak that leaves his hands free, well-fitted gloves, his mother’s vintage witch’s beanie from 1991. His fox fur scarf - his aunt’s hand-me-down that his sister didn’t want. Akaashi isn’t wearing any of these things. He’s wearing his school uniform coat, and it has to be unzipped so he can ride his broom properly.
There are speed limits over towns and Akaashi knows where they stop and start, but right now he doesn’t care, nobody cared before and now he doesn’t either.
Because Bokuto’s boarded a steamboat headed to the capital and Akaashi knows that he could wait for Bokuto get there, to settle down and get a phone number and find the time to send letters home, but fuck, for once in his life Akaashi doesn’t want to be patient and trusting and hopeful.
Akaashi wants Bokuto to know now.
Bokuto needs to know, it’s not fair that he could take a boat up north and never look back. That he could leave this town and leave Akaashi, without knowing the destruction he leaves in his wake. Akaashi can hear his own heartbeat in his ears, can feel his wrists ache, his arms shake. He shouldn’t be allowed to fly like this, and it’s all Bokuto’s fault. Akaashi is always kind and thoughtful and he doesn’t do things like this - blame people for things that are not their fault, but goddamnit, Bokuto. It is absolutely his fault that Akaashi feels this way.
When Akaashi slows down far too late and stumbles into his landing, he’s also thinking that all of this is on Bokuto. His knees will bruise later, and Bokuto will hear all about it through the static haze of a long distance phone call.
One of the sailors sees him coming. Akaashi’s getting yelled at. Akaashi feels like doing some of his own yelling.
Bokuto’s already turned around. He’s rushing forward to him, between the empty aisles of the seats on the deck. “Akaashi! What - are you okay - what are you doing -”
“Bokuto-san,” Akaashi says as he stands. Huh, that sounds wrong. “Koutarou,” he tries.
Bokuto stops in front of him, hands on his shoulders. He heard that. “Akaashi,” he murmurs, hushed.
“Koutarou, try again.”
His knees hurt. He has a headache from the cold, because he flew without a hat. But Akaashi feels warm even though it’s a freezing winter morning. “I like you, Koutarou. I think you should write to me.”
“I -” Bokuto is blushing red.
Akaashi waits for him to recover. The harbour lights grow small in the distance. Akaashi doesn’t really notice, he’s looking at Bokuto.
“I like you too,” Bokuto finally confesses.
“Oh good, thank god,” Akaashi says as he drops his broom and grabs Bokuto by his scarf.