"Oh, hey, iamconstantine. We thought you were dead."
Yeah. So, remember when I wrote that very long Ouran OC fanfic and discontinued it because I hated it so much, with the promise of a new story? And then the new story came out, and I cancelled that one, too? Fond memories. Fond, fond memories.
In all seriousness, I want to offer one last apology to everyone who was following A Thousand Miles or Smile for the Camera! Having a story be discontinued can be very, very frustrating and I'm sorry to anyone that was upset. Thing is, that first story became my enemy. I really didn't like Kosuke, or the plot, or the chemistry, or the complete lack of direction. And to be honest, SFTC was me panicking. I said I had a plan and I lied. Pretty horribly. I had ZERO plans for that story besides vague visions. It was dead in the water from the first chapter.
So, if you're seeing this, and you're wondering if this will have the same doomed fate: worry not. Every. Chapter. Of this fic. Has been planned.
Oh, yes. I'm talking 60+ chapters of slow burn, folks. BUCKLE UP.
If you're wondering why SFTC was deleted, it's because some chunks in the first part have carried over from that, and I'm worry of the "only one kind of one story" rule. Apologies for that.
Thank you all so much for keeping up with me, if you have done so. I am so so so so so so so (x50) excited for this new story, this new Kosuke, this new romance, the new everything!
Kosuke Nakahara was what a lot of people could call "wasted potential." Though that might have been too harsh.
Kosuke had some talents. She was a good photographer, she knew that for a fact—no shame in taking pride in one's skills. Her report cards were regularly good, with the occasional less-than-good outlier. She could play the violin, though at the age of seventeen-going-on-eighteen, she hadn't picked one up for little over a year. In her childhood, she'd taken part in many different classes and clubs. She'd taken ballet, art, tap dancing, swimming, soccer, baseball, and a sort of nature-and-hiking commitment that never really had a name to it.
Unfortunately, most of those talents were squandered. Or rusted.
Many teachers took note that though her grades pulled through, her classroom participation was pretty lackluster. At some point in time, she could play many different songs on the violin, from "La Vie en Rose" to "Waltz of the Flowers" and a semi-decent portion of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." Now, if she concentrates, she can do "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star".
She can still paint in technicality, in that she knows when to swap brushes and mix paints and the differences between acryllic and watercolor, but the last thing she's created was a paint-by-the-numbers that was supposed to be an Italian harbor but instead looked like rainbow vomit.
She never really forgot how to cook, but she's never pushed herself beyond the basics—spaghetti, rice, noodles, stuff like that. She could burn steaks to charred bricks. And despite her high metabolism, a constant diet of soda, cookies, and chips pretty much meant her veins were filled with 50% sugar, 40% salt, and 10% actual blood, so most of her freetime consisted of sitting immobile on her bed, watching movies or sleeping the day away.
Somewhere in her junior high year, Kosuke had become undoubtedly lazy.
Which is why she's in the situation that she's in now.
Okina drives the toe of her sneaker into Kosuke's side, but it's useless. Kosuke remains on the ground, arms splayed out, face against the ground. Somewhere, she can hear the other students, shouting across the field, footsteps stampeding down the track. Okina's voice is crystal clear.
"What's wrong with you?" she almost demands. "Were you a slug in some other life?"
Kosuke replies, "Maybe."
"You're worrying me."
Okina growls in frustration, and Kosuke knows that she's kind of pushing Okina's buttons here. Okina hates physical education. With a burning passion, despite her otherwise wholesome outlook on life. Nevermind having to ditch her tutus and leggings for baggy shorts and T-shirts. It's the only class where she's constantly sweating and moving, so her carefully-applied makeup and perfectly-tied hair are all damaged with every passing second. She'll spend most of her time in the locker room reapplying blush and blowdrying her hair while the other girls are still showering.
"A toddler could do this," she snaps. She tries to roll Kosuke over, but it's kind of like getting a beached whale to do so. "Are you a toddler, Kosuke?"
"I wish," Kosuke groans. "Then I wouldn't have to do this. I could just take a nap, or something."
"Oh, for goodness—Kohta! Please help me!"
Hearing her boyfriend's name being called out does admittedly cause Kosuke some embarrassment, but not enough to pull herself together. Turning her head and looking through her sweat-soaked red bangs, she sees him running over. He's been working hard enough for sweat to break and his shirt to uncomfortably cling to his skin (not that Kosuke is complaining). His hair, which was neither brown nor black, was soft at the top and wet at the ends.
