“Maybe you should take a break.”
Sabito pauses his practice swings to look over at Makomo. Her face looks a little flushed, and although her hair is held back, a few stray strands of hair cling to her face, sticky with sweat.
“Are you done with your practice matches?” Sabito asks, relaxing his stance. He reaches up to wipe the sweat from his own forehead, but finds none, and he resists the urge to click his tongue.
“The first round,” Makomo confirms. She goes over to pick up her water bottle, which is resting near the dojo wall. She takes a sip, and then says, “You’re not focused today.”
Sabito clenches his jaw. It’s unusual for him to be distracted enough that he can’t even work up a decent sweat during practice.
Reluctantly, Sabito says, “He keeps staring.”
Makomo blinks at him, and then looks over at the far side of the dojo, near the door.
“He did ask if he could watch,” Makomo says, but there’s amusement tugging at her lips. Sabito sighs and resists the urge to follow her gaze, to where he’s sure Giyū is sitting, propped up against the dojo wall.
“I thought he meant that he wanted to see our practices so he could decide if he wanted to join,” Sabito sighs, reaching up to scrub a hand through his hair.
It’s been five days since Giyū was released from the hospital, and three days since he asked if he could come to the kendo dojo that Sabito’s grandfather runs. Sabito hadn’t seen a reason to refuse, and had given him a few pamphlets about the different beginner courses they offered, and when their next open class was.
Clearly it was too much to expect Giyū to act like a normal human being.
“It can’t be interesting to just watch me do practice swings,” Sabito huffs.
“Maybe it’s like those YouTube videos,” Makomo says. The amusement in her expression seems to have increased. “ASMR.”
“ASMR?” Sabito repeats, his forehead creasing.
“It’s supposed to help people relax, I think,” Makomo answers. “You should look it up.”
“Maybe,” Sabito replies, finally looking over at Giyū. They make eye contact for a moment, and Sabito tries to decide of Giyū looks relaxed or not, but it’s hard to tell with Giyū’s general lack of emotional range. He doesn’t seem tense, at the very least, and if Sabito had to label it, he’d almost say that Giyū seems… perky.
It’s the expression he usually seems to make whenever Sabito’s in close proximity to Makomo. Sabito’s not really sure what that’s supposed to mean.
For a moment, Sabito hesitates, but then he says, “I think Giyū might be a stalker.”
Makomo blinks at him, but to her credit, all she says is, “Why do you think that?”
“He knows more about me than he should,” Sabito answers. “He knew that I didn’t live near the hospital, and he knew I placed second in last year’s summer tournament.”
“He could have found out about the dojo from looking up your grandfather, though, right?” Makomo says, but her tone is gentle. “And tournament placements are always announced on the dojo website.”
Sabito doesn’t point out that it would take quite a bit of scrolling to get to the post about a tournament from over a year ago, but the look on Makomo’s face suggests that she’s noticed it too.
For a moment, Sabito hesitates, sneaking another glance at Giyū. This time he doesn’t meet Giyū’s eyes, Giyū’s attention instead focused on the textbook in his lap, and Sabito turns his attention back on Makomo to say, “One of the employees at the Lawson down the street recognized him.”
Makomo blinks, considering this information.
“We’re not anywhere close to his school and he doesn’t live in the area,” Sabito continues. Giyū had frozen up a little when the cashier had started chatting with him, and while it could just be because he’s bad with people, the cautious way he’d glanced in Sabito’s direction had seemed to suggest otherwise. “And the first time he came to watch practice, I offered to show him the way back to the station afterwards, but he told me he’d be fine on his own.”
For a moment, Makomo goes quiet, but then she says, “Are you sure he doesn’t want to join the dojo?”
It would make sense, Sabito supposes, if Giyū was interested in joining the dojo. If Giyū was actually just stalking the dojo, instead of him specifically.
But as far as Sabito can tell, Giyū has no interest in kendo.
“He says he’d rather just watch,” Sabito finaly says. Nearby, a few other dojo members have started drills again, and Sabito rolls one of his shoulders, trying to release the tension from it.
Makomo makes a considering noise and then starts towards Giyū.
Sabito blinks after her for a moment, but then follows.
“What are you doing?” Makomo asks, plopping herself down next to Giyū. There’s a notebook in his lap, and she peers over at it, unperturbed about intruding into Giyū’s personal space.
Giyū goes a little stiff, glancing at her, and then up at Sabito.
Then, he says, “Math.”
Makomo makes an interested noise, drifting close enough that her shoulder brushes up against Giyū’s. It makes the tension in Giyū’s spine dissipate again, his expression relaxing into something that Sabito would hesitantly label as “content,” and briefly, Sabito wonders if maybe Giyū’s only an alien around him.
