It was a humid night, the edges of Ryuunosuke’s yukata almost irritating against his skin. But he let out a sigh, fanning himself vigorously while swatting at the mosquitoes that buzzed by his ears. He stood out of the way of the festivities, waiting under a big tree as he watched the clusters of people walk by. The mood was lively, everyone eager to browse the stands. Further down the path, the temple was lit up with blazing lights. Faint music came from somewhere, an echoing sound of drums.
That first school year sure flew by quickly, especially after final exams kicked up. It was almost a complete blur, a flurry of cramming and praying. But now that it was all over, after the initial celebrations consisting of casual drinks and dinners with groups of classmates, it felt weird to have so much free time. Maybe he should’ve taken up more extracurriculars, Ryuunosuke thought to himself, idly kicking at the grass and pebbles at his feet.
Asougi remained busy, even with the absence of classes. That much was unsurprising. They still sat together during those little get-togethers. That was pretty much the last time they hung out - he hardly saw any sign of Asougi since. Maybe they wouldn’t do much together until the next semester began. But even if that was the case, Asougi insisted during their last session of drinking with classmates that they’d attend a summer festival together. Actually, he insisted heavily on this night in particular. Ryuunosuke still hadn’t figured out why, but there was no way he’d turn down the invitation.
A pair of girls walked by, chatting excitedly. One of them looked very familiar. Before he could figure out why, the voice that he’d been waiting to hear called out to him.
“Partner!” Ryuunosuke looked up to see his best friend walking over with a warm grin.
“Ah- there you are, Asougi!”
“Hey, sorry for the wait. I had to help Mikotoba find her friend before anything else.”
“Oh!! No wonder, I thought I saw her just now…Er, how have you been lately? Has work been alright?” Asougi laughed, patting him on the shoulder.
“Hectic, as always. But we’re not here to listen to me complain, are we? C’mon, let’s go!” With that, he steered Ryuunosuke toward the crowd. The moment the scent of street food came wafting over, Ryuunosuke’s stomach growled viciously. He tapped Asougi on the shoulder - his friend seemed to understand his look immediately. He knew him too well, at this point.
"Do you want me to get something for you too?" Ryuunosuke asked.
"I was…somewhat forced to take some snacks before coming here, so I'm still doing alright," Asougi sighed. Oh, from that Karuma again? His disdain always made it pretty clear. "Just worry about yourself, I'll get something later on."
Ryuunosuke didn't have to be told twice. He took the lead as they walked down the path and made a beeline for the closest food stand.
Asougi stood behind him and took in the sights as he ordered, looking at the different stands and all the well dressed people. Thankfully the wait wasn't long, and Ryuunosuke had a skewer in each hand, fresh off the grill. He tried biting into one right away and burned his tongue, his visceral reaction to that earning a laugh from Asougi. Ryuunosuke made a face as he blew on the hot food before trying again - still hot, still burning his tongue, but he managed. He was just that hungry. This wasn't even enough food for him, but he did want to try a variety of stands.
"Do you want some, Asougi?" He offered up the untouched skewer. Asougi blinked, then eyed it with a strange suspicious look.
"No thanks." Ryuunosuke blinked - he'd never seen his friend look at something with such scorn before.
"Eh? You don't like it?"
"If I try it, I may throw up," Asougi said, a little too casually.
"EH?! It's that bad?!" Ryuunosuke withdrew and frowned at the skewer. All this time, and he didn't even know Asougi had aversions to any food. Well, he did always gravitate towards beef, they didn't usually have that much variety of meat when eating together. "S-sorry." Asougi laughed.
"What're you apologising for? Don't worry about me, really." He reached up, playfully ruffling his friend’s hair, before continuing forward. Ryuunosuke felt his ears heat up at the motion - he stumbled to follow while quietly tearing free another chunk of chicken with his teeth. Well…this was really good yakitori. He enjoyed it on his own in silence.
They took in the sights and sounds together. Browsing the stalls, dodging the large parties of festival-goers. Ryuunosuke almost got tripped up more than once by kids running by, but Asougi was right there to steady him. It was a pretty good turnout this year, actually, and the crowd was only growing. There was talk of an impressive fireworks show later; maybe that was what attracted so many people.
Ryuunosuke stopped at two other food stands, ordering a variety of skewers. His friend eyed him with amusement and he threw a little pout back. He knew it was a lot of food, but it all looked so good, he couldn’t resist. This was a rare occasion where he’d turn a blind eye to his crying wallet. He did share quite a bit of it with Asougi too, who was glad to take a bite out of anything that wasn’t chicken.
