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the light that never goes out

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By day, you're a second-in-command, by night a bartender— you're an informant, the level headed strategist, and a parent to the kids who hang out in the bar, making lots of noise and a cozy family along the way, hot-headed young men who need guidance and patience and some screaming at times and love, most of all.

And then, when the bar is closed and the occupants are home, the paperwork for the last public property destruction submitted and the pending appointments forgotten, when the dishes are done and the counter polished, you're just Kusanagi Izumo, just a man who has had a long day and now wants to rest— then he takes your shades off, and you're just a man who has blond hair and hazel eyes, he runs his fingers through your hair and you're just a man on the worse side of twenty, whose knees pop on the way down, then he takes you in his arms, kisses your forehead, cheeks, corner of your lips and you're just a man in love, in love, in love.

 

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Coulda lost'cha in tha' darned crowd, d'ya e'en realize? Anger thickens your accent, heart still thrashing against your ribcage after the adrenaline rush of the past half hour, hand holding his wrist firmly as you steer out of the crowd.

The loud buzz of the office crowd diminishes to white noise so fast it leaves you reeling in its absence. You frantically begin tracing your steps back and see him, standing frozen by a large shop window and the look on his face makes your heart lurch, makes something snap inside, turning a desperate urge to hug him into fury.

You push through to him, take a hold of his wrist in a swift move and drag him away firmly, and he comes without any resistance, suddenly seems a lot lighter.

You pull to a halt beside the park, the highest point of the city, west sky on fire. You want to scold him— your breathing returns to normal slowly— but you look at him and words are lost within.

He's quiet, looking down, shadow of lashes on his pale cheeks, and he makes your heart shake, bend and break.

Every heartbeat is a countdown. Too tight, Kusanagi-san, he says, it's beginning to hurt. Your fingers go lax around his wrist. Fuck, you think to yourself, as every sound around you amplifies a hundred times, the feeling of his pulse against your fingertips magnifies, shit, was I holding—

Suddenly something shifts, and the next thing you know is his arms flung around your neck, face pressed to your chest, body shuddering minutely against yours. Suddenly you can't hear anything. Suddenly both hands decline allegiance to you and you don't know what to do with them anymore.

The warmth of his body radiates resolutely into yours, and you feel it rise to your cheeks.

Arms unwind slowly, he lets go. When he looks up, there's a strange light in the amber of his eyes that makes the blood swirl inside your veins, hairs standing up as you feel the rush beneath your skin, beating against your eardrums.

He lets go, slowly, and leaves your heart spinning, fingers lax around the bag of groceries.

He laughs— there's a little red spot on the tip of his nose and a sunset sky on your cheeks— and reaches out to slip his fingers between yours. It's warm. There's a look in his eyes that says he's waiting for something and before you know what it is, your fingers have tightened around his.

 

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Years later when you sit with him on the couch on slow summer midmornings, he laughs and says, You gaped at me like I grew a second head, Izumo, and you suddenly remember there's something in the oven that needs to be taken out, and make a beeline for it, because, lord, you know you did. You couldn't have looked more like an idiot if you tried. And you know in your heart that no matter how old you get, how many years you're together, you can always look at him the same way, like you did when you were seventeen, and your heart will feel just as warm when he holds your hand, and your smile just as wide when he curls up against you in sleep, and you'll be just as in love with him, in every life, in every universe.

 

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At the end of the day, you play records on his recently recruited gramophone. Carpenters, 1973. I'm On The Top of the World. And you clear out a small space in the middle of the bar, pour two glasses of champagne, and ask for his hand to a dance. His laughter carries in the small space, skin rich with the hue of the dim light, eyes shining, eyes looking at you, eyes full of love, his eyes like a cathedral.

When you hold him in your arms, he places his cheek to your chest, your chin on his head, and you waltz to the soft music filling the room, till it slowly stops and neither of you pay attention to it, stay like that for a while, and then a little while longer, till you pull back and kiss him, and there are fireworks and symphonies exploding in the sky. The night falls like a curtain, obliterates the small space of the bar and the dishes in the sink, phone calls that need to made and the laundry that needs to be ironed. And your body writes into his flesh the poem he makes of you.

 

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You're washing dishes at the sink and you don't hear him walking up to you over the sound of running water, so when his arms wrap around your waist from behind, you almost drop the china in your hands. Sweet Jesus! and he laughs, a series of soft giggles, the familiar press of his cheek against your back. He turns his face and rests his forehead between your shoulder blades, his breath warm through the slightly damp cotton of your shirt and you smile, take a deep breath and smile, wash the soap suds off from the cutlery and keep smiling.

Afterwards, you stand side by side drying the dishes, and he rests his head on your shoulder, you rest your cheek on his head. You feel warmth brimming in your heart, spilling over and every time you think, you couldn't possibly fall deeper for him, you end up falling more and more and more in love with him.

The older you get, Izumo, he says, a near-perfect imitation of your trademark fond exasperation, the cheesier you become. Before you get to exclaim But I didn't say anything!, he jabs at your side with his bony elbow, furiously rubbing the plate with the drying cloth, You're thinking it. You feign hurt, making up a Shakespearean monologue about how your betrothed does not appreciate your love and wave a spoon dramatically in the air to enact the pathos of the scene; droplets of water fly in the air and his laughter is like a summer spring and his cheeks, warm.