He knows that’s not entirely true, though. When he’d first introduced Giyū to Makomo, Giyū had stared for almost a full minute before he’d seemed to remember himself, and Sabito’s caught him staring a few times since then.
“Is it interesting?” Makomo asks, and it takes Sabito a moment to remember they’re talking about math.
Giyū pauses for a moment, and then says, “Not really.”
“Then let’s do something fun,” Makomo announces, pushing herself back up to her feet. “Sabito and I can give you a free kendo lesson.”
Giyū stares at her. Sabito stares at her too.
“It’s okay,” Giyū says, his gaze dipping back down to his notebook. “I’m fine with just watching.”
Makomo gives Sabito an expectant look, and he tries to argue back with a glare. It doesn’t get him very far, though, and eventually he sighs, turning his gaze back to Giyū, and says, “You can’t know if you’ll like it or not until you’ve given it a try. And Makomo and I can help you.”
Giyū looks at him for a moment, expression unreadable, and it’s enough to make Sabito’s skin prickle.
Finally, though, Giyū says, “Okay.”
With that, he puts aside his notebook and pushes himself to his feet.
“Great,” Makomo chirps, a smile spreading across her face. “I’ll go get a couple of shinai.”
With that, she heads over to grab the equipment she and Sabito had set aside on the other side of the dojo. It also has the unfortunate side effect of leaving Sabito and Giyū alone, and Sabito wracks his mind for something to say, watching as Giyū gazes out at a row of intermediate students practice kata.
“Does it look interesting?” Sabito asks, the words spilling past his lips before he can manage to hold them back.
Giyū turns back to blink at him.
“I mean, is it fun to watch?” Sabito clarifies, when Giyū doesn’t immediately reply. “Is it relaxing or something?”
Giyū hesitates for a moment, glancing back at the other students. Then, he says, “They seem like they’re having fun.”
There’s something strange about his tone, something cautious and a little disbelieving, as if the thought of someone having fun with kendo is fundamentally incompatible with the sport. Before he can press Giyū for an explanation, though, Makomo comes back with the shinai.
“Here,” she says, holding one out towards Giyū. Giyū eyes it for a moment, but then accepts it, and Makomo continues with, “We can start with how to hold it. First, you should put your right hand – ”
She cuts herself off, blinking, and Sabito turns his focus to Giyū’s hands.
The corners of Sabito’s mouth tug down in a frown.
“I thought you said you hadn’t done any kendo before,” he says, studying Giyū’s grip. Giyū’s right hand is held above his left, the two perfectly spaced apart, and the v of his thumb is aligned neatly with the line of the blade. It fits naturally into Giyū’s hands, no uncertain pressure in his fists, and if it weren’t for the lack of calluses on Giyū’s palms, it would be enough to mistake him for an expert.
“I’ve done a little,” Giyū admits, not meeting Sabito’s eyes, and Sabito’s frown deepens. “A long time ago.”
“Let’s try a couple of practice swings, then,” Makomo suggests. She’s smiling again, nothing in her expression suggesting the surprise she’d showed moments earlier, and Sabito is once again impressed by her ability to take things in stride. “Show me how much you remember.”
Without a word, Giyū lifts his shinai up over his head and then swings it down. It draws a perfect arc in the air, quick, steady, and precise. Giyū’s hands don’t move so much as a centimeter from their position on the hilt, and the shinai lines up neatly with the center of his body, shoulders supporting the movement in a casual display of expert technique, and the only flaw is the way Giyū’s core can’t quite support the movement.
As if it really has been a long time, and Giyū’s muscles have softened enough that although he knows he movements, he can’t quite execute them.
Sabito stares for a beat too long.
Then, he says, “You should go back to watching.”
He reaches out and takes the shinai from Giyū, his calloused fingers brushing against Giyū’s soft palms.
“I don’t think kendo suits you,” Sabito continues, and his voice is firm, but there’s nothing harsh or accusatory about it. It’s enough to break Giyū out of his trance, and something tense unclenches in Sabito’s chest as the brightness returns to Giyū’s eyes.
Sabito’s gotten familiar with Giyū’s blank expressions, but he’s never seen Giyū’s eyes look so cold and dead.
If possible, he’d like to never see it again.
Sabito is in a forest.
It feels familiar, somehow, but he couldn’t identify the location if asked. Maybe it only seems familiar because it’s a forest, and the differences between pine trees aren’t significant enough for Sabito to remember them.
He swings the sword in his grip and isn’t surprised to find that it’s steel.
“You should be training, too,” Sabito says.