The last stand they stopped by was one selling dango - Asougi insisted he’d pay for these skewers. “If you spend any more money tonight, I’ll worry about your future,” was what he said, mostly jokingly, and Ryuunosuke gave a sheepish laugh. Though as they were standing there, the flowing crowd brushing their backs, Ryuunosuke felt something snag the sleeve of his yukata.
Whatever it was, it was latched securely - at least, enough to pull him, startled and confused, into the sea of people. He gave a loud yelp, floundering. He managed to catch sight of Asougi’s surprised face before a wall of people separated them. Well, this was distressing. The first thing Ryuunosuke had to do was regain his balance - he’d die of embarrassment if he were to trip and fall over. He’d managed to free his sleeve, though being dragged by the crowd was disorienting enough that he didn’t catch what exactly had pulled him. No time to think about that, though, as he momentarily had to lean on a few random people to steady his footing, apologising profusely to them as he went. But even after he saved himself from falling over, he was still being carried by this alarming sea of people. It was difficult, or at least awkward, to stop walking in the middle of it all, and even more so trying to go against the flow. Normally he wouldn’t mind this much, but the panic of losing Asougi had him looking around frantically.
“ASOUGI?!” he shouted, once. It earned him a couple of funny looks from the people walking next to him and he shrunk back and apologised. Why did he have to be so short? He couldn’t see past many heads at all. Actual panic was just starting to set in, when he felt a familiar strong grip close on his wrist. He only had time to let out another faint yelp before he was pulled through the crowd. All he could do was brace and stumble, uttering another apology here and there for the people he inevitably bumped into. The seconds felt way too long, but Ryuunosuke soon found himself in a gap in the crowd, catching his breath.
“Y-you actually found me…aah, that was so scary,” he groaned. Asougi chuckled, giving his hand a reassuring squeeze.
“Of course I did! As if I’d let the tide carry you off like that. You alright, partner?”
“Yeah…I’m still in one piece, at least.” Ryuunosuke looked down and checked his limbs to be sure. Both of their yukatas were a bit jostled. Ryuunosuke's in particular had become a little too open for comfort, his sash coming loose. He made an embarrassed sound and let go of Asougi's hand to adjust it. His friend gave an amused snort - he reached over and helped adjust Ryuunosuke's collar for him, though it felt a bit half-hearted.
"We should go back," Asougi said. "I left our food with them so I could rush after you. Though after that, maybe we should move somewhere less crowded."
"Ahah, probably. I think we've seen everything there is to see in this area, anyway." Ryuunosuke looked back at the crowd - it didn't seem too bad now, the timing had just happened to line up to give him the worst possible experience. That was just him and his bad luck. Asougi grinned, taking his hand.
"Don't worry, Naruhodou. I won't let that happen again."
"Thanks, I appreciate it," Ryuunosuke sighed. He made sure to keep a firm grip on his friend from then on.
The night continued without incident, though they did steer clear of the crowds. It was a while more of wandering and chatting - Ryuunosuke really had to walk off all that food he had. It turned out to be far too much, even for him, but he didn’t regret it at all.
It took him a long time to notice - there was a lot to focus on, after all - but when they lapsed into a moment of silence, just enjoying the atmosphere for a good while, Ryuunosuke became aware that Asougi was still holding his hand. He glanced at his friend who was distracted and looking away. Huh. Usually when they held hands, it was for a purpose. And it was, earlier, when they were fighting to get away from the crowds without losing each other. But Asougi hadn’t let go yet, even as they were strolling leisurely. Did he not notice, either? It did take Ryuunosuke this long to, after all.
Ah, whatever. Ryuunosuke would have normally been nervous about his own hand sweating and being gross. But, well, it was humid tonight. Everyone was sweaty. He was able to shrug off that anxiety for once, and with that gone, he really didn’t mind this at all.
There was the sound of an explosion overhead, and Ryuunosuke blinked out of his thoughts, looking up just in time to see a brilliant blossom of colourful lights in the sky.
“It’s starting already?” Asougi muttered, glancing at the fireworks before looking at his friend. “Hey, partner, let’s go find a good vantage point.”
It took a little bit of searching, but eventually they found a worn dirt path between the trees, leading to a comfortable little overlook. There were already a few parties of people here, but there was enough room for everyone. The two friends sat at a respectful distance away from the others, gazing up at the show. Ryuunosuke was dazzled.
“I feel like they get brighter every year,” he noted aloud. As if in response, a shocking bang rang out, making him jump. He made a face “A-and louder.” Asougi laughed, patting him on the back.
“In any case, they’re impressive, aren’t they?”
“Well, that’s for sure.”
