Extra 5: Blossoms, Windstorms, and Midnight (Ushio & Kei)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
When he returned home, there wasn’t the usual welcome at the door. Kei thought that maybe Ushio was in the basement studio or absorbed in his work in his room, but no, he was standing outside on the balcony. Kei felt a slight pensiveness from his figure, but maybe it was due to the night or the view of his back.
When Kei opened the sliding door, Ushio turned around.
“Welcome back,” he said. “Is it that time already?”
“Yeah, it’s that time.”
“Come over here for a bit.” Ushio leaned on the railing and waved Kei over.
“No way. It’s cold.”
“I’ll give you something nice afterwards.”
“Give it to me now.”
“If I do that, you won’t come out here.”
So you know me that well, huh?
Kei reluctantly put his bag down and went out to the balcony. The spring night wind blew past and brushed his skin with a distant chill. The air was cold and unsettling today.
“Look over there.”
Ushio pointed to the opposite shore of the canal. There was a park that broke up the rows of warehouses.
“I hadn’t noticed that the cherry blossoms had bloomed.”
It wasn’t anything elegant like a nighttime admiration of the cherry blossoms. From here, the trees were about the size of a thumb as they lined the banks of the canal. They weren’t even illuminated. They only appeared where street lights were present.
“It’s too bad. I should have come out to the balcony more often. It’s already past peak bloom,” Ushio said wistfully. His schedule had been packed with work lately.
It was true. Cherry blossom season could end in the blink of an eye for a busy working adult. But then Ushio said, “But I’m glad I’m able to see them before the blossoms are all gone.” It was very much like him to quickly look on the positive side of things.
“So you’re not going cherry blossom viewing with the people at your show?”
“I got a LINE that said they’re gathering sometime tomorrow, and I immediately forgot about it.”
The Prince’s motto was to never appear at any parties except for official business.
“That’s a waste.”
“Not really. What are you smiling at?”
“Because I don’t really think that it’s a waste even though I said it was.”
“I said it to be gracious, but obviously I’m happier to have you all to myself.”
What’s this? Already starting things just as I get home?
“It wasn’t like I was weighing you against the other options, okay!? I just want to laze around at home when I don’t have work!”
“Yes, yes, I was being too conceited.”
“Say it more meekly!”
Kei clapped the face that was still very full of conceit in between his hands, and unexpectedly it was completely chilled through.
Kei touched Ushio’s upper arms and hands, noticing how cold his clothes and skin were.
“Oi, I’ll charge you for touching me.”
“Stupid, I should be charging you for touching me— Wait, back to my original question. How long have you been out here!?”
“Hmm? Probably since watching the weather on The News?”
That was almost an hour ago.
“What are you doing, stupid!? Get back inside!”
“Hmmm, just a bit more~”
“3, 2, 1, okay, you’re done.”
“Too fast, too fast.”
Ushio dodged Kei’s hand that tried to grab him and wrapped his arms around Kei’s shoulders instead.
“That’s because you’re freezing!”
Even the hair and the ear that brushed against Kei’s temple were freezing.
“I’m just tired from thinking about things that were bothering me.”
Kei stopped struggling when he heard those words.
“What would you do if you get a request that has the same delivery and payment dates of another project that you’ve already accepted, and the work is about the same, but you get double the commission?”
“I’d bump the project for the new one,” Kei said simply.
“What do you tell the client that you’ve bumped?”
“I’ll tell them whatever. If I’m a freelancer, what’s wrong with taking a better job?”
“But I think that you’d pick a different option,” Ushio said, plopping his head against Kei, attaching himself like a dog or a cat.
“You’d probably do both jobs. Because you’re Kunieda-san, and you must meet everyone’s expectations.”
Kei was a little suspicious that it was a backhanded compliment, but Ushio’s voice was a serious one. Sure, there were aspects of Ushio’s job that could be similar to his own, but it wasn’t like Ushio’s work relied on hobbling projects together based on quick thinking and execution alone.