Once he's there, he's close enough for Kosuke to see the little bits of hazel in his emerald green eyes. If she had enough energy, she'd reach up hug him, or just run her fingers through her hair, as always. But her arms and legs feel as if they're stuck to the ground beneath her.
"What's wrong?" asks Kohta. "She's not having a heat stroke, is she?"
"No," sighs Okina. She jabs a French-manicured nail at the finish line. "She just won't run the track!"
Kohta sighs, too, but his is more of relief than annoyance. He brushes Kosuke's hair away from her face, and though Kosuke would be very content to just lie there and let him keep doing that, he lifts her chin to make her look at him.
"It's just a few more steps," he tells her. "Then you're home free."
Okina cuts in with, "No, Kohta, she hasn't run at all. She literally walked the fifteen steps out of the locker rooms and collapsed."
Kohta looked at their teacher in question, and gets a nod in response. This time, when Kohta sighs, it's in disappointment. His green eyes harden on her a bit.
"Kosuke, we're only a few weeks away from graduation. Please tell me you're not going to get held back just because you won't run a little bit."
"It's not that I won't," Kosuke replies. She's aware she sounds like a four-year-old. "It's that I can't."
"Here we go again." Kohta sits down and props his elbow on his knee, chin in his hand. Behind him, Okina removes a handkerchief from her pocket and dabs away the sweat from her brow. "What have you been eating?"
Kosuke blows a raspberry. "Chips, cookies, licorice, crackers, chocolate..."
"In the last hour, I mean."
"Chips, cookies, licorice, crackers, chocolate...Candy Juice..."
"'Candy Juice'?" Okina asks as she tucks the handkerchief away again. "What's 'Candy Juice'?"
"It's a new kind of soda she likes," replies Kohta. He's staring down at his girlfriend the way a mother would stare down at her tantrum-throwing child. "There's at least one cup of sugar per can. How many did you drink?"
"In the past twenty-four hours."
"Only God knows."
Okina stares up at the sky as if asking Him to come down and slap some sense into her friend. Kohta just takes a deep, deep breath, then pushes himself up to his feet. "Okay, you're going to the nurse."
Kosuke wriggles her fingers at him. "Carry me."
Kohta does not look happy about it at all, but he does bend down to her. Hooking one arm under her legs, and the other under her back, he lifts her up with only a short grunt. He's always been very fit. He's already walking, but he still calls out over his shoulder, "Sensei, may we take Kosuke to the nurse?"
"Fine," she calls back. "But Kosuke, this is your last visit, I swear! I'm giving you a 'D' after this. Okina, you stay here!"
Kosuke can't see Okina since her face is turned towards Kohta's chest, but she hears a length of silence, followed by their teacher feebly calling, "Okay, go ahead." No doubt her friend's puppy-dog eyes have done wonders yet again.
The inside of the school is heavenly cool, so much that the sweat on Kosuke's skin kind of freezes, and she shivers. Kohta is plenty warm, though, even if his fingers kind of stick uncomfortably on her arm.
"So," says Kohta as they walk, "Where was it you were going to, Okina?"
"Seneca," she replies. When she walks forward a little bit, Kosuke sees that she's undoing her up-do just to tie it up again. "I'm practically going there for free. Only for two years, though. After that, Paris."
"What do you need to go to Paris for?"
The look Okina gives him is not angry, just a little offended. "France is where ballet was invented! I mean, after Italy, anyway. If I had the money, I'd be running there within the month. But it's fine. I just have to save up for the dorm and tuition and then I'm out of here."
"That makes sense," says Kohta. Sarcasm is dripping from his words. "Save up thousands of dollars for something that you could get here for ten times cheaper."
Okina tries to glower at him, but it's really just an adorable pout. "I don't need your blessing, thank you."
"So you two will be going to school together, right? Kosuke?" Kohta looks down at her with his head still throbbing. "Kosu...Did you actually fall asleep?"
He and Okina both sigh at the sight: Kosuke, head turned into Kohta's chest, softly breathing, totally limp. She even has a little bubble swelling and deflating from her nose. He could've been gentle about it, but since this was far from the first time he's had to carry her to the nurse's office, Kohta just tosses her up like a sheet of pizza dough.
Kosuke lets out a strangled scream, like a startled animal, and latches her hands wherever they can grab. She tries to glare at her boyfriend, but heavy with sleep, it looks more like she's intoxicated. "Whaaaat?"
"Yes, she's going to Seneca, too." Okina leans over Kohta so that Kosuke can see her glare better. "She would be going for free, too, if she actually applied to the scholarships."
Kohta frowned. "We spent a whole afternoon working on those?"