“I’m studying your form,” a voice replies, and Sabito glances over to find a boy sitting cross-legged against the forest floor. There’s a sword resting in his lap, just as real a blade as the one in Sabito’s hands, although its tucked away safely in a sheath.
“What is there to study?” Sabito huffs, but he can feel his cheeks heat.
“Your center of gravity is perfect,” the boy says with a smile, and his honesty only makes Sabito’s face grow hotter. “And you never break your posture.”
“Which is because I practice,” Sabito replies pointedly.
The boy’s smile dims and his gaze drops to the ground. Softly, he says, “I’m not as good as you.”
“Because you don’t practice as much,” Sabito huffs, mouth twisting into a frown.
The boy doesn’t reply, eyes still trained on the forest floor, and Sabito clicks his tongue, before making his way over. He reaches out to grab the boy’s wrist, yanking him up to his feet, and the boy’s eyes widen in surprise, but he doesn’t say anything, and he doesn’t try to pull out of Sabito’s grip.
The sword resting in the boy’s lap falls towards the ground, but the boy manages to catch it with his free hand, movements fumbling but quick enough to betray his sharp reflexes.
“You’re good at this,” Sabito says, his voice firm and steady. “Urokodaki-sensei wouldn’t try training you if he thought you couldn’t handle it.”
Sabito doesn’t think he’s ever referred to his grandfather by name before.
The boy looks at him with big, shiny eyes, but then nods.
When Sabito wakes, it’s with the feeling that there’s something else that he should have said.
Sabito checks the time on his phone, and then shoves it back into his pocket.
“He still has five minutes,” Makomo says, from where she’s standing next to him, at the entrance to the mall. A family walks by in front of them, a little girl tugging her mother towards the glass doors, and Sabito watches them for a moment, before tearing his eyes away to scan for Giyū again.
“Why did you even invite him?” Sabito asks. He crosses his arms over his chest, his posture stiff. “We’re just running errands.”
“I want to see what he’s like outside of the dojo,” Makomo answers, her expression as smooth and mild as ever. “Because you’re so convinced he’s a stalker.”
“I’m not – ” Sabito starts, but then cuts himself off. “That’s just what it seems like based off his behavior.”
Makomo hums, more in acknowledgement than agreement. Before Sabito can argue more, though, he catches sight of a familiar bob of inky black hair, Giyū hovering at the edge of the parking lot. Sabito raises a hand to wave him over and opens his mouth to call out, but before he can, Giyū’s eyes land on him, and a shockingly soft smile spreads over Giyū’s face.
It makes Sabito feel a little bad about calling him a stalker.
At least he seems like a relatively harmless one.
“Sorry,” Giyū says, jogging over to Sabito and Makomo. “Am I late?”
“You’re right on time,” Makomo answers with a smile of her own. “We just got here a little early.” She starts towards the mall entrance, Sabito and Giyū falling into step beside her, then adds, “Have you eaten yet?”
Giyū shakes his head.
“Are you hungry?” Sabito asks. It’s only a little after eleven, and although he could eat, he’s not particularly hungry.
“I’m fine,” Giyū replies.
“Let’s get our shopping done first, then, and afterwards we can get lunch,” Makomo says as they walk into the mall.
“There’s a café she’s been wanting to try,” Sabito explains to Giyū. They’ve fallen a few steps behind Makomo as she makes her way towards the first store, and briefly, Sabito wonders if Makomo had actually invited Giyū along to keep him company while she tries on clothes.
“Do you actually have any shopping you need to do?”
Giyū blinks slowly, as if to process Sabito’s question.
“Not really,” he admits, looking away from Sabito to focus on Makomo in front of them again.
“You didn’t have to come if you didn’t want to,” Sabito says with a sigh. He watches as Makomo pops into a store, suppressing a grimace as he takes in the distinctly pastel color palate. “Makomo may look sweet, but she’s very aware that people are bad at saying ‘no’ to her because she’s cute.”
“I know,” Giyū replies, a soft, fond smile spreading across his face, and Sabito almost asks him how he knows, but he manages to stop himself.
After all, the answer is stalking, probably.
“Right, well, if you do have something you need to buy or a store you want to look in, don’t hesitate to say something,” Sabito says firmly. “And Makomo probably has better arm strength than you from kendo practice anyway, so don’t offer to carry her bags. If she bought it, it’s her responsibility.”
Giyū turns his smile on Sabito now, and Sabito has to resist the urge to fidget under the softness of it.
“Got it?” Sabito asks, clearing his throat. Giyū nods, and he continues, “Right. Let’s not lose track of her.”
With that, he heads into the store.
