Age is a social construct. While the process of growth, aging, is a simple biological process controlled by no one other than Mother Nature and the constant passing of time, there is no existing inherent cultural intent nor natural logic behind the labels of Young and Old. Age is a social construction. Cultural intent is a social construction. Enforced self-fulfilling prophecies and labels are what define Age. You can be 17 and drink. You can be 22 and not drink. In some twisted sense or another, Time is a social construction. There is nothing but light and dark and the ground to walk on and the wrinkles around your eyes when you smile at the blond boy currently sitting on top of your wooden coffin in the middle of a clubroom in the middle of day in your renowned academy.
Kaoru is not a construct. He is a boy of 18 with long, dull yellow locks and honey-brown eyes and a personality once too fleeting to make up for the now humbled, quieter one in front of him, eyes crinkled up as a result of some joke or another. Rei doesn’t hear himself make any joke - he sees that smile, and thinks that It’s Enough. Kaoru is a boy far from the concept of a social construct and more-so a part of Mother Nature’s many gifts. Rei should stop reading into Shakespeare, now.
“You really fit into the label of an eccentric,” Kaoru says, and Rei does not recall what has compelled him to make this statement, even though he is not far off from the truth. “So interesting~ Graduation with you isn’t going to be boring at all.” He leans forward, hands on the edge of the coffin firm and eyes half-lidded in suggestion. Rei takes in a breath.
It’s easy. With Kaoru. Leaning in, placing his lips on his, hands wrapping compulsively around his waist and pulling him close. It’s always been easy - to depend on rational, careful Kaoru. It’s always felt safe.
One hand travelling up his back and gently taking place on his neck, Rei pulls away. Kaoru makes a sound near a whine at this action, and Rei almost dives back in. Almost. Nuzzling his nose against the crook of his neck, he darts his tongue out to swipe at his collarbone. Feeling Kaoru shudder above him immediately at the attention, he chuckles. Eyes flitting open to glance around the clubroom, it’s almost painstaking to think about the fact that they will no longer occupy this space in a few days. Kaoru’s going to be 19, and Rei’s going to be 20, and they’re going to live together.
Live together. Tour together. Travel together. It’s the sort of picture perfect trope you see on toothpaste commercials, except there is something that does not haunt toothpaste commercials that does, in fact, haunt Rei.
Kaoru’s going to be 19 and Rei’s going to be 20, and everything seems faster than it should be.
Age has never been a matter for Rei. Being born into a clan of bougie vampires age is the one thing he's been socialized into from the beginning to not give a second thought towards. It serves as the sort of stepping stool any immortal would downright refute. But Kaoru is no immortal. Kaoru's not going to be stuck in some infinite loop of looking 19 in a thousand years. Kaoru's going to age and he's going to grow taller and grow wrinkles on his face and hunch over his back and have his soft, blond hair fade to gray. Rei is going to watch this. He's going to watch this and he's going to watch his growth and he's going to watch him grow taller and he's going to watch his blond hair fade to gray, and he thinks that these thoughts would be better to deal with in any other situation than now.
He's not ready to graduate. He's not ready to leave behind the comfort he's cultivated over the last year, harvested fully when Kaoru'd pulled him onto the rooftop and had fiddled with his fingers and told him that he'd been riddled with unnecessary feelings towards him. He's not ready to leave behind the place where he'd sat down under a parasol and claimed Kaoru's lips for his own for the first time. He's not ready to leave behind Kaoru.
He doesn't say this. But the man in question is observant.
"Rei-kun, something's bothering you, isn't it?"
Rei's hands, currently back on his waist, stop weaving circles onto his skin in lieu of pinching him slightly as a response. "Kaoru-kun doesn't have to worry," he whispers into his neck, and Kaoru lets out a satisfied hum as he wraps his arms around his boyfriend and slowly brings them down together to lay on the velvet cushioning of the coffin beneath. "This old man's just a little exhausted."
"What'd I say about the old man talk, Rei-kun?" Kaoru tuts as he shifts into a comfortable position. Rei loops his legs into his and presses his forehead against Kaoru's in the intimate manner he sometimes does to get his partner to blush furiously. "It's sooo off-putting, you've got to stop."
Leaning in until their noses bump, he adds: "You can tell me what's bothering you, you know?"
"I realize as much," Rei mumbles, taking his chance position Kaoru's neck up in a way that allows him to give him another kiss, basking into the feel of the warmth against him as Kaoru kisses him back. Only coming apart to breathe, Rei thinks he can go on like this forever. "But this concern is mine to handle. I wouldn't want to worry my pretty little Kaoru-kun over it."
