A group of children was playing harmoniously among themselves.
Three boys laughed joyfully.
Their directions in life were different.
Their personalities too differed.
And even their preferences were distinct.
The ally of justice.
Yet despite that, they got along.
Perhaps they each thought that they couldn’t leave the other two alone, and the troublemaker would plot, while the ally of justice would get angry, and the underachiever would smile wryly.
The ally of justice would charge ahead, while the underachiever would buy time, and the troublemaker would lay the groundwork.
The underachiever would say a few words, and the ally of justice and the troublemaker would become startled and stop.
These were the innocent, dream-like days of a group of boys.
They played together, studied together, fell together, cried together, laughed together───and were scolded together.
That was especially so when the mother would come running at the slightest hint of something amiss.
“You brats! What mischievousness are you brats up to this time!?”
They would flinch every time they were given an earful.
“But, Mom, all we did was take out the trash.”
“Don’t worry, Aunt. No one noticed it was us.”
“Sorry, the most I could do was make their plans peaceful.”
Oh, yes. Despite the way they were acting, they were in fact flinching.
“Oh, goodness, truly a bunch of helpless children… How terrifying.”
Though she seemed to scold them, she merely lamented how troublesome they were and never said anything to deny them.
She didn’t tell the other parents of their pranks either.
Of course, she wouldn’t cover for them if their actions went too far, but regardless, there was no way for the children to understand her thoughts.
───Ah, perhaps that’s why.
The underachieving boy woke up from a moment of nostalgia and thought to himself.
“I think I’ll punch him after all.”
It was already early summer, but this was Hokkaido, so the temperature wasn’t too hot and was instead at a comfortable level.
However, the sky did not appear all that comfortable, its discontent displayed through clouds that partially covered the sky.
Even the weather forecast could only say that there was a 50% chance for rain, unsure, in the end.
The thick, gray clouds seemed to be on the verge of collapsing, evoking anxiety among the people below, yet it seemed – at least around this parts – as though they were the only ones affected by such gloominess.
In the corner of a certain cemetery, a place of rest for the masses, was a boy dressed in his old uniform in place of mourning clothes, standing before a gravestone with his hands clasped together in a prayer.
Behind him stood a woman in the prime of her youth dressed in mourning clothes.
Her fox ears and tail were usually lively, but today, they were unusually subdued, perhaps out of respect for the occasion.
“…I’m sorry for taking so long to drop by. It never crossed my mind that you might have passed away already…”
He was speaking to none other than the gravestone that stood before him. It read ‘Tomb of the Sasaki Family’.
His voice was polite, but there was a warmth and nostalgia to it that hinted at his relationship with the person.
There was also a tremor in his voice as the gravity of the situation dawned on him.
“I’m back… I’d intended to take only 2 years, but it took me 8 instead. Because of that everyone’s much older than me now… Before I knew it, I’ve become the youngest.”
He spoke light-heartedly, but there was of course no way for the tombstone before him to react.
The boy knew that too. This was not a first for him.
Despite that there was no stopping the emotions welling up from within.
Painful things were painful, and sad things were said.
“Oh, please excuse me if I’ve broken etiquette somehow. I don’t believe I’ve made any mistakes, but just in case… Getting scolded by you is just too scary.”
The gravestone and its surroundings was somewhat dirty, so he cleaned that up, placed flowers, and offered incense.
This meticulous young boy had thoroughly studied and implemented the proper way of doing those things.
Despite that he still seemed to lack confidence. Perhaps that was simply his nature, or perhaps he simply wished to appear that way to the deceased.
“But really, if you could… ‘Hey, you stupid brats…’ I’d love to hear you say those words at least one more time… You think so too right?”
A voice imbued with a nostalgic tenderness, eyes that mourned the deceased, and a gaze that, ever so slightly, shifted to something more somber, were all directed toward the approaching presence.
The person that appeared was a young man dressed in a formal suit and a black tie.
He appeared to be in his early twenties. His face and hair color made it clear at first glance that he was of Japanese descent, and while his glasses adorned a gentlemanly countenance, he also possessed the melancholic charm of a handsome young man.
Behind him, who appeared to be his escort, stood a tall, blond man with a striking beauty that was nothing like that of Japanese ethnicity, yet at the same time, it also wasn’t something identifiable with any particular nationality.
That man said nothing – though he did mind the presence of the woman – but regardless, he stood quietly there in his place, while the young man standing before him, Takeshi Sasaki, responded to Shinichi’s words with a genuinely cheerful smile and a nod.
“Yes. There are certainly times when I’d like to hear her voice.”
“Right off the bat!? Don’t you have a similar issue yourself!?”
“I’m my momma’s boy, so it’s fine.”
“Uwaah, and that usual self-centered attitude of yours reveals itself once again. How is it that someone so timid on the surface is actually so arrogant deep inside!?”
“It’s your imagination.”
“How much do you think I’ve suffered because of that!?”
“Well, sorry about that, and thanks.”
“And as usual, you’re honest in the strangest of places!”
The man and woman behind each of the two men opened their eyes wide in surprise.
It has been 2 years for Shinichi and 8 years for Takeshi but at long last, they’ve reunited, and what a lighthearted reunion it was.
It was as though they had been practicing this two-man comedy skit in secret, but…
“Fu, ku ku.”
“Fu fu, ha ha.”
Unable to contain themselves any longer, the two burst into laughter and, as if they had planned it, suddenly raised their hands and executed a perfectly synchronized high-five.
In the quiet, and for some reason deserted, cemetery, a sharp, clear sound echoed through the air as the two men exchanged glances, a testament to their close bond.
“Welcome back, Shinichi, but you took too long. There’s a limit to being late, you know.”
“I’m back, Takeshi. You’ll have to send your complaints to the turtle that carried me.
“So you basically ended up like Taro Urashima, huh…”
“Nah, I still made it in time. I was able to meet the people I wanted to meet too… Well, everyone except auntie.”
Though Shinichi continued to talk lightheartedly, Takeshi could not help but notice the sorrow in his eyes that were directed at the gravestone.
“I see,” was all Takehi said as he too placed the flowers he had on him on the grave and clasped his hands in a prayer. His escort behind him followed suit.