Furihata Kouki happily dug into the soft pastry, the cream smeared all over his cheeks with a speck or two stuck to the tip of his nose. It was the pastry he preferred most, the one with lots of filling in the center, with the giant cherry on top. He would have it every other day, since he was warned the sugar was bad for his teeth, and would sit in the same chair, at the same table, at the same time of day.
“Oh, careful!” a middle-aged woman giggled, “You’re getting it all over you, Little Kouki!”
The eight-year-old scrunched his face as it was scrubbed with a wet cloth, his cheeks flopping as the baker cleansed him of any caked-on leftovers. This was one of his favorite places to be. The warm and appetizing atmosphere reminded him of when his mother used to bake when they lived together.
When Kouki was around four, his mother had passed on, leaving him and his older brother. The location of his father was unknown, and Kouki didn’t know if he ever met him. Maybe once when he was two, but it had only been by chance. He wasn’t even sure if it was him, but it did resemble what he knew about him. That had been the only time, if it was actually him, that he had seen his father. They had never spoken, and the only acknowledgement he had given that Kouki existed was a sparse glance in his direction.
His mother had done a wonderful job in caring for them, but his brother had one day found a line of work that supported them to a great deal. Especially when their mother started to become ill. When she passed, his brother had taken him to a strange part of town, a neighborhood that he claimed would take good care of them. At the time, his brother had stated this was the place the person he worked for owned.
Kouki didn’t think much of it. He was treated kindly, offered many goodies, and had a warm place to sleep. That was all that mattered to him, and he had his brother, his only remaining family. That was more than enough.
Now, four years later, he had become accustomed to what went on these parts. The numerous men in really nice suits patrolling the streets, the shiny objects they carried before they were concealed in some place on their belts, the loud noises that occurred deeper in the streets. Although he still didn’t understand why or what was happening, Kouki knew it was simply part of where he now lived.
They were a family, inviting Kouki and his brother to be part of it as well. Together, they were a larger one. Something he had always yearned to have since he lost his mother so many years back, and barely knew of his father. They took care of him and his brother, and from what he knew, his brother was happy being there. That was all that mattered, right?
The head of their family was Ueno-sama. He would take Kouki through the town, letting him go into shops and look at all the pretty trinkets. He treated Kouki nicely, as though he was actually part of his real family, and Kouki liked him a lot. Almost always did Ueno-sama have a smile on his face, a wide one that made Kouki feel right at home, where he knew he belonged.
But there were times when Ueno-sama was angry. Not at Kouki or his brother, but about other families. At least, that’s what he heard when he had accidentally eavesdropped one afternoon when chasing a wandering kitty. He didn’t know what that meant. Were there other families like his, that walked around the streets with shiny objects in their pockets and made loud noises when they removed them from their hiding place?
Kouki didn’t know.
He dusted himself off, and climbed from the chair in the bakery, carefully landing his feet on the ground. Thanking the woman, he made his exit, walking down the stairs and entering the town.
His brother would soon be returning from the job he had for the day. What job it was, Kouki didn’t know, but it was usually around the same time he came back. All he knew was it helped out a lot, and that was great to know that since it made him happy. If he was happy, so was everyone else in the family. That was how it worked, how it had always worked, and how it would continue to work.
“Over here, Kouki!”
He rushed toward a taller version of himself.
His brother was quick to meet him, pulling him into his embrace and lifting him from the ground. Kouki instantly wrapped his arms around his neck, his head taking refuge against Shouhei’s shoulder.
“Good job today!” Kouki praised, even if he didn’t understand what he was praising exactly. “How was it?”
Kouki was too innocent. He didn’t understand anything, which was probably how he missed the frown on his brother’s face. It was quickly hidden by one of his friendly smiles.
“Ah, it was fine.” He ruffled Kouki’s hair. “What did you do today while I was gone?”
“Visited Kita-san. She gave me my favorite pastry!”
Shouhei flicked his nose. “I can see. You still have a bit of cream on you.”
“I didn’t want her to keep cleaning me.” Kouki scrunched his face. “That rag is wet and gross!”
His brother laughed. “Did you want to go to the park? I’m done with my job right now, so we can go there if you want.”
Kouki looked up at the sky. “Is it going to rain today?”
“Not that I know of. We can go for a little bit, then come back and have dinner with Fukuda-san and Kawahara-san. Would you like that?”
They would go to the park, have dinner with the only two friends he had, and Shouhei would tuck Kouki into bed before he disappeared into the night. Kouki didn’t know where he went. All he knew was it was part of his job. He didn’t ask any questions; he knew better than to. Ueno-sama had taught him that.
Even if Kouki was clueless on what it was.
That was how it always was, how it had always been, and how it would continue to be.
No questions ever asked.