Tai kisses Touma.
It is young and beautiful and as foolish as all those pop songs make first kisses to be.
He kisses Touma.
He does so open-eyed, with hands that don’t know where to go and aching fingers that want to grab at something he's not sure of.
For a moment, he wishes he had closed his eyes. Then, he regrets.
There is a cat under the bench. It's a black little thing that meows from time to time, a sweet sound he almost doesn't hear under Futaba voice.
“Sorry, you were saying that daisies… “
Futaba smiles at him, starts anew, talking about flowers and dirt and how she’s put a cactus in her room. She loves it, she says. Sometimes, she looks at it while she’s studying and it always makes her smile. Taichi nods, looks at the cat and wishes he could pet it. It makes her feel better about herself, he thinks, knowing that the cactus is still there and that she hasn't hurt it.
''Spring is coming'', she says. ''We're thinking about buying new flowers and maybe I'll put some in my window...''
The cat yawns, stretches its legs and looks and him. It has eyes so green that Taichi loses himself a little in it.
''I'm thinking about dyers madders, maybe. The flowers are little but it's yellow and I think it's very beautiful.''
He remembers, suddenly, Itachi. They were sitting in a park and a child almost fell. She was asking him something and the cat was not moving. And he went. And Touma went. And he kissed Touma and then ignored it. There is only one memory while he remembers, but the cat keeps looking at him and something inside him twinges and throbs.
''Taichi,'' Futaba has one hand in his arm. ''Are you okay?''
He's so happy she's feeling happy, he thinks, that she is talking about flowers and things she likes.
He wants to take the cat home.
She smiles, a kind smile that makes his heart ache with something he can't begin to recognize, and moves her hand from his arm. He hurts over the empty space where her hand was and he almost tells her. He's not sure what, but he opens his mouth and stops for a moment. He says:
''Itachi told me you were planting hollyhocks out? She said it was looking good.''
The cat moves out of under the bench and jumps next to him. He smiles when Futaba jumps too, surprised.
She starts to talk again and he pets the cat, content when it doesn't move away.
He wishes he had done things differently. He wishes he had done nothing at all. That is, he wishes he hadn't kissed Touma.
Tai kisses Touma in a dream, first.
It was summer and he forgot about it when he woke up. He came down from his room and sat down to have breakfast with his parents. His mother asked him about his plans for the day, his father put down his empty teacup and, then, in a flash, he remembered.
They had been in Touma’s room, one of these dreams that were an altered memory of something that has happened in reality. Touma was trying to say something, looking at the floor, with a troubled face that always makes Tai’s heart feel constricted.
He had sit next to him on the bed, took Touma’s head in his hands and put his mouth against Touma’s. Breathed against him loudly, unable to hear what he was saying. It suspiciously sounded like his own name.
Tai stopped eating, the spoon rattling loudly in the screaming silence of his own head.
''I think I have no plans for today, mum.''
He wondered what Touma was trying to say, in his dream. In his memory. He had been eating Touma’s words, by kissing him. He knew, then, that he had been preventing Touma of talking. He realized that he had been stopping Touma.
He took his phone out and sent Touma a message:
“Sorry, not feeling well. Can’t meet today.”
Touma glass is empty, but he keeps it in his hand, turning it left and right as he talks about the last match he played. Tai itches to ask him if he wants more juice or maybe water, but instead he listens and nods and pays attention until the glass tipples a little and then, before he knows what he's doing, he has Touma hand and the glass trapped in his fingers.
He blinks. Once, twice. He distantly notes that he wants to scream.
His thumb is on Touma’s thumb. He moves it a little, feeling the hot skin under his skin, feels himself on the edge of trembling. He moves his forefinger too.
He puts the glass and Touma’s hand on the table, hits his knuckles against Touma’s arm before pulling his hand away.
He blinks, again. He feels too awake.
Futaba says she is not talking with her family, that she got angry, finally, she says she reached her limit and said no, not anymore. And it felt like waking up for a too long dream or a nightmare that seems too true to be fake, do you know what I mean, Taichi?
“No,” he says.
The cat meows.
“Yes,” he says.
It's the same park, but a different bench. The cat has been getting closer for minutes now, laying down before opening its green eyes, looking at them and approaching them some more before laying down again.
Futaba smiles at him.
''Do you want a cat, Taichi?''
''No,'' he says. ''Well, yes.''
She laughs a little and the cat jumps at their bench.
''I think I want this one?''
She laughs some more and he watches as she closes her eyes and lays her head on his shoulder. Her hair has grown enough that it touches her shoulders. He wonders if she will get it cut, now that she doesn't have the excuse of wanting Touma to like her.
It feels like his heart stops for a moment.
She sighs and squeezes his arm with a hand. He squeezes her hand back. Her hair tickles his neck and makes him smile. He feels comfortable with her, likes her sweet smiles and shy eyes. Envies her bravery.
''Futaba, ''he starts. ''I'm taking this cat home''
His mother screams at him. His father doesn't say anything. Taichi hugs the cat against himself and takes it until her mother sighs and goes to the kitchen to make dinner. He feeds the cat in his room, closing the door so it doesn't run into the rest of the house. He takes some old blankets from when he was a child and puts the cat on them.
He feels tired and when he sees the cat falling asleep in his old blankets, he almost follows it.