It’s a fairly uneventful morning, all in all. Giyū seems content to follow them about and help Makomo pick out clothes – which usually amounts to Makomo asking him if something looks good on her, and him saying it does. Makomo seems amused by his attempt at helping, at least, which is better than what usually happens on shopping trips with her, in Sabito’s experience.
Namely, her complaining about his tendency to point out the impracticalities of short skirts and heels.
Just because she hasn’t broken an ankle yet doesn’t mean she won’t.
“I’m going to look in there,” Giyū says, breaking Sabito from his thoughts.
Sabito looks over to where Giyū’s pointing, and blinks as he finds an accessory store. Displays of fake-gold rings and charm necklaces shimmer under the mall lighting, and Sabito has to suppress a sigh as he wonders if maybe he should have just let Makomo and Giyū come by themselves.
“Alright,” Sabito replies. “Lead the way.”
The interior of the store isn’t quite as bad as Sabito had feared. He can see one of the teenage employees perk up as they step into the store, and briefly he wishes that Makomo was with them, instead of in the store next door.
He occupies himself with browsing the displays and wonders if it’s too early to start thinking of birthday gifts for Makomo. She doesn’t tend to pick out much jewelry herself, but she always wears it if it’s a gift from someone else, and there are a few pieces that would probably look nice on her.
He’s in the middle of examining a satiny hair scrunchie, when he hears someone say, “Are you looking for something for your girlfriend?”
He looks up to find Giyū staring blankly at the store employee who was eyeing them earlier.
“I don’t have a girlfriend,” Giyū answers bluntly, and Sabito has to bite his lip to keep from laughing at the flustered expression on the employee’s face.
“A sister, then?” the employee asks, trying to correct the course of the conversation.
“No,” Giyū says, catching Sabito off guard. When Giyū had said he’d wanted to look at the accessories, he’d assumed that it was to find something for his sister. After all, Giyū’s mother is out of the picture, and he doesn’t seem to have much in the way of friends, so who – “It’s for a friend.”
The creases in Sabito’s forehead deepen.
“Did you have something specific in mind?” the employee asks, having regained her composure.
“This design,” Giyū answers, pointing at something that Sabito can’t quite see from this angle.
“That one’s very popular right now,” the employee says, picking up whatever it is. Part of Sabito wants to move closer in order to see, but that would just draw attention to his eavesdropping. “We have a ring with this design, two types of bracelets, a necklace, and a barrette. The ring is the most popular.”
Giyū pauses for a moment, his face blank with consideration, and then says, “She uses her hands a lot.”
Sabito frowns as he tries to puzzle out what that’s supposed to mean.
“Probably not a ring or the bracelets, then,” the employee muses. “How about this one? It tends to be popular with people who don’t usually wear a lot of jewelry.”
Whatever it is seems to suit Giyū’s taste, because he nods and picks it up, before following the employee over to the register. It doesn’t take long for Giyū to pay, and Sabito has to quickly fix his eyes back on the scrunchie display as Giyū starts back towards him, a small paper bag in hand.
“Did you find what you were looking for?” Sabito asks, and Giyū nods. “Let’s go find Makomo then.”
Thankfully it doesn’t take long to find her, because she’s sitting on a bench outside the store, looking bored. As if they were the ones who dragged her shopping, and not the other way around.
“Are there any other stores you want to look at?” Makomo asks, pushing herself up off the bench. “Or should we get lunch?”
Before Sabito can reply, though, Giyū says, “Here.”
Makomo blinks at the small paper bag extended towards her.
“It’s for me?” she asks, giving Giyū a gracious, angelic smile.
“I thought it would suit you,” Giyū says simply.
“Thank you,” Makomo replies. She starts to pick at the tape holding the paper bag closed, but then stops herself to ask, “Can I open it?”
Giyū nods, and Sabito watches on with idle curiosity as Makomo opens the bag and pulls out its contents.
A small barrette sits in Makomo’s palm. It has a simple flower ornament on it, light blue petals surrounding a yellow center, and Makomo blinks at it for a moment before composing a smile.
“It’s so cute!” she says, beaming at Giyū. She peels the price tag off of it and then reaches up to clip it into her hair, holding back a section of her bangs. “How does it look?”
Giyū stares at her, and this time Sabito can’t read his expression.
“It looks good,” Sabito offers, covering for Giyū’s silence. “The blue’s a nice color on you.”
“Of course you would say that,” Makomo laughs, but there’s a fondness to it. “Now, do we want to go eat? We should be just past the lunch rush.”
“Let me go to the bathroom first,” Giyū replies, a little muttered, averting his eyes from Makomo.
“Alright,” Sabito says. “We’ll wait here for you.”
Giyū nods, a little stiffly, and then turns to leave.