Pretty little Kaoru-kun huffs, cheeks flushing red. Rei smiles, shoving Kaoru into his chest and holding him there. He can feel the blond sigh, his warm breath tickling Rei’s colder skin.
“I can worry a little,” comes a muffled voice. “You don’t have to hold anything in now that we’re going to be together, Rei-kun.”
“Right,” Rei replies, and it’s at times like these that it hits him how Kaoru’s grown. Thoroughly matured through their time together, become the reliable, dependable person he is today. To the starting point and uptil now. The irreversible days have faded, too quickly. There’s no way to go but ahead. It’s more daunting than anything Rei had gone through, and it’s ironic - that an immortal should worry over Time.
But the most important thing to an immortal is Time. Those who get attached to the world as it is are nothing less nor more than unfortunate. Those who succumb to the plethora of limited pleasures this world allows them are nothing less nor more than unfortunate. These immortals will live forever, but their beloved pleasures will not. They will not carry over. They will become people who lose, but they will never lose themselves. Rei isn’t sure if the idea to live past a hundred and three is anything wonderful if Kaoru won’t be there for him.
It’s at times such as these that he thinks, Ah, what he would give to be a mortal would far surpass anything else. He does not bring this up. Not to his mother, not to Ritsu, not to Adonis nor Koga. Not Kaoru. Kaoru is 18 and he does not need to deal with the worldly problems of people like Rei.
And this is where he’s wrong. But the vampire does not know this yet.
Graduation comes. Rei gives his blessings to Anzu in the form of a pat to the head and Kaoru attempts to say something cool that isn’t exactly cool but Rei gives him a kiss for it anyways. Adonis and Koga cling to them the entire day lost kittens would do to the first person that gives them affection and the two seniors are almost entirely too reluctant to leave them behind - even if there’s no doubt that they can obviously take care of themselves. Adonis will take care, at least. If there’s any chance of some red-haired overenthusiastic motherfucker that can come kick one of them off stage, at least Adonis will have a first aid kit lying around, somewhere.
It’s easy to get settled in, with all the plans they’d made beforehand. It’s easier to travel and to find support in each other and it is on one dark night twelve hours after Rei’s birthday that their old friends from Yumenosaki come over to their apartment to simultaneously celebrate Rei’s 20th and Kaoru’s 19th. Rei raises a singular toast for himself, then. Kaoru raises grape juice.
“Kaoru-kun,” says Rei, when they’re snug in his bed together that night and Kaoru’s chin is pressed against the top of his head and one of his hands are looped around his neck and playing with the black, silky locks of hair without a care left for the world. When their only other companions are the stars in the outside sky staring at them as if they’re watching an extremely entertaining soap opera and the moon is the exasperated parent waiting for them to head to their own respective beds. Kaoru hums in response. “If you had the choice, would you….” Rei pauses. He’s not sure how to say this in a roundabout way that doesn’t bring forth a shit ton of complicated emotions the very night they think they can breathe fresh air and conquer the world.
“It’ll always be you - is that what you want me to say?,” Kaoru interrupts, knowing Rei won't continue and despite being unaware of the full question. But also - Because it’ll always be Rei Sakuma against the world. They’ve missed a lot, but now’s the time to make up for all they have. Because now’s the only time they’ll have remaining. “You’re holding in something, Rei-kun. I’m not feeling very included, you know.”
“I apologize,” Rei replies, pressing a small kiss to Kaoru’s neck as a form of repentance. “My mind has been riddled with unnecessary things as of late, and I don’t want-”
“To worry my pretty little head off, hm?” An echo of before. Kaoru pinches Rei’s waist, making the man underneath him yelp. “That’s where you’re wrong, Rei-kun. I’ve already worried too much to spare anything for whatever you have to say.”
Rei goes pink. Kaoru doesn’t see this. What does he do, apologize again? It’s the only option hanging in front of him, but Rei goes down the yellow path and stays silent. Kaoru does not say anything, either. His eyes are closed and he’s breathing rhythmically in the first stage of drifting off to sleep and Rei can do nothing but hold him as the night passes. There will come another chance. For someone who doesn’t care about Time, and for someone who does, another chance will come.
On Kaoru’s insistence, the first checkpoint on their travels is England.