"We did," says Kosuke. She looks like she wants to fall asleep again, but she refrains. "But they couldn't read my handwriting, so they sent all the papers back and...Yeah. I just didn't do them again."
Okina turns her eyes on Kohta. "I'm not the only one very concerned, right?"
"Nope," he sighs. His eyes kind of soften when Kosuke presses her fingers to her lips, kisses them, then presses them to his cheek.
"You can't keep doing this."
"Hi, Mom. Nice to see you, too. You look heavenly."
Emiko takes a deep breath. The hands kneading the dough in front of her stop. When her gaze goes to her daughter, her usually bluish-gray eyes look stormy black. She would have looked absolutely chilling if it wasn't for the flour stained on her face. Actually, no. She's chilling.
"Don't you 'Hi, Mom' me," she snaps.
Kosuke sends an uneasy look at the stairs. They're pretty close; close enough for her to run for if she needs to.
"Did I not wipe the counters good enough?" she asks timidly. "In all honesty, I can't get that red stain off with bleach, and I don't think it's jam."
The oven dings, and Emiko gives her another icy look as she stuffs her hand into an oven mitt. Once she pulls the tray of rolls out, a sweet, warm aroma fills the air. Kosuke's stomach rumbles, especially when her mother dips a brush in a cup and starts slathering butter on the pastries. But she's not going to risk it—heaven knows Emiko would kill her. At the least, bite her arm off.
"The school called today," Emiko continues. "Said you were once again in the nurse's office because of high blood sugar and low everything else."
"In my defense, if you can tell that a student is a few seconds away from collapsing, you shouldn't make her run the track."
"Yes, Kosuke." The rolls go back in the oven, and Emiko pins Kosuke down with another look. "You deserve special treatment for not working as hard as everyone else. You realize you're an adult now, right? You can't just lie on your back and ask for rewards. That's not how the world works."
"I'm an adult, but you won't let me get a job?"
"You can't get a job here because if you aren't stuffing your face full of the stuff we need to sell, you're taking two hours to clean a table. You can get a job anywhere else, but you won't, because that's just who you are. You don't try at anything."
"I'm trying with photography!"
"Which you're not making money off of, anyway, and when are you going to decide that it's boring, too? You've done the same with literally every other hobby you've pursued."
"I like to think it gave me a wide range of skills."
"You know what? Go talk to your father. I'm not having this conversation while I'm icing cupcakes."
Emiko snatches up a pastry bag full of chocolate frosting and storms away. Kosuke sighs and leaves for the other kitchen. After she grabs a strawberry from the bin.
The Lily Bowl has two floors—the first for the actual restaurant, the second for the Nakaharas' home. The restaurant also has two kitchens in technicality. One for pastries and sweets and whatever else, the other for meals and other non-dessert delicacies. It is in the latter one that Kosuke finds her stepfather, Marti, carving up a chicken.
Marti is the opposite of his wife in many ways. She is gifted in sweet, he in savory. Emiko has the temper of a Tasmanian devil, Marti is almost always as cool as a cucumber.
Their appearances hold even more differences. Emiko's eyes are a stormy blue, Marti's are chocolate brown. Emiko's hair is almost white, it is so blonde; Marti's changes from brown to black depending on the light. Emiko is not snowy, but she is pale, and Marti's skin is caramel. Emiko is almost smaller than her oldest daughter, while Marti still has good muscle for a man his age. Even their hair is different. Emiko's has always been neat and flawless, while Marti's shoulder-length waves are always untidy, the same as his goatee.
Coming to her stepfather, Kosuke has no fear. In fact, the momentary smile he gives her eases her nerves a bit. The chicken he's carving smells heavenly, but Kosuke isn't going to try to nibble at it. Sure, she's a ravenous pit, but she won't swipe off another person's plate.
"Hello," Marti greets her as she walks in. She sits down on a lone stool, and he says, "I'm assuming your mother sent you in?"
"You assume correctly," Kosuke sighs.
Marti sets the chicken on a plate, then goes for the roasted potatoes. "What happened today? Sugar coma? Loss of bodily function?"
Kosuke shakes her head. "I couldn't finish phys-ed."
Marti lets out a short sigh, but that's about it. Once he's done shoveling potatoes, he sprinkles a bit more spice onto the chicken and wow Kosuke is really hungry right now.
"Kosuke, I want to ask you something, and I want you to be honest."
"Do you feel good right now?"
"I'm not proud of myself, no."
"No, sweetheart, I mean physically. Do you feel okay?"
While Marti goes to the front with the plate in hand, Kosuke thinks about it. She can move her limbs. She doesn't have a headache. She's hungry.