They sat back and watched for a while, marveling at all the unique shapes and colours. The rest of the spectators were lively, family and friends alike murmuring and chatting with each other. Ryuunosuke glanced around to see the vibrant lights reflecting off of everyone’s faces. Though when he looked at Asougi, it was apparent that his friend was lost in thought. The lights shone brightly in his eyes, but he seemed like he was looking right through the brilliant display.
“Asougi? Are you alright?”
His friend blinked over, his surprised look only lasting a second. He smiled and nodded. “Couldn’t be better,” he said, gaze drifting back to the fireworks. Still, it seemed like he had something to say, so Ryuunosuke watched him and waited. “…It’s been a year.”
“Since we met.” Asougi leaned his chin in his palm, a soft expression on his face. “Right on this day, we competed against each other in that competition.”
“Ehhh, really…I’m no good at remembering dates like that,” Ryuunosuke laughed sheepishly. His friend threw him a look, though he didn’t seem surprised at all.
“That’s just like you,” he huffed with a smile. “You’re such a carefree man somehow, Naruhodou. Actually, I envy that about you.” Ryuunosuke raised an eyebrow.
“Well, you’re confident and you get things done - I envy that about you.” Among many, many other things, he added silently to himself. His friend was truly amazing…after a year, he’d admit that proudly. Asougi grinned, bumping his shoulder.
“That doesn’t make you any less special to me, y’know. You’ve got some captivating qualities, and that’s the truth.” These words made Ryuunosuke blush - he shrunk back shyly.
“I-if you really think so…”
“Hah! Don’t sell yourself short, partner. You’re really great. I mean it.”
“I know you do…” His inner thoughts leaked out again, and his face was burning. “Th-thanks,” he finally said, accepting the compliment. Ah, between this and Asougi’s cheery expression, he felt like he was going to die from his own awkwardness somehow. He wanted to change the subject, and thankfully, mentions of last year had him thinking. “Er, so…did you ever manage to conquer that saying in the end?”
“You know…'rou nyaku nan nyo’ .”
Asougi seemed to bristle at the words, yet he also looked amazed. “Y…you can still remember and say it so casually. Are you a god?” Ryuunosuke had to resist a surprised laugh.
“It wasn’t that hard to remember, really! It stuck with me as a fun little phrase, so…”
“‘Fun little phrase’,” Asougi grumbled. “To answer your question, I’m never attempting it ever again. Those five minutes were enough to last me a lifetime.”
“It was that traumatic, huh…oh, that reminds me! I learnt another one recently, maybe you could try it.”
“Oh?” Asougi seemed cautiously curious, and Ryuunosuke cleared his throat.
“‘Kono kugi wa hiki nuki nikui kugi da.’”
Asougi stared blankly at him. The fascination in his eyes at Ryuunosuke’s tongue twisters was always a bit entertaining to see. “Sorcery…I could listen to you spout these all day.”
“But it also makes you want to try them, right?” Ryuunosuke knew him well enough, giving an encouraging smile. Asougi gave a sigh, narrowing his eyes.
“…One more time.”
Ryuunosuke repeated it, and his friend listened intently. He could just feel the concentration, the intense determination, radiating off of this guy. The ends of his hachimaki fluttered valiantly as he took deep breaths, steeled himself, looking straight ahead with an unwavering stare.
“‘Kono kugi wa hi- ku ni-’ AUUUUGH!!!” His loud frustrated yell turned some heads. His overreaction was always something to behold, too.
“I believe in you, Asougi! Just a little bit of practise, and you’ll get it for sure,” Ryuunosuke insisted. Asougi groaned - he rested his forehead on his friend’s shoulder, hachimaki strands falling limp on his back.
“One day, I’ll learn your secrets.”
“There aren’t any, really.”
His friend gave a snort. “Like I said, you’re truly captivating.”
Being good at tongue twisters isn’t that amazing or useful of a skill though, Ryuunosuke thought. Though Asougi already said not to sell himself short, so he made sure not to say that aloud. He still thought that his friend gave him too much credit. Asougi lifted his head, but he still stayed leaning against Ryuunosuke.
“You’ll deal just fine, won’t you…?”
Asougi looked like he was hesitating again - it was strange to see him waver. But then he met Ryuunosuke’s gaze. “That exam is coming up soon. The one to determine the candidate who will study abroad.”
“Ah…to the Great British Empire?” Ryuunosuke perked up - they hadn’t talked about this in a while, but he quickly remembered. “Good luck!! I know you can do it, Asougi.” His friend’s confidence flared at that encouragement, and he gave a firm nod.
“That goes without saying! I must pass it - that’s what I decided. This is something I absolutely must do. But…” The hesitation returned. Asougi averted his eyes.