“I’m not as amazing as you, so when I’m faced with a decision where I can’t take both projects at once, I prioritize the one that I accepted first. Because I feel like I won’t like the work that I do if I get the job by stiffing another one for the prospects of more money.”
The wind was strong tonight. Every time there was a ripple on the surface of the water of the darkened canal, the reflections of the street lights swayed and broke up into little pieces. Almost like a swarm of creatures that didn’t know how to swim.
“But in the end, it still flickers in and out of my head. Like why couldn’t it have come a month earlier or later? Or I should have turned down the current job that I’m doing. Or that it wasn’t a job that needed me in particular. It’s not like they’ll wait for me when I told them that I was too busy to accept the request… It kept bothering me to the point that I couldn’t concentrate, so I came out here to cool my head down.”
When Kei finished listening to Ushio talk, he unwrapped his arm from Ushio’s back and lightly pinched him in the side. It was only a light pinch, but Ushio removed his arms and stared at Kei.
“Okay, let’s go in~”
“You’re seducing me, right?”
Wasn’t this a serious talk, you idiot? Oh, I know, you’re embarrassed about your silly whining, because you want me to spoil you. You dumb idiot.
So you finally learned how to act a little spoiled, huh? Idiot.
“You’re an idiot.”
Kei reached up to hold Ushio’s face in his hands. He seemed to feel a little warmer than before. Maybe Ushio had warmed up, or maybe only Kei had cooled down. It was all the same. As long as they got closer together, then it was fine.
“Even if the timing was the problem here, you should be grateful that you have the luxury to turn down jobs in the first place. You’re a worthless idiot after all.”
“…Yeah.” Ushio nodded a little dumbstruck. “That’s true. You’re exactly right.”
“Idiot. Standing out here in the freezing cold, of course you’re not going to find any answers.”
Maybe up until now you had found your answers like this, but it’s different now. Hurry up and realize this.
Maybe it was Kei’s fault, but it applied to the both of them, and Ushio should realize that they both had each other now.
“Thank you, Kei.”
“More importantly, hurry up and hand over the nice thing already.”
This time Kei grumbled in embarrassment. If Ushio gave an answer like “It’s me,” Kei would seriously go off on him. However, Ushio said, “Yeah, hold on, wait here,” and slipped inside the apartment.
Kei was thinking, Why do I have to wait here, but Ushio returned to the balcony in no time. He was carrying a small thermos and a mug in his hands.
“Okay, take this for me.”
Ushio handed Kei the mug and twisted open the thermos. A creamy-colored steam rose and disappeared into the darkness.
“I think it turned out alright.”
What poured into the mug was the same color of the steam—a rice porridge… Nope, a sweet and unique scent of fermentation was released with the steam.
“Yup. My head was in a jumble, so I thought that I might as well make drinks for us while I wasted my time on nonsense.”
Kei gave it a taste, and it was very sweet. But unlike the flat taste of white sugar or gum syrup, it was a penetrating sweetness where his body could sense the nourishment that bubbled from it. His body understood, Oh, this is all pure energy. The grains of rice softly touched his tongue and became sweet again when he chewed them. How long had it been since he last drank amazake? He remembered when he was a child, he had received a cup at the New Year’s shrine visit or something, but he was sure that he drank a little of it and said, “Mommy, I’ll give this to you,” and secretly foisted it on her. It hadn’t suited his tastes at the time, but now it was different.
“Is it good? Let me have some too.”
Ushio took a drink from the mug before taking a deep breath.
“Even when I can’t move forward, time does, and when I think that something can be made in that time regardless of my own situation, it makes me feel a little relieved.”
You’re really an idiot.
Kei swallowed down the murmur with the rice koji of the amazake. It was almost lukewarm, but it warmed his whole body from his throat and his stomach. Maybe the flickering thoughts bothered Ushio now, but with time, the thoughts would ferment, and Ushio would make something again. They were important ingredients for him, so he should hold on to them instead of cooling them down or throwing them away. Kei didn’t know if it would taste good or bad in the end, but something would absolutely be born.
They pressed their heads together, sharing the deliciousness from a single mug.