"Yes," she says.
Marti, unconvinced: "Really?"
"Okay. See that tray?"
He points behind her. There's a tray with just a few unwashed dishes and silverware behind her. Not that there's really anything that can deter Kosuke's appetite, but admittedly, the leftover crumbs and grease and whatnot looks pretty gross.
"Yeah," she says.
"Can you pick it up?"
Kosuke gives him a look, but he meets it easily. "Yes, I can pick it up!"
"Okay. Do it."
Kosuke looks back at the tray and tries to think about how heavy it probably is. Sweat breaks out over her skin.
Thankfully, Marti rounds the table and picks it up himself. He carries it to one of the washing machines, but once it's there, he points to it and tells Kosuke, "Take care of this."
It's a gentle command, and Kosuke takes it. While she's walking, another order comes from the front, and Marti immediately goes to the grill. Kosuke is busy pulling clean plates out and stacking them on the rack, but she can feel her stepfather sending looks her way. (And the other two cooks and the waiters, who know how horrifyingly she does dishes.)
"I suppose I should be angry," he says at last. "Grounding and lecturing and whatnot, but I'll be honest: I'm just concerned."
It honestly hurts just a little more than her mother's words, but Kosuke keeps her eyes trained on the plates in her hands. "You shouldn't be."
"I disagree." Kosuke can hear something sizzling. "You're two weeks from graduation and you can't do more than two minutes of physical labor without collapsing. It doesn't bode well for your adult life. Which has technically already begun."
Kosuke shook off a glob of uneaten cheese into the trash and stuffed the plate into the dishwasher. When she looked back at Marti, he was intent on his work, watching cheese and bread pop and sizzle. Another order was called, and he went to retrieve it. The evening rush was winding down, but they still had a busy night to go.
"If it makes you feel any better, I'm not going to be doing anything physically demanding anytime soon. This is the beauty of photography! You take pictures of stuff that makes you feel good, and you don't even have to break a sweat over it."
"Fair enough," he sighs. He flips the sandwich on the grill, then adds, "But counterpoint: Just because you don't have to do anything 'physically demanding' doesn't mean you don't have to worry about your health. And photographers aren't exactly in high demand; that's why we want you taking over the restaurant when you can."
"Doesn't it kind of bother you guys that you want me to be more...more, but you also want me to take over a business the second I'm out of college?"
"Every single day, my dear. Every single day." When Kosuke does not respond, he continues, "It's not that we're disappointed, it's that we're worried."
"But you shouldn't be worried," Kosuke counters.
Emiko's head appears in the doorway, glaring daggers at her daughter. When Kosuke meets the stare without too much effort, Emiko's pink lips pull together, ruining it all into a pout. She always lost the effect when she tried to twist her mouth.
"That's easy for you to say," she snaps, "when you're not spending thousands of dollars to your education!"
Kosuke doesn't get to respond to this, because Marti shoves a plate with a fresh grilled cheese sandwich under her nose, bats his eyelashes, and practically sings, "Number 14, please~!"
Emiko's nose wrinkles unhappily, but nevertheless, she takes the plate and disappears back into the other kitchen. Marti picks up the next order on his was back inside.
"You are who you are," he continues. "But just as a warning: you can't expect to run on favors."
Kosuke puts in the last fork, then turns her eyes on him. She's hoping her glare hides the shameful fact that her back hurts despite the very, very minimal work she's just completed. "Who said I was?"
"Certainly not me," Marti replies, because he always becomes very confusing at some point during these conversations. "I'm honestly not that angry with you, especially considering this is nothing new. But I think your mother wants to finish this conversation later. So just keep your ears open, okay?"
That's as close to a dismissal as he would ever get. Kosuke leaves the kitchen then—after she grabs a carrot slice from the bin—and carefully avoids her mother on the way upstairs.
The second floor has five rooms—a bedroom for Marti and Emiko, one for Kosuke, one for Minami and Hitsuji, and two bathrooms. This is essentially the reason why the Nakaharas never have company over. They have no living room or family room or whatever you want to call it, unless they want their company sitting at the wooden tables of the restaurant room.
Kosuke's room is the first door off the stairs, and once she opens the door, Kosuke is once again hit with the shameful yet ineffective realization that she really lives in a pig sty. Her room is already kind of small, and with her dresser, bed, and desk, there's only one spot on the floor where a person could lie down without touching anything. But Kosuke will admit that keeping the place looking like a washed-up rockstar's decrepit apartment doesn't exactly help. The bed is never made up, the drawers never close all the way, and the garbage can is so full of chip bags, candy wrappers, and soda cans that some have to rest on the desk. She also neglects to do much dusting of the place, and her hamper is full of unwashed clothes, as always.