It’s nothing like Rei remembers when he’d escaped here two years back, but he accounts this to his freshly traumatized mind and the chains of grief slapped tight onto his ankles when he’d graced this place with his existence, then. There is nothing familiar about the bustling streets of laughing people and the blue skies and the picture-perfect toothpaste commercial scenery, but he accounts this to the fact that Kaoru seems to leave behind a trail of flowers wherever he steps. And Kaoru is all around him. A halo of golden light that’s ripped off the chains, a field of flowers and glittering rays of sunlight. The only sunlight Rei does not feel can weaken him.
There’s nothing familiar about England, now. Other than the stinking apartment he’d rented two years back and is coming back to, hands clasped with a certain blond, there is nothing familiar. Maybe a few years down the road, there will be.
Maybe a few years down the road, there will be more memories than the grief that hangs onto him. But Time has not been one to treat him so kindly. It’s more a wish than anything else.
Kaoru brings him an iced coffee at 6 AM in the morning because Kaoru is 19 and a healthy young man and wants to feed ducks pieces of bread at the edge of a bridged lake like he’s seen in those vintage 1800s romance movies he’s watched so religiously over the past few years. Rei does not like 6 AM, but he appreciates Kaoru and iced coffee and the sight of ducks, so he takes his parasol out of its cover and loops his arm around Kaoru’s and lets his partner lead him down to wherever he wants to go.
Rei does not know England. The sense of detachment is strong in the sense that he has no genuine memory for it. There is nothing here that reminds him of his time here, nothing to bring back his sorrow and grief and all that had accompanied. In some sense, it’s something he’s thankful for. There should be no room for worrisome memories when Kaoru’s come with him this far to make nothing but happy ones. In some sense, he’s glad Kaoru seems to know England better than the 18 year old Rei.
Whether it be tomorrow, or today, he’s glad Kaoru seems to know England better.
The ducks seem to like Kaoru. Rei nods at them.
They travel around, a lot. To the Stonehenge in Wiltshire to Edinburgh Castle to the Roman Baths and places they have never set their eyes on. To places Rei has not set eyes on despite being here before. Kaoru says this is for Rei’s lyricist mind to get a shit ton of inspiration they won’t find back in Japan, but Rei thinks that he’s going to find a shit ton of inspiration just by Kaoru next to him. Unfortunately, UNDEAD doesn’t exactly have a romantic image. Rei thinks he can sneak something into the side tracks whenever they record an album.
Rei wishes Time was a social construction. If the case ever presents itself where a physical mass can reverse something as crucial as Time, Rei will be the first one to get his hands on the controls.
The days pass by quickly. Kaoru’s making sandwiches in the small kitchen of Rei’s now-not-so-stinky apartment and Rei’s cleaning up their room and putting all their belongings carefully back into their suitcases for the flight to France in a few hours. It’s a two hour flight, but it’s nevertheless going to be around 5 AM when they land. They’ve phoned Shu, Rei’s old friend from Yumenosaki, and he’d agreed to pick them up from the airport. Rei had pulled Kaoru in the bath and shampooed his hair in a comfortable familiarity while telling him excitedly about the endeavours Shu and him had caught themselves in during their days as Yumenosaki’s estranged Eccentrics.
Kaoru comes to realize, with these stories, like he’s come to realize many times before: there was nothing eccentric about these odd ones out. They’d just been normal schoolboys with a normal knack for trouble. He thinks that Yumenosaki may have been the estranged school, more than anything.
Maybe it’s the delving in these past memories that makes Rei so reclusive in the cab ride to the airport. He’s staring out of the window with an expression he’s out on only a few times, before. He falls asleep on the plane as soon as they depart. Kaoru is left to stare outside of the window in his seat in an echo of Rei in the cab. The time it takes to land in Paris passes by feels like a race against Kaoru’s rising heartbeat.
“Ah, has he fallen asleep, that fiend?” Shu huffs as soon as they’ve dogpiled into Shu’s car and Rei had greeted the pink-haired boy with the tightest hug he’d ever given him before falling right back asleep in the backseat. “He’d promised to greet my lovely Mademoiselle, but it seems as if he’s forgotten. Fool.”
“I think Mademoiselle-chan looks as beautiful as ever,” Kaoru helps, noticing the doll in the front seat adorning an intricate, Victorian-esque dull pink dress, and a few new hair accessories that should not look as expensive as they do. “Is that a new outfit? So lovely~”
“Kaoru-chan’s always so nice,” comes Mademoiselle’s giggle. “I think he looks as handsome as ever, too!”