“It’s also supposed to be good for preventing summer heat fatigue. Let’s make a chilled amazake when it gets hot out.”
Maybe because they were talking about the next season already, but a particularly strong wind blew through, and across the canal, cherry blossoms petals snowed from the trees all at once.
“Ahh,” they both said at the same time.
The flower petals seemed to have no weight as they suddenly stopped in the light of the streetlamps and slowly, slowly fluttered down to the surface of the water. Like falling snow or falling stars. Maybe the pieces floating in the mug were sweet fragments of flower petals. Ones that Ushio made.
It would be nearly one year since they first moved here.
“…It’s too bad,” Ushio murmured, watching the last moments of the blossoms.
“They’ll probably be gone in the morning before your gathering can see them.”
Kei didn’t care about the gathering one bit, however…
“Oi.” Kei pushed the now empty mug against Ushio’s stomach.
“Hmm? Do you want seconds?”
“No… I can go with you now for a bit. If you want to see the cherry blossoms.”
“I said if you want to go out and come right back afterwards, I’ll go with you!”
“Oh? You will? Alright, I’ll take you up on the offer.”
Oi, act happier about it. You better be grateful.
Kei went inside the apartment feeling dissatisfied at the weak reaction. In order to change into his tracksuit, i.e. his uniform, he removed his suit jacket and started unbuttoning his dress shirt. Ushio had gone into the kitchen to drop off the thermos and mug first before walking over to him.
And then Ushio pulled Kei into a hard hug with all of his strength. Kei thought that he was just being playful and let him be, but it didn’t seem like Ushio was going to let him go.
“Oi, aren’t we going out!? If you drag your feet, I’ll change my mind.”
“I changed my mind. I’m fine with not going anywhere. I want to touch you.”
The hands that rolled up his undershirt dug into his hips lightly. There was no pain or stress, but Kei felt like Ushio always easily made marks into him like clay whenever he touched his skin with his heat.
Kei wondered if Ushio thought the same thing about Kei’s hands that were resting on his shoulders.
“Oi, do you understand? I’m inviting you out right now. It doesn’t even happen once a year, you know.”
Ushio followed the dip of his spine downwards and tried to slip under the constrictive belt. Well, it wasn’t like Kei wanted to go outside (it was a pain in the ass to go up and down the stairs), and yeah, it was fine, he supposed.
“We can do this any time, you know,” Kei said, a little incredulous.
“Really?” Ushio asked. “Can we really do this any time? …I never thought about it that way.”
Well, strictly speaking, it wasn’t like this was open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. But that probably wasn’t what Ushio was saying. Kei hugged the body that clung to him to press them together even closer. So close that even the wind couldn’t blow between them.
“Yeah, we can do this any time,” Kei retorted. “If you don’t think so, then I’m never forgiving you.”
If you’re not here when I want you. If you leave without saying anything. Or if you decide on your own that you want to break up. I won’t forgive you.
“Huh? Am I being criticized for something?”
“Don’t play dumb, idiot.”
Kei would bring it up again and again. No matter how many times, no matter how many hundreds of times, no matter how many springs came around. He would hold onto this grudge and criticize him, and re-expose these wounds that he had. And then he would wait for Ushio to come lick them with a heated tongue. Just like now.
Kei could hear the roar of the wind even from the bed. However, it was only for a moment; more intense urges raged inside and outside of his body, sweeping everything away but the two of them naked. And afterwards, a calm lull trickled into the darkness.
After the Storm
Kei tried rolling his sluggish body over the sheets, but he ran into nothing. When he slowly sat up in bed, Ushio came into the room with a mug in his hand.
“Be careful, it’s hot.”
Kei thought that it was coffee, but it was hot milk with amazake. There was also a little ginger in it.
“Is it good?”
“It makes me sleepy.”
“Perfect. It’s your day off.”
That was true. Kei wasn’t going out to see the cherry blossoms. And he didn’t care to see if the cherry blossoms had blown off overnight. He didn’t care about the blossoms or windstorms outside of his home. The question at present was if he should go back to sleep or demand breakfast. He decided that he would think about it until he finished his amazake milk.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.