It's an improvement, though. It isn't like last year, when she had a trail of ants running through the window every other week.
Kosuke almost feels a physical line pulling her to the bed, but the second her knees touch the mattress, her phone rings.
From: 3 Kohta 3
We're all going to hang out in town. Do you wanna come?
Honestly, she doesn't, because the thought of walking around town for the next few hours already makes her bones feel tired. At the same time, she knows from experience that lying down and doing nothing for the next few hours will make her feel worse, so Kosuke responds with a simple "Sure." On her way out, she runs her fingers along the bedsheets and gives a whispered, "Soon, my love..."
Once she's out the door, Kosuke takes a moment to glance into Minami's room. Her younger sister is nowhere to be found, in her bed or at her desk or on the floor. Kosuke doesn't think much of it, assuming that she's outside somewhere. In contrast, Hitsuji is in his bed. Despite the "bumpers" on either side of the mattress, he's still as stone except for his rising and falling chest. Kosuke tiptoes over and pulls his blanket just so over his middle. He makes a sleepy coo in response, but doesn't wake, and oh, if Kosuke's heart doesn't just melt at how adorable her little brother is. With one last look, she continues down.
A few more customers have left since she went upstairs. Maybe seven people remain, but Kosuke's parents are still bustling about. Kosuke passes by one of the waiters, Suzu or something, as she goes behind the counter.
"Kohta and Okina want to hang out," she says. "Can I go?"
Emiko turns to her so fast, Kosuke won't be surprised if she suffers whiplash. She also won't be surprised if Emiko throws the apple tart in her hand straight at Kosuke's head.
"You're grounded," she cries, almost in confusion. "What do you think?"
"I haven't gone out with everyone for months!"
"That is your fault."
Years of practice always pay off. Tears come to Kosuke's eyes in an instant, her lip wobbling pathetically. "I may not be able to see any of them after graduation..."
That gets her an apple slice to the face. "No."
Before Kosuke can retort, a little voice cries out, "Is Kosuke going out?"
Kosuke knows the voice belongs to Minami, but neither her nor her mother can spot her. Which is very odd, because the kitchen is really not that big.
"No," Emiko replies, but her voice is more confused than stern. "Where are you?"
Emiko and Kosuke look up and start. Minami has somehow crawled ask the way up one of the freezers, and now her head is about five inches away from the ceiling. Her wild brown curls are so long that they spill over the top of the freezer.
"I want to go!" she sings.
"The only place you're going is down here," snaps Emiko. "Come on!"
Minami huffs, but complies. She twists around until her legs dangle in the air, then just drops. Kosuke knew that she would stick the landing, but she still reaches out to put her hands on her sister's hips.
"What were you doing up there?" asks Emiko.
"I was bored," says Minami. She's very nonchalant about it. "My bicycle's tire popped."
"So you're cooped up in here?" Kosuke asks. When Minami nods, Kosuke sighs in despair and pulls her closer. "Alas! The young one has nowhere to go but the quiet confines of her home! If only she could venture outdoors with a trusted chaperone. An older sister, mayhaps."
Emiko's eyes are as cold as an Antarctic winter. "No."
Minami tugs on her sister's shirt. Big brown eyes blink up at Kosuke. "Why can't we go?"
"Mom is imprisoning us," Kosuke sighs in response.
Marti's head peeks in through the doorway. "What's this about prison?"
Minami is quick to explain, "Mommy's imprisoning us." Then she tugs on Kosuke's shirt again. "What does 'imprisoning' mean?"
Emiko turns to her husband with crossed arms and pinched lips. "Kosuke wants to go out with Kohta and her friends, even though she's grounded."
"I want to go, too!" Minami cuts in.
Marti sighs and sets an order on the counter. While Suzu swipes it up and walks away, he looks between his daughters. "Grounded does mean grounded. We can't keep making exceptions."
"You said I'm good, like, next week?" At Marti's nod, Kosuke continues, "That's only five days!"
"Exactly," Emiko snips. She's trying to keep her voice stern, but Kosuke can tell she's smug about winning. "You can wait it out."
Kosuke looks between her parents—Emiko hard and glaring, Marti soft and shrugging. She has lost the battle, it seems. So it's time for the secret weapon.
"Alright, Minami." She kneels down and runs a hand through her sister's curls. "Looks like we're stuck here." When Minami starts to whine, Kosuke hushes her. "It's okay! There's other stuff we can do! What's that new song you came up with?"