 

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I can fit the entire world in my hands, he says after his first-ever glass of whiskey. You laugh, pausing the motion of the cloth on the bar counter to look at him. How so? He leans over, elbows on the counter, and cups your face. Like this. The clock on the wall drops seconds, and your eyes open wide, cheeks warm, heart a-flutter. You probably would have made a weak comeback, say something to brush it off, but God, he fucks up everything about your well-practiced smoothness of speech and thought.

 

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You wake up in the middle of the night, get out of bed quietly, splash some water on your face, and stop by the door leading to the balcony. You sit down, legs crossed, leaning your weight on the doorframe, light a cigarette. It's a blue moon, and the moonlight is unbelievable.

There's no need to look up to know that he's walked softly, inaudibly across the floor to stand beside you. You lift your hand, spread your arm so he can sit down beside.

You know, Izumo, sometimes I think that— he laughs, quiet and forced and hollow— you wouldn't have come back for me that day.

In his eyes you see a little child by an old bench in a park, waiting and waiting for someone to come and tell him, Time to go home sweetheart, and that someone never comes, it's never time to go home. 

You hold him close, your body heat seeping into his cold skin. 

Kiss me, he says, kiss me, he says with a tremor and urgency in his voice, kiss me, Izumo, and you lean in like a drowning man reaching for a blade of grass.

But that's the thing. The kiss never meets. You pull back like someone who's cut himself on a sharp knife, like someone who keeps cutting himself and he should know how to be more careful but he doesn't and he keeps cutting himself.

He pulls back, apologetic, eyes like a lake, eyes like a pool of moonlight, and he tries to make up, tries to hold your hands in his and you try to let him, you've tried and you're tired of trying to let him, but that's the thing, his hands never come down to rest upon yours.

And there's blood everywhere, like it's been bleeding for a long time, and you've been putting it away and ignoring it like you're scared of it are you scared of it— and you can't look at him, can't look anywhere but him.

He's bleeding and he's looking at you. He's bleeding and he's saying that it will be okay, it will work out somehow. He's bleeding and he's dying and he's a fucking moron and you believe him. He's bleeding and you're delirious.

And that's the thing, every morning you wake up and don't see him beside you, you feel something somewhere in you before you open the bathroom door, he might be there. But he isn't and you remember why you wake up in the middle of the night in the first place, why you work till so late at night that you could fall asleep at the counter, because every time you reach out and he isn't there, he isn't anywhere, the ground opens beneath your feet all over again, and you're falling, it's not harmless, you're not breathing.

But you wake up, and the day goes on, days go by, years fall away behind you.

You wake up, drenched in sweat, chest heaving desperately to get some air into your burning lungs. There's blood, blood on the space beside you, blood on his side of the bed, blood that comes off on your hand when you reach out for him in sleep.

You're falling. It's not harmless. You're not breathing.

But you wake up, leaning against the doorframe, and there's no blood on the bedsheet, no bones, no ash, no him.

It's a beautiful night, he would've said.

Tatara, who's ageless, and Tatara, who's whatever the moon has always meant, and Tatara, who's whatever the sun will always sing, and Tatara, who stirs his coffee anticlockwise, and Tatara, who likes his tea sweet and his eggs sunny side up, and Tatara, who had once bought a jukebox on a whim and Tatara, who slept with his head on your chest and Tatara, who had kissed you on the cheek that day after he came out of the bath, and then on your lips, and Tatara, who told you that he'd help with the dishes when he'd be back and Tatara, who wouldn't be back ever again, no matter how many nights you stayed up sitting at the foot of the stairs. 

You wake up and it's like you haven't moved for days, for years, haven't moved at all. You look around the room and can't recognize it. There's cigarette ash everywhere, broken ashtray on the floor. Bedsheet in a heap over the ground and sometimes, if you stare hard enough, the bedsheet is bleeding on the floormat. There's moisture on the pillowcase— can't, can't be yours, can't. He isn't standing by the bed, face against the sun, smiling brighter than the sun. Therefore, this isn't your room, and you close your burning eyes.

 

Inhale, heartbeat, exhale, rewind.

It's the rooftop, you feel your knees giving way beneath you, want to cradle his head on your lap and scream so loud that it bends you double over him, so loud that no sound comes out of your mouth, so loud that the heavens above shatter with the force and give him back just give him back please it was too early too soon too short

—the reel gets stuck in the player with a screech that gnaws at your bones. Fast forward, jerk, inhale, dropped beat, exhale. 

 

——-∘◦❁◦∘-——

 

You lean back against the trunk of the tree, close your eyes, listen to him sing softly to himself. When you open your eyes, he's looking up at the huge canopy, the sunlight making crosses on his face, he's opening his fist slowly, like a bud unfurls its petals, looking at his palm — empty, it is empty from what you can see— smiling softy and closing his fist again. The sunlight rolls off his hair, the strands lit up from the core, and when you take a breath, the air fills your lungs right down to the most obscure of nooks.

What's in your fist, you ask, and he turns to you, holds your hand in his, and slowly tips his own fist into your palm. You don't see anything, you can't, and he laughs at the look on your face.

I caught some sunlight, he says, explains, carefully closing your fingers one by one into a fist. Keep it with you. When you look up he smiles, his face is against the sun, his face is the sun.

 

When he's gone, days after he's gone, months, years, seconds, heartbeats, vodka shots, how much of his smell is still lingering on your clothes— your time scales are pretty messed up— you put your palm out in the sunlight, try to make it stay. It doesn't. You let it go. It doesn't.

 

You laugh, you want to tell him, I'm the man who's caught sunlight in his heart. But you close your fist anyway, and kiss him right after.

 

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