And, once he’s out of hearing range, Makomo says, “It’s a funny coincidence, isn’t it?”
She reaches under the neck of her shirt to pull a small gold chain out from under her blouse. There’s a flower pendant hanging from it, the same blue and yellow flower as the clip now adorning her hair, perfect copies of each other.
“It looks like you two have the same taste,” she laughs, gazing down at the blue flower in her palm.
“Why did he give you a barrette in the first place?” Sabito huffs, plopping himself down on the bench and crossing his arms over his chest. “You barely know each other!”
“Maybe he’s actually hanging around the dojo for me, and not you,” Makomo says with a teasing smile.
“Don’t joke about that,” Sabito says, a little sharply. “He still might be a stalker.”
Makomo hums noncommittally, slipping the necklace back beneath her shirt, and then says, “I’ll be careful. But I don’t think he’s dangerous.” A pause, and then softly, “I feel like I know him somehow.”
Sabito doesn’t admit that he feels the same.
The doorbell rings a little after seven.
“I’ll get it,” Sabito calls, running down the stairs.
He pulls open the door to find Giyū in front of it, and has to suppress his amusement as Giyū freezes like a startled rabbit. Everything about his posture screams nervousness, and he holds a neatly wrapped box out in front of him like a shield, or perhaps an offering to a particularly unforgiving diety.
He relaxes slightly, as he seems to realize that it’s Sabito in the doorway.
“It’s for your grandfather,” Giyū says, a little stiltedly, offering the box to Sabito.
“You didn’t have to bring anything,” Sabito replies, but he accepts the box. Part of him feels bad about taking away what seems to be Giyū’s main line of defense, but not accepting it would probably just make Giyū more anxious. “Thanks.”
“They’re chestnut manju,” Giyū murmurs.
“We can have them after dinner, then,” Sabito says. With that, he steps aside to let Giyū into the house. “Come on in.”
Giyū hesitates, and for a moment, Sabito thinks he’s going to back out, but then he steps through the doorway. He enters slowly, carefully, like he’s not entirely sure he’s supposed to be there, and someone might chase him out any moment. He manages to toe off his shoes, though, and when Sabito grabs him a pair of slippers off the shoe rack, he doesn’t hesitate to slide his feet into them, following Sabito cautiously down the hallway.
“My grandfather’s cooking,” Sabito explains, leading Giyū past the living room, back towards the kitchen. “I’m not sure what, but he’s a pretty good cook, so I’m sure whatever it is, it’ll be good.” Sabito frowns and glances back at Giyū to ask, “You don’t have any allergies, do you?”
Giyū shakes his head.
“Great,” Sabito says, and then steps into the kitchen.
His grandfather is standing watch next to the stove, a pair of cooking chopsticks held at the ready as he observes an assortment of bubbling pots and pans. He turns at the sound of Sabito’s voice, a mild expression on his face, but Sabito can still feel Giyū hovering uncertainly behind him.
“You must be Giyū,” Sabito’s grandfather says. “It’s good to finally meet you properly.”
Although Giyū’s been hanging around the dojo for a few weeks now, with the girls’ national qualifying tournament so soon, there hasn’t been much time to introduce them properly.
“It’s nice to meet you too,” Giyū replies, with a polite but somewhat stiff bow. If anything, the gesture just makes Sabito’s grandfather look amused. “Thank you for inviting me to dinner.”
“It’s the least I can do, considering you saved my grandson’s life,” Sabito’s grandfather says with a soft smile. “If anything, it’s shameful that it’s taken me so long to thank you in person.”
“There’s no need – ” Giyū starts, a flustered expression on his face.
Before he can finish, though, Sabito’s grandfather bows deeply, and says, “Thank you for saving my grandson. He is the most important thing to me in the world, and there are not enough words to express my gratitude.”
Sabito’s face burns bright red.
When his grandfather straightens out of his bow, his expression is just as steady and sincere as ever.
“Grandpa – ” Sabito huffs, trying to force through his embarrassment, but Giyū cuts him off.
“Me too,” Giyū says softly. “He’s important to me too.”
Sabito gapes at Giyū.
Apparently his grandfather doesn’t see anything weird about Giyū’s statement, though, because he just nods curtly and turns back to the stove. He takes the cover off one of the pans, inspecting its contents, and then says, “We’re having salmon daikon tonight.”
Giyū freezes in that startled-rabbit pose of his again, and Sabito can’t even begin to decipher why that would be a more shocking statement than any of the rest of the conversation.
“Giyū brought chestnut manju,” Sabito says, trying to break the awkward moment. He holds up the box Giyū had given him earlier, and his grandfather gives Giyū an approving nod.