Emiko and Marti's eyes go wide with horror, but Minami's light up like fireworks. "'The Scream Song!' We can sing it together!"
When Kohta said "we", Kosuke had assumed he just meant him and Okina. Instead, when Kosuke and Minami arrive at Ginza Street, she sees that it's Kohta, Jet, Tomoko, and Okina awaiting them. Jet has crawled up a lamppost, because of course he has, while Tomoko is clicking away at a NintendoDS.
Kohta waves Kosuke over, but when he sees Minami, he pauses. "What's she doing here?"
There's really no polite way to ask it. Minami steps behind Kosuke. Kohta had only been over to her house about six times, all short. Minami did not dislike Kohta, neither did she like him. He's just a stranger to her, nothing more or less, but that would change in time. Kosuke squeezes her sister's hand.
"I needed an escort," Kosuke jokes. "She'll keep me out of trouble, I promise."
Okina snorts softly as she walks to Kosuke. While she fixes her collar and tidies her red hair, she tells her friend, "I'm going to be very disappointed if a child does a better job of motivating you than me."
Okina goes to Minami and immediately swoops her into her arms. Minami doesn't mind at all, and does not notice when Jet lands next to Kohta from a seven-foot fall and mumbles, "We're seriously going up babysit? This isn't what I came here for."
"You weren't even invited," Kohta snaps at him.
Kosuke doesn't want to start anything, so she just promises, "She's sweet. Won't be a problem."
Jet stuffs his hands into his pockets. "Hope not. I need a damn break from school."
A shoe collides with the back of his head, making him yelp. Kosuke stomps over, picks her shoe back up, and growls, "Don't curse in front of her. "
Their evening goes about as normally as Kosuke could have hoped. She and the others hop from store to store, sometimes making purchases, other times just trying to prevent Jet from breaking something expensive. Kosuke takes many pictures, some of the others, most of the sunset sky and the store signs that light up one by one as it slowly gets darker and darker.
Minami sticks with Okina and Kosuke for the most part. Kosuke can't really blame her—the others are basically strangers to her—but there is definitely something awkward in that her younger sister doesn't talk to her boyfriend much at all. Still, she doesn't seem to dislike him, so that's something. Once, Kosuke had kinda-sorta gone out with another boy from her class. It didn't last long at all, which was good, because the one time that the guy met Minami, she'd very nearly gotten away with putting silica in his food.
It's a calm and enjoyable night, but it's weighed down by the feeling that something is wrong with Kohta.
He stills walks beside her, still takes her hand, still smiles at her when she smiles at him. Yet, Kosuke has a sinking feeling every time she looks his way. His eyes don't sparkle like they usually do. His smiles don't feel real at all. He almost seems to be squirming on the spot at every second, but Kosuke cannot for the life of her tell why.
They all decide on one last endeavor for the night and walk to the nearest available nature path. Karuizawa is full of them, for good reason. The forests are beautiful, especially those closer to the mountain, and walking through them is always a serene experience. The wooden walkway is dotted with electric lanterns, but their light is dull.
The real light comes from the fireflies that flicker on and off all around them. Minami is instantly over the moon, of course, and absolutely begs Kosuke for her cup. Kosuke pours the rest of her soda into a water fountain, gives the clear plastic cup to her sister, and watches as she drags Okina into the hunt.
"She's sweet," Kohta says beside her.
"As sugar," Kosuke agrees.
She realizes that they are alone for the first time of the night. The others are a good distance ahead. Tomoko is swatting the fireflies away, Jet is trying to squash one in his palm, and Okina and Minami have successfully caught two already. Even though Kosuke can hear their laughter and yelling, she wraps her arm around Kohta's and leans into his shoulder.
She lives for moments like these, where everything else seems to just disappear and it's just the two of them.
"You know I'm going to Oshimi, right?"
"Yes?" she replies, but she has no idea why he's bringing this up.
Kohta isn't walking so fast anymore. In fact, they are very close to not moving at all.
Kosuke takes her head off his shoulder and looks up at him. Kohta is looking down at his shoes with a pensive expression. His jaw is set in a way that she is very familiar with. He's upset about something and isn't talking about it. Which—even though Kosuke loves him, let it not be said she doesn't—is very Kohta of him.
"We're not going to be seeing each other much anymore," he mumbles.
Kohta's arm feels very stiff in hers now, so Kosuke lets go of it. She does not reach for his hand, but does not step away, either. Instead, they stroll side-by-side, never touching save for the occasional brushes of their arms against one another.