Kaoru pretends to fan himself with a blush, and grins at her. Shu scoffs in a condescendly happy way, and the rest of the ride is passed by in a relative silence.
Kaoru climbs in bed with Rei in Shu’s guest room in his apartment after he’s done unpacking for the next morning and feels the vampire grumble in his sleep.
“You big baby,” Kaoru says under his breath, fondly. “Roll over a little.” He pushes him gently to move over his side before pulling the blanket up and on themselves. Propping an arm on the pillow and resting his hand on the palm of his hand, Kaoru looks down at Rei’s sleeping face with a small, intimate smile reserved only for him. Rei’s hands are touching his cheeks and his normally sharp features are much softer than anyone would think they are from what goes on in magazine and album photoshoots. He’s glad he gets to see him like this.
He shifts a little on his own before he sees Rei open his eyes, a little, and Kaoru starts to rub his head in a way to get him to go back to sleep, but the black-haired boy under him shakes the action away.
“Kao-kun,” he mumbles, obviously tired. “Kao-kuuun…”
Kao-kun’s a new one. The blond leans in to kiss his forehead, and says, “I’m right here, Rei-kun. So needy~”
Rei makes a strangle of undistinguishable noises as a response. There’s a small bout of silence that follows, until Rei looks at him with half-lidded eyes and says: “Time’s passing by too quick, Kaoru-kun.”
“I’m afraid my memory won’t last the older I grow,” he says. “And I would like to remember more of you the older we grow.”
Kaoru doesn’t say anything. There’s a thumping in his chest that does all the talking for him, and Rei leans in to push him down, and lay his head on his chest. ‘Kaoru-kun, I don’t want to take our time for granted.”
“You don’t,” Kaoru tries, weakly.
“There is a selfish need within me,” Rei says, turning so that he can make eye contact with him. “I want to keep you beside myself forever, Kaoru-kun. I’d give-”
“Stop,” Kaoru groans. He grabs Rei and hoists him up, legs batting at his until they’re only joined by the hands looping around their necks. Like they’re underwater. Kaoru feels like he’s underwater. “This almost sounds like a proposal, or something.”
“You could say it is-”
“Not helpful, Rei-kun.”
“I mean it,” Rei insists. “Kaoru-kun is everything to m-”
“Too soon,” Kaoru whines back.
Rei thinks that Shu really loves his croissants. There’s a box of fresh ones sitting on the counter with two mugs of coffee and a small note on patterned paper about him having gone out to get some grocery. Oh, and to brush up Mademoiselle’s hair in the case she decides to play around with the neighbour’s presumptuous Persian cat, again.
There is no presumptuous Persian cat to be found in the kitchen or near Mademoiselle, who’s seated on a leather couch in the middle of the living room. Rei thinks disappearing out of existence would be a good way to start the day.
Kaoru comes in a few minutes later with one hand under his shirt lazily scratching at his stomach and hair messed up the way it is every morning before he takes his regular shower. He sees the minimalist breakfast amidst a yawn and almost scrambles towards it like a man starved. Shoving a croissant in his mouth, he looks up at Rei. Rei’s looking at him like he’s seen an unnatural force of nature.
“Wei-kwun,” Kaoru’s muffled voice speaks out, and the vampire feels his heart go five hundred kilometers per hour. “Dwiw wou h-”
“Eat,” Rei encourages. Because a heart attack in the crack of morning is something that should not be encouraged. Last night is already taking a toll on his mind.
Kaoru nods, and swallows down the bite of bread. “Rei-kun, did you hear about the cafe down the road? Itsuki-kun mentioned last night that they have the best pancakes with strawberry cream, and I really wan-”
“You can exploit me for all the pancakes your heart desires, Kaoru-kun,” Rei says, watching the blond break out in a whoop. “Let’s grace that cafe in the afternoon, shall we?”
Kaoru’s shoved bread in his mouth, again. “Pwerwet.”
The date to the Cafe goes swimmingly. In the sense that right after inhaling pancakes and cream Kaoru instantly starts going about how he wants to swim and Rei has no option but to text Shu that they’re on their way to a beach on the Seine and will not be back until further notice. Shu replies with a cowboy hat emoji. Rei does not know what to make of this.
Kaoru pulls Shu into a one-arm hug. “Thanks for having us, Itsuki-kun. Your apartment’s as lovely as you~”
“As frivolous as ever,” Shu replies, clearly amused, “You’re going to make my friend jealous, hm? Not that I mind the attention. Say a nice goodbye to Mademoiselle, too.”