He takes a shower, puts his nightclothes on, has dinner with his family, promises to take care of the cat and when he goes to bed, he sends a photo:
''I have a kitty!!! Her name is Kuro!!!''
He's almost asleep a few minutes later when Touma answers:
Tai almost begins to explain, before he gets another message:
''When did you get a cat? Why Kuro??? It’s very… common…. And I think it’s a name for a male cat?’’
''I named it before knowing it was a kitty!''
''And it's too late for so many questions!''
'''hahaha good night''
''Good night, Touma''
He wakes up with Kuro in his face.
It's too hot, too hairy and too uncomfortable. He takes her off and puts his face down his pillow, unwilling to get up so early.
She claws at his ear.
Tai goes to see the hollyhocks with Touma. They're in a garden near the park he always goes to with Futaba, only some streets away. They're pink and they have grown enough that they're almost as tall as the garden fence. Futaba looks really proud of the garden when she sees that Taichi and Touma have come to visit the garden.
''I also put some dahlias and lilies. I thought they would look with the garden birch.''
She shows them the garden and the flowers while the owner of the house smiles and it is clear to Taichi that he likes how Futaba has fixed up his garden, even if she still is shy about it.
He almost wants to thank him, for giving her the opportunity, but he's entertained playing with the family’s dog and then he loses his opportunity when Futaba tells Touma to smell a flower.
''Hey, Tai! Come here! This one smells really good.''
''It does,'' the owner tells him. He feels like one of the birch’s branches, thin and about to break under his own weight.
Touma draws the flower close to his nose, holding it by the stem without ripping it out. They're close and his fingers ache for something and he grabs the flower’s stem and Touma's hand to hold it closer to his face. He can’t really tell how the flower smells.
He sees Touma watching him.
His character falls down and a big GAME OVER takes over the screen. Omega laughs, and Mon says:
“Come on, Taichi! Are you asleep or what? Open your eyes!”
“My eyes are open!”
I kissed Touma, he thinks. It’s nerve-wracking.
''I think she was acting cute because she wanted me to adopt her''
Touma laughs, but Tai is not joking.
''Now she's has a home, she has no reason to be adorable and has stopped lying about her attitude.''
''I am sure she is still adorable, Tai.''
''Well, yes, okay.’’
Kuro is sleeping at his bed, the old blankets forgotten in his floor. Tai thinks she wants to change their sleeping arrangements, but he will not comply, he's not going to end up sleeping on the floor.
''If she didn't sleep so much during the day, maybe she'd let me sleep at night...''
Touma pets her head between her ears and she opens her green eyes to look at him before nudging at his hand. He smiles at her and she readily jumps to his lap.
''Traitor,'' Tai murmurs.
But he isn't really feeling it.
I’ve kissed him. I’ve kissed Touma, he wants to tell Yorkie. It overcomes him like a wave and then he’s drowning.
‘’Do you ever do something and then never talk about it and never think about it?’’
‘’No. But. If you ask me that, isn’t it because you’re thinking about something?’’
‘’Then, neither do you, because you’re thinking about it.’’
Touma is trying to say something, his eyes in his half-drunk juice.
‘’Touma,’’ he says ‘’do you remember that time I kissed you?’’
‘’I thought you didn’t want to talk about it?’’
There is no clock, but Tai swears he can hear the seconds ticking away nevertheless. He’s thinking about it and he hates himself for it.
‘’I know you didn’t want to…’’
‘’It’s more like…’’ He realizes that he is interrupting Touma again. He always does and he wishes he would stop. ’’I didn’t know that wanted to’’
Touma is looking at him. He feels like a birch’s branch, he feels like he’s drowning and as if he should stop breathing just so the next exhalation never comes, as if he should stop time and not allow the next moment to be born.
He inhales and decides to hear what Touma has to say.
Kuro wakes him up at midnight, green eyes mewling from the bottom of his bed. He moves to look at her and she jumps on the bed, falling on his stomach. He doesn’t scream of the impression because it’s late, but he looks at her with a look he hopes tells her how he feels about her jumping on his body. She merely mewls again, because as Tai has learnt, she does not care about what he thinks she should or should not do, and hides her head against his neck. He smiles a little, because her whiskers tickle him a little and because there is something in the moment he recognizes, some sort of comfort that has hide away from him on the last months. He pets her back, her black fur invisible in the dark and decides to forgive her, going back to sleep with a new weight on him.
She wakes him up again later, long before his alarm clock rings, and he sighs as Kuro looks at him expectantly from next to the bundle of old blankets. Tai has no idea what she wants, but he gets up anyways. The cold gets to him quickly and he thinks she is lucky he loves her. Or, well, maybe he is the lucky one.
He takes Touma face between his hands, strong enough not to be a caress, looks into his eyes and then looks again. Bites his lips, first, kisses Touma’s lips, after.
He almost expects to feel like he’s been wide opened, like they have been released from something. But he doesn’t know what to feel, doesn’t know how to choose, and it’s something in between being untied of himself and being bounded to himself and something like the two things at the same time. It’s like thinking you can’t breathe when you are breathing:
“How much... “
Touma puts a hand in his arm and Tai is on his toes, looking up, as he always does. He feels himself exhaling, like he’s not the one who is breathing, and, finally, ready to listen to the answer, he asks:
“How much, Touma, and how free?”