“We can have them with dessert,” Sabito’s grandfather decides. Then he gestures towards the open sliding doors leading to the dining area, and says, “Go sit down. Dinner’s almost ready.”
“I’ll get the dishes,” Sabito says, setting the box of manju down on the counter and reaching up to pull the cupboard doors open.
“I can – ” Giyū starts, but before he can try to help with anything, Sabito’s grandfather shoos him out of the kitchen. Giyū gives up on protesting and settles himself awkwardly on the tatami in the dining room, and Sabito can feel Giyū watching him as he sets the dishes down on the countertop and then starts filling them.
It doesn’t take long to finish preparing dinner, and soon all of the dishes are laid out on the table. Sabito doesn’t hesitate to sit down next to Giyū and his grandfather takes a seat opposite them, studying Giyū in a way that has Giyū fidgeting again and suddenly very interested in the surface of the table.
“Thanks for the food,” Sabito announces, picking up his chopsticks. Giyū follows suit, a little more softly, and it’s quiet for a couple of moments as they take their first bites.
“How is it?” Sabito’s grandfather asks.
“It’s very good,” Giyū answers, picking up another piece of daikon.
“Good,” Sabito’s grandfather says. “It’s been so long since I last made it that I wasn’t sure I’d remember how.”
The comment makes Sabito stop mid-bite. Now that he thinks about it, he can’t remember the last time they had salmon daikon, and although he could swear his grandfather has made it before, he can’t pick out a specific memory of them eating it together.
When he looks up from his food again, he finds Giyū and his grandfather engaged in a staring match.
After a beat, though, the two of them seem to realize that the conversation has stopped, and they both glance over at him. It’s a discomforting gesture, and part of Sabito wants to ask what’s up with the both of them tonight, but before he can figure out how to phrase it, his grandfather looks back at Giyū and says, “So you’re in the same grade as Sabito?”
The previous tension dissipates and the conversation flows easily from there.
The tension relaxes out of Giyū as the night goes on, the stiffness of his shoulders softening and the set of his mouth melting into a sort of ease that Sabito doesn’t think he’s ever seen before. His grandfather’s never been an overly talkative person, and somehow Sabito had thought that would hinder the conversation, when Giyū doesn’t tend to say much himself, but instead they seem content with simple questions and short answers.
Giyū eats three servings of salmon daikon. A self-satisfied look settles itself on Sabito’s grandfather’s face, and as Sabito scoops up the last of his rice, he wonders if Giyū’s going to become a regular fixture at the dinner table.
“Sabito,” Sabito’s grandfather says, once they’ve finished eating and the conversation has lulled. “If you could wash the dishes.”
“Sure,” Sabito replies. He reaches over to grab Giyū’s empty bowls, stacking them on top of his own, and then begins to collect his grandfather’s.
“Please let me – ” Giyū starts, but once again Sabito’s grandfather stops him from helping.
“You’re a guest,” Sabito’s grandfather says. “Sit and talk with me.”
“I’ll make tea,” Sabito offers as he gets up from the table, easily balancing a stack of dishes. “I can get the manju too. Is green tea alright?”
Giyū nods. He looks tense again, and Sabito feels a little bad about leaving him alone with his grandfather, but they were getting along fine just a few minutes ago, so it’s probably nothing to worry about.
Sabito resolves to get the dishes done quickly. Partially for Giyū’s sake, and partially so he can intervene before his grandfather starts getting out the baby pictures.
The door connecting the kitchen and the dining room is partially open, but between the sound of the water and the soft tone of their voices, Sabito can’t make out what Giyū and his grandfather are talking about. Part of him is curious about what sort of conversation his grandfather wanted him out of the room for, but it’s probably just more of the embarrassing “thank you for saving my precious grandson” stuff, and so he doesn’t try very hard to listen in.
The water in the electric kettle has finished boiling by the time the dishes are all lined up in the drying rack. It only takes Sabito a few more minutes to stuff some tea bags in the teapot and pour the hot water in it, lining three cups next to it on the tray, along with an equal number of chestnut manju.
With that, he heads back into the dining room.
And then stops, as he takes in the scene.
Sabito’s grandfather pulls away from where he’d been holding Giyū in a firm hug, and Giyū’s eyes are dangerously watery. Sabito’s grandfather says something too low for him to catch and then ruffles Giyū’s hair, and Giyū gives a little nod in reply, tense again, but the tension feels different than before.
Briefly, Sabito wonders when he’d become the odd one out.
The boy looks dead.
Not physically. His intestines are all held securely inside his abdomen, his spine is at the right angle, and his chest is still rising with steady breaths.
But his eyes look so cold and blank, that if Sabito were to see him lying on the side of the road, he wouldn’t be surprised to see the crows gathering.