“I’ll miss Kaoru-kun’s company,” the doll chirps from Shu’s arm. “So will Shu-kun, but he’s too embarrassed to show it.”
Shu glares at her. Mademoiselle glares back.
“Awe, I’ll miss Mademoiselle-chan the most,” Kaoru says, putting on as much charm as possible to tick off the vampire standing next to him, all smiles and arms crossed over his chest. “What am I to do without seeing her beautiful face every morning to rejuvenate me?”
“You flatter too much,” Shu scowls, bringing a hand up towards his doll. “Leave. My Mademoiselle will not be driven in by the likes of you. And you, ” Shu says, pointing at a startled Rei. “Take care of him. He’s a good one.”
Kaoru goes pink.
“Don’t worry,” Rei says, a little too fond. “I don’t plan to let him go.”
“Good.” Shu turns, grabbing one of their bags to help carry. “Make sure you visit again, sometime. Kagehira’s coming in the winter, and we will be having a private Christmas party. You are welcome to intercede.”
“We will,” Rei says.
“Good,” Shu repeats. His lips turn up in a smile. “I’ll be expecting you.”
Rei thinks he might be able to write one of those cheesy love songs, now. Maybe two.
“About that thing from a few nights ago,” Kaoru brings up, when they’ve unloaded their suitcases in their apartment back in Japan after the two weeks of travelling around before being inevitably summoned by their agency for a photo-shoot. “Do you still wanna talk?”
“Do you?” Rei questions, from inside their room, where he’s stilled in his seat, the errand of folding clothes on pause.
“If you’re going to propose to me again-”
“No, I’ll make sure to make that special when it happens.”
Kaoru screams into a cushion.
“Good.” He strides into their shared room like he’s not just screamed in a sofa cushion, and plops down on the bed to watch Rei work on the clothes. “Honestly, you’re afraid of growing up, aren’t you?” Rei’s always been easy to read.
“How’d you figure that out?” And it’s a genuine question.
“You just confirmed it. You already call yourself an old geezer, Rei-kun,” Kaoru sighs. “I didn’t think age concerned you all that much.”
“It didn’t, before.” Rei finishes his errand, closing the drawer of clothes and standing up. Kaoru opens his arms and beckons him to come over, and Rei flops down on the bed before crawling towards his partner and putting his arms around him in a hug. Kaoru inhales him in. “It only started a few days before graduation.”
“You could’ve told me if you felt old next to such a youthful beaut,” Kaoru says, adopting Rei’s old man tone temporarily to tease. “I would’ve taken care of it.”
“I don’t want to depend on Kaoru-kun so much,” Rei mumbles. “Your getting tired will be the end of this senior’s existence.”
“Rei-kun, I don’t want to burst your bubble,” Kaoru says, “But you’ve just turned 20.”
“That’s two decades down the drain,” Rei replies, as if he’s 40 and not 20. “I can’t help but feel that I’ve wasted my time rather than spend it as I should’ve.”
“You wouldn’t have met me if you weren’t a delinquent,” Kaoru brings up.
“I would’ve,” Rei counters, obnoxiously assured. “Don’t you feel it in our beating hearts, Kaoru-kun?” He takes his partner’s hand and presses it to his chest, doing the same with his. “We’re soulmates. We would’ve found each other.”
Kaoru laughs despite himself. “This isn’t a supernatural rom-com, Rei-kun.”
“What, my being from a vam-”
“We’ll ignore that part.”
There’s silence, again. Mostly because there’s nothing to be said other than more, fruitless banter. Kaoru traces his fingers on the man’s back, holding him close. Because situations such as these call for nothing but to be held close. He does not know what to say, and neither does Rei. The ceiling fan disrupts this moment with its haggard, low noise, and the squirrel sitting at their open window sill does not give them their well deserved privacy. There will come a time when they’ll know. Now is not it.
There will come a time where the throes of immortality will come to haunt him again. But Rei has his picture perfect toothpaste commercial life, and it's not running out anytime soon. He won't live forever, because something in the confession two years prior strips him off of this magical ability. He does not know this, either. Maybe it's a self-deluded vampire thing. They'll find out, soon enough. When the throes of immortality come back. That is all.
Time's not some sort of beast, either. Kaoru's going to age and he's going to grow taller and grow wrinkles on his face and hunch over his back and have his soft, blond hair fade to gray, but Rei will, too. Time will make sure, of that.
Kronos watches from his seat on the sun.