"We've talked about this," Kosuke reminds him. "We'll text every day. We'll see each other over breaks. I'll send pictures, and you can send me lyrics you're working on. Or food. I'll take food, too. But I want at least one song waxing poetry about my eyes or some other cheesy thing."
She's trying to joke with him, but it does nothing. Kohta still isn't looking at her. He only raises his eyes when she stops right in front of him.
"If something's wrong, you have to tell me." She reaches for his hand. Her touch is light, barely holding onto his fingers, but she doesn't take her eyes off of him. "I told you—I can't fix the problem if I don't know what it is."
"The problem..." Kohta takes a breath. His fingers twitch over hers. "The problem is that I don't know if that'll actually work."
"Kohta, I get it. I need to remember not to keep my phone on silent because you might really need to talk to me. I know. Trust me, I got enough of that talk from my mom the time that I ended up stuck in halfway across the country—"
"That's not what I meant."
"If you're too busy to come down here, I can go up there." She winks at him. "As long as you promise not to introduce me to your new girlfriend, huh?"
Kohta does not smile back at her. "That's not what I meant, either."
"You know I was just joking when I told you to send me food, right? Unless that is not the problem, in which case, I am still joking, but such givings would not go unappreciated—"
"Kosuke, please. I'm being serious."
Kosuke's jaw tightens up despite herself. "I know you are, but you have to help me out here. I can't read your mind."
Kohta chews on the inside of his cheek for a moment. Her looks her up and down, from the top of her head to her toes, and finally asks, "Point-blank? No beating around the bush?"
"Yes, if you will."
"I don't think you're going to do all that stuff."
It honestly catches her off-guard, and she's stuck staring at him somewhat stupidly for a long moment. Behind her, she can no longer hear the others, and maybe they've gone on without them, but whatever. It's still just her and Kohta and nothing else in the world, but it's not warm anymore. It's cold in the worst, awkward way.
"I can figure out a schedule to come see you, if that's what you mean," she tells him. She sounds a bit too whiny to her own ears, not serious enough, but she can't help it. She's still stuck prodding at him until he gives her something to work with. "I know taking a bus that far is kind of tricky, but if you can do it, then..."
"I mean I don't think you're going to choose to do all that stuff. You're...Listen, you wouldn't finish one essay to a college that could define your future. Would you really text me on-end every day? Is coming more than a hundred miles to see me going to be easier than walking one lap for class?"
It's probably the bluntest he's ever been with her, and it hurts. It's that terrible sting right in the gut that she hasn't felt for a long time, but she's familiar with enough.
Knowing that someone you love expects little from you should always be heartwrenching—but Kosuke hates to admit that she's gotten used to that knowledge in regards to her parents and Okina. It's only gut-twisting now because...She doesn't quite know. Maybe because she knows that her best friend and her parents won't cut her loose because of her shortcomings.
But with Kohta, it's like she was trying to prove something without even realizing it. She doesn't want Kohta to think that she was lazy and sluggish and uninterested in most things, even though she is.
"I..." She's already talking before she can stop herself. Her thoughts have stopped running, and she sputters without them. "Those things are different, Kohta. I...Look, I know I make dumb choices, and I don't take things as seriously as I should. But I take you seriously. And to answer your question, yes, texting you every day would be easier than writing an essay, and yes, traveling miles to see you would be easier than physical education."
"How do I know that?"
"Because I hate writing essays and running track, but I love you, so I'll put an effort into it."
This gives him pause. His eyes soften, his fingers loosen up where they're folded into his elbows. Kosuke doesn't know if it's guilt she sees in his eyes, but she hopes it isn't. She doesn't want him to feel guilty about being honest about his feelings, she just doesn't like that he has the feelings he's being honest about.
"I'm not saying you don't," he tells her. "But it feels like us being together now, when we see each other every day, already takes too much energy out of you. So what is it going to be like when—?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean—how many times have I finally gotten away from studying and stuff, but we weren't able to see each other because you'd pretty much put yourself into a sugar coma?"
"I don't know; a couple of times. You've had to cancel on me before, too?"
"Because I was busy, not because I drank too much syrup!"
"Well, I don't want to vomit on your shoes! And I wouldn't do that if I knew I was going to see you. Your schedule is too—" Kohta sighs, and Kosuke shuts her mouth. She tries again. "I'm really, really not trying to turn this around on you. I'm just saying...If I screwed up before, it wasn't because I wasn't taking us seriously, it was because I made dumb choices that affected us later. And I'm sorry that I made those choices. Really."
"I know you are." Kohta swipes his bangs from his face. A firefly drifts past his ear. "I just...How do I know you're going to get better?"
"Because now I know there's a problem, and I can fix it."