“This is Giyū,” the old man standing next to the boy says. His voice sounds like Sabito’s grandfather’s, and they have the same build, but the man is wearing a red tengu mask that obscures his face, and Sabito’s eyes are too drawn to the boy to examine him closely. “He’ll be living with us from now on.”
The old man doesn’t say it explicitly, but Sabito knows without a doubt that the boy’s family is dead.
“This is Sabito,” the old man continues, addressing the boy.
The boy doesn’t reply.
The old man doesn’t seem bothered by the boy’s lack of response, and instead turns back to Sabito and says, “I’m going to start making dinner. Show him around.”
With that, he heads into the small house, leaving Sabito and the boy alone outside.
For a moment, Sabito hesitates. The boy doesn’t do anything either, just stares at the ground, and before he can think better of it, Sabito takes a step closer to him, and then another, until he’s near enough to reach out and take the boy’s hands in his.
The boy startles slightly, hands twitching in Sabito’s grip, and he finally looks up at Sabito.
“You’re still warm,” Sabito says, the boy’s body heat transferring into his palms. “That means you’re not dead yet.”
The boy stares at Sabito.
Sabito releases his hands.
It takes Sabito another hour to wake up.
“I’m sorry for the inconvenience!”
Sabito blinks at the crowd of children standing behind Tanjirō in the entryway to the dojo.
“I promise they won’t be in the way,” Tanjirō continues, his back still bent in a bow. “My mother’s working late and Nezuko is on her school trip, so I have to look after them today.”
“It’s fine,” Sabito says, watching as the youngest boy clings to Tanjirō’s leg. A smile tugs at his mouth and he adds, “Giyū can babysit.”
Tanjirō finally straightens out of his bow to blink at him.
Sabito jerks a thumb in Giyū’s direction. He’s staring off into the distance, a notebook in his lap and a pencil held loosely in his fingers, and he certainly doesn’t look like the most reliable babysitter.
“I couldn’t – ” Tanjirō starts, looking at Sabito with those big eyes of his.
“We have a competition next week,” Sabito says, his voice firm, “and your form is still weak. If you’re not concentrating during practice, you’ll only mess up your posture more, and then I’ll have to spend twice as long fixing it.”
Tanjirō still seems reluctant, but at least he has the decency to look sheepish.
“They’ll still be in the same room,” Sabito continues. “And there are enough people around that someone will notice if they try doing anything dangerous.”
“Except for Rokuta, we’re not babies,” one of Tanjirō’s brothers complains – the oldest, judging by his appearance. He reaches down to take the hand of Tanjirō’s youngest brother, gently prying him away from Tanjirō’s leg. “You focus on practice. We’ll be fine.”
Tanjirō hesitates for a second, but then sighs, and says, “I’ll go talk to – ” He hesitates, glancing in Giyū’s direction, and then back at Sabito.
“Tomioka,” Sabito offers.
“Let’s go talk to Tomioka-san,” Tanjirō finishes.
With that, he leads his pack of siblings over to Giyū. Sabito watches on from a distance, curious about how this interaction is going to play out, and idly, he wonders if he should have gone with, to mediate.
Tanjirō says something to Giyū, and Giyū does his frozen rabbit impression.
The expression doesn’t dissipate as Tanjirō bows abruptly, and Sabito has to bite back a smile. This is probably the most startled he’s ever seen Giyū look, even though it’s hard to tell with Giyū’s general lack of emotional range, and he watches as Giyū’s face slowly relaxes back into its usual apparent disinterest as Tanjirō makes his request.
Eventually Giyū nods, and Tanjirō beams at him. It makes Giyū squint against the brightness, which Sabito thinks is probably a pretty standard reaction to seeing one of Tanjirō’s smiles for the first time.
With that, the Kamado siblings settle themselves against the wall next to Giyū.
The youngest is already eyeing Giyū’s notebook in a way that’s sure to bring interesting results.
“Sabito-senpai!” Tanjirō calls out, breaking Sabito from his thoughts, and Sabito shifts his gaze to find Tanjirō jogging towards him.
“Go change,” Sabito barks, before Tanjirō can say anything else. “If you aren’t ready for practice in five minutes, I’m making you run laps outside.”
“Yes, sir!” Tanjirō replies, and does an impressively quick turn towards the locker room.
Despite the excitement of Tanjirō’s siblings’ unexpected arrival, practice continues pretty much as usual. As Tanjirō promised, his younger siblings don’t cause any trouble, and half of the time, Sabito forgets they’re there, as he yells out instructions and drives everyone through the day’s training regimen.
He can’t help but glance over at Giyū when they stop for a short break, though, just to make sure things are going as well as the lack of crying and/or screaming indicates.