“…It’s a bit silly of me. I’ve just been thinking, imagining the future. Going to England. It’ll be quite a long journey, not being able to see home until I complete my studies.”
“Ah, that’s true. I can’t even imagine leaving Japan at all,” Ryuunosuke mused, frowning at his friend. “That’s not silly at all! It’s only natural to feel homesick, right?” Asougi sighed, shaking his head.
“That’s not it, exactly.”
His friend hesitated a moment more, before leaning more against him, fondly. “Naruhodou Ryuunosuke…I’m gonna miss you.”
“Eh-” It took a second for the words to sink in, and when they did, Ryuunosuke felt his face heat up. “Eh- h-huh?? Me?” His friend even seemed embarrassed to admit it, but he gave a sincere look.
“The thought of not being able to meet up with you…quite frankly, it pains me. After I depart, it may be years until we see each other again. Or perhaps…we won’t see each other again, at all.” Those last words were quiet. His gaze sank to the ground. The warm summer night felt chilly all of a sudden, the fireworks muted, as Ryuunosuke stared at his friend.
…It wasn’t like he himself hadn’t had such thoughts. It was the first thing that came to mind, after all, the first time he learned about this program to study abroad. But he pushed it away, not bearing to think about it. He wouldn’t have such selfish thoughts when his friend was on his way to doing something amazing. But, hearing Asougi speak these words now, all those suppressed thoughts came rushing back. And watching him now, huddled next to him, the usual warm breeze completely absent for once and his expression melancholic, Ryuunosuke could feel it. A vast, desolate sense of loneliness…a fire of determination lit within him. Without thinking, he grabbed Asougi’s hand.
“I’d never let that happen!!” His friend looked startled, blinking at him.
“I promise, no matter how many years you’re gone for, I’ll be waiting for you on the docks when you come home. And I’ll send you letters whenever I can, so you’d better write back! I have to know what kind of adventures you’ll get yourself into in a place like that! And I need to know what their food is like! I’ll look forward to reading all about it! I’ll be thinking about you, especially when I’m studying! And eating beef hotpot! And I- uh…” He finally faltered when he realised he was talking really loudly, and most of the people there were now staring at him. He looked away, beyond embarrassed, feeling like he was about to blow up like a firework himself. “I…I’m really gonna miss you, too,” he hastily muttered that last part.
There was a long pause. And then, he heard a snicker escape Asougi.
“D-don’t laugh at me!”
“Naruhodou, you’re not still hungry, are you?”
“Of course not!!” He was really about to blow up and die for real. But then Asougi’s fingers curled gently against his, and he realised how warm and heartfelt his friend’s smile had become.
“…Thank you, partner. Truly.”
Ryuunosuke couldn’t respond. His face was still on fire, and he opened and closed his mouth before managing a strangled sound and nothing else. He couldn’t believe he blurted all that out just now. It all came from the heart, and he was glad that he said it, but he said it so desperately, as if Asougi was leaving the next day or something. How awkward…at least the people who’d started staring were politely looking away now. And Asougi seemed relaxed, looking back at the fireworks with a short sigh.
“You know, I also considered taking you to England with me.”
“………HUH?” Ryuunosuke shot him a look, really not sure if he was joking or not. It was hard to tell with that playful grin.
“It’d be a fun time, don’t you think?”
“Well…!” He had to pause and think. He’d never considered such a possibility. And it was definitely still impossible!! But, theoretically, one could imagine it. “Obviously. I think that’d be great. But you’re not about to say, ‘then let’s do it,’ right?” Asougi gave his usual energetic laugh.
“What if I am? But, all jokes aside, obviously the choice would be yours. I wouldn’t spirit you away from all your studies and obligations without your permission.” Ryuunosuke frowned. So, in other words, Asougi could be serious about this, huh?
“Obligations…well, yeah,” Ryuunosuke replied vaguely, a little thoughtful. His first year of university had come and gone, and he still didn’t know what he wanted to do for his career. There was still time, and he shouldn’t throw it all away just to follow his friend to a foreign country. Yet. It sure was tempting, but…
“In any case, I’d also be happy to receive letters from you,” Asougi mused, flashing him a smile. “It’d be a highlight, for sure.”
“That, I’d definitely be able to deliver,” Ryuunosuke said with great confidence. “I really meant it, Asougi! We’ll keep in touch! And when you’re back, we can go out for some beef hotpot together.”
“…You really are hungry again, aren’t you?”
They laughed between themselves, their conversation turning to playful jabs and jokes as the fireworks went on, lighting the night up in warm colours.