"You've been told about problems before. Sleeping in and missing class, turning in papers late, not keeping up in P.E...How is this different?"
"I already told you," Kosuke insists. "Because it's you. Kohta, I'm as lazy as they get, I'll always admit to that. But that's just me. I would never try to let you down. I would never care so little that I hurt you."
Kohta does not say anything to this. Kosuke can't read him at all, can't tell if he's thoughtful or angry or anything else. She wants to reach out to him, to take his hand again, but she doesn't. She just steps closer and wraps her arms around herself.
"Is this why you've been quiet all night?" she asks.
He looks up at her for just a moment. "You noticed."
"You kind of do the potty-dance when you're nervous; no offense." This at least gets a hesitant, quick smile out of him. Kosuke takes the little victory in stride. "Hey, listen..."
She reaches her hands out to him, palms-up. He hesitates for just a second, but it feels much longer to Kosuke before he puts his hands in hers. She pulls them close to her chest. Running her thumbs over his knuckles, she realizes she hasn't done this in quite some time. When was the last? When he was upset that he was not accepted into his first-choice college, or before then?
"I promise," she says. "I promise that I'm going to try for you. I'm really going to make an effort for us. At least give me a chance, okay?"
Kohta's hands twitch in hers. His emerald eyes have gone soft watching her little thumbs run over his knuckles, but when Kosuke gives him another small smile, his lips do not quite give it back. Instead, they purse together, like he's not sure whether to frown or smile. She really wants him to smile, but she doesn't know what else to do.
When he speaks, it's barely above a whisper. "Kosuke..."
"OH THANK GOD!"
Kosuke very nearly screams when an arm comes crashing down on her shoulder. Kohta lets out a strangled yelp as the same happens to him, and soon, they're both squished together against Jet's cologne-heavy hoodie.
"We got to the end and you guys weren't there," Jet breathes. "We thought we lost you."
Behind him, Tomoko rolls her eyes. Regardless, her fingers don't stop moving on her phone. "It would be so nice if you would stop being dramatic for two seconds."
Okina is lagging behind them, courtesy of the half-asleep child slung across her back. Minami's eyes are blinking slower and slower. One arm is dangling limply from Okina's shoulder, the other lazily holding onto the cup in her hands. Six fireflies flicker around inside, and maybe Kosuke should have cleaned the soda from it first, but whatever.
Okina does not look amused when she comes to them. Okina loves Minami like the sister she never had, but she could not ignore that the girl was crushing her against her back.
"Are you guys ready to go?" she asks. "It's the little princess' bedtime and I'd rather she not miss it."
"Uh..." Kosuke hesitates. She knows that Okina does not understand the weight of the conversation, she hadn't heard any of it, but some irrational part of her is still annoyed that she and Kohta were interrupted. Jet's squawking and Tomoko's phone-clicking were not sounds she wants to hear at the moment. "Yeah, let's head home."
Hearing this, Minami perks up just enough to reach for her sister with both hands. "Carry me..."
Okina moves closer to Kosuke, but it's just a taunt. A powermove. She's already giving Kosuke a knowing, unimpressed glare before the redhead even shakes her head.
"I can't carry you, Minami, you know that," she chuckles in the most awkward way imaginable.
Minami gives a whine of disappointment, but otherwise does not protest. Okina gives her one last "I'm getting to be a better sister than you" look before turning on her heel to continue down the walkway. Tomoko follows shortly.
Jet laughs a great, loud, kind-of-sounds-like-a-duck-quack laugh. He slaps Kosuke on the back, and while it probably wouldn't feel like much to others, it practically knocks the wind out of her. "You're so friggin' weak."
"You can't open a pickle jar and you know it," Kosuke snarks back, but he's already gone, hands clasped behind his head as he saunters after the others.
Looking back at Kohta, she knows he's feeling just as annoyed. He scratches his cheek for a second, then walks forward like it's the only thing he can do. Kosuke falls into step beside him and rests a hand on his shoulder. He hesitates.
"We can talk about this later," she offers. "We can text, or meet up—"
"No, it's fine. I think we're good."
Kosuke can only blink for a second. "We're good?"
Surprise melts into relief. He gives a smile first this time, and however small and unsure it is, she returns it. He doesn't shy away when she wraps her arm around his.
Kosuke knows she can be a little pathetic at times, and she doesn't blame Kohta for his low expectations. But yes, Kosuke will get better, she knows that now. If not in school or work or even photography, then for the two of them. She's a sap. Sue her.
They continue down the walkway and its many fireflies, arm-in-arm, probably not perfect, but okay enough.