As soon as his eyes land on Giyū, though, he promptly chokes on a mouthful of water.
“What are you up to over here?” Sabito asks, once he’s cleared his throat and mad his way over to Giyū and the Kamado siblings.
Giyū looks up at him. The youngest Kamado brother, settled in Giyū’s lap, doesn’t look up from Giyū’s notebook, a serious expression on his face as he holds a colored pencil in a clumsy grip.
“We’re drawing,” Giyū says seriously. Sabito can’t tell if the seriousness is in order to humor the four-year-old in his lap, or if he is actually that committed to his newfound role of babysitter.
“What are you drawing?” Sabito asks, leaning over to examine the mess of squiggles crisscrossing the paper.
Giyū pauses for a moment, studying the drawing, and then says, “A bear.”
“It’s not a bear,” Tanjirō’s brother huffs, with a sort of exasperation that suggests he’s close to giving up on explaining his artistic vision to Giyū. “It’s a Pangoro.”
“It’s a Pangoro,” Giyū corrects himself, looking back up at Sabito.
“It looks good,” Sabito offers, which earns him a trademark Kamado smile.
“What about mine?” Tanjirō’s sister cuts in, holding up a piece of paper. This one also looks like it’s been ripped out of Giyū’s notebook, and is filled with drawings that suggest much better hand-eye coordination. Also, possibly an interest in shōjo manga.
“PreCure?” Sabito hedges.
“See!” Tanjirō’s sister exclaims, turning to Giyū. “Everyone knows PreCure!”
Giyū just blinks at her blankly.
The oldest of Tanjirō’s brothers mutters something under his breath and buries his face further in his book. Sabito doesn’t catch it, but apparently the sister does, because she narrows her eyes at her brother and settles back in to work on her drawings, newfound determination in her expression.
“Well, I guess you have it handled,” Sabito says, turning back to Giyū.
Giyū replies with a little nod, but his attention is soon dragged away again as Tanjirō’s sister announces, “I need blue.”
Sabito leaves Giyū to search for the correct colored pencil, and heads back to start practice.
The rest of practice passes quickly. It’s easy for Sabito to absorb himself in familiar drills, and if he’s being honest, it’s actually easier to focus than usual, without the feeling of Giyū’s eyes on him all the time. Although he’s gotten more used to Giyū watching him during practice, it’s still hard to tune out entirely, and idly, he wonders if he should ask Tanjirō to bring his siblings over more often, if they’re such an effective distraction.
They close practice with their usual cooldown, and Sabito marvels at how loose his muscles feel, relaxed of their normal tension.
“Thank you so much!”
Sabito glances over to find Tanjirō beaming at Giyū again.
Giyū returns the smile with his usual blank expression, but it doesn’t seem to deter Tanjirō, who continues to chatter on. Sabito can’t quite catch what Tanjirō’s saying from this distance, but then again, he’s not sure Giyū does either, if the way his expression changes slowly from neutral-blank to confused-blank, the more Tanjirō talks.
Tanjirō finishes with another smile, and then gently ushers his youngest brother forward, who holds out a piece of paper towards Giyū. Giyū accepts it solemnly, and Sabito has to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing.
With that, Tanjirō bows again, and he and his siblings leave with an enthusiastic “bye-bye!”
Once they’ve exited the dojo, Sabito makes his way back over to Giyū.
“So, are you going to become a babysitter now?” Sabito asks.
Giyū tears his eyes away from the door to stare blankly at him.
“What did they give you?” Sabito continues, peering down at the paper in Giyū’s hands.
“Rokuta’s Pangoro,” Giyū answers, shifting the drawing so that Sabito can see it better. It still looks about as awkward and ill-shaped as it does when it was still a work in progress, and Sabito’s actually a little impressed that Giyū managed to remember its name.
“Do you like kids?” Sabito asks, a little suddenly. He hadn’t thought that Giyū would be the type, but he did just spend two hours occupying four elementary schoolers.
Giyū blinks at him slowly, processing the question.
Then, he says, “Kids are really warm.”
Sabito’s forehead creases.
“They feel very alive,” Giyū finishes, and just as he does, Sabito’s head throbs, a sharp pain spreading through it. He reaches up to clutch at his forehead, gritting his teeth to bite back a pained noise, and he feels himself stagger slightly.
But then the pain evaporates just as quickly as it came, leaving not so much as a dull ache behind.
“Sabito?” Giyū asks, dragging Sabito back into the present.
“I’m fine,” Sabito replies, straightening himself back out. “Just a little dehydrated.”
Giyū doesn’t look convinced, and truthfully, Sabito isn’t either.