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i.

 

The first person he falls in love with, in the vague sense of a child, is Ayano. Love is a strong word, though, so he's hesitant to use it, but love it is, whether familial or otherwise. 

But with her long hair and warm hands, it's a wonder that his grade-school knees don't knock harder. The candy she gives leaves a warm taste in his mouth, and when he swirls his tongue, it coats blue into his teeth. Their memories taste like candy, sweet for a child, but as he ages, tooth-aching for an adult. Well, almost adult. Something in Sakon knows a murky depth in her beyond memories, but she doesn't tell, so he doesn't find out. Their distance is supplemented by memories. When he looks back onto them in glasses, they're shaded something between red roses and gold. 

Then, she colors them in grays, blacks, and whites. Now, Sakon can't see them without the good, the bad, and whatever is in between; after all, when family hurts you, what else is there left to feel? She wants to kill him and hurt him, and there are no distinct whys he can understand. 

The knowledge leaves a bitterness that can't be erased, something akin to almonds of cyanide. 

 

ii.


About a year later, he falls in love with a kid in a red capped hat. It's love if a child ever felt it, and when his hands extend to him, Tachibana-san, Sakon definitely thinks so. Sakon, big-eyed and still fresh to life, revels in the feelings. Though as a boy, Sakon hates it; he's acting like the girl, the sissy his fellows tease him to be. Then, he begins to treasure the feelings because no matter the classmates who called him a girl, the boy gets frustrated on his behalf. It has to mean something, and if being nice is so horrible and girly and bad, he doesn't need to be manly. Kisaragi clarifies that being kind is manly; young Sakon has nothing to worry about. 

He extends a hand, offers Sakon the warmest smile. When others ask why, he doesn't go for the formal form, but a demanding form of why. Sakon holds Ukon closer at that moment, unable to speak to the puppet but desperately wanting to profess his feelings. 

"Tachibana," The boy, barely taller and older than himself, offers. "Next time, okay?" 

Next time, the boy throws the red cap on Sakon's head. Sakon catches sight of his brown hair bordering on red and feels his cheeks become the same color. Then the next time, they finally play baseball. He's never played, but in a day, he knows everything and more. Sakon builds muscle through the heat hazed days, and Ukon sits in his lonesome on a rock watching the duo play. Oi-chan comes around, and Sakon's finally able to speak to Ukon about him. 

Ukon only laughs and ruffles his hair like he's some sort of kid. 

Until he leaves elementary, they continue like that. He colors the vague memories of school exclusion with the sweet memories of a tender first. 

 

iii.


Sakon doesn't notice how much Zenkichi resembles the boy in the red cap until he falls in love with him. Love, for sure, and infatuation, a bit.  Black, almost blue hair, big, sunshine eyes and skin darker than his own -- he's closer to nothing like the boy than a bit like him, but they divide the sunshine in their eyes. After all, he's not a boy like Sakon, but a man.

He is the third and possibly the sweetest.  Slow and hard, Sakon tumbles into love beyond infatuation and candy-coated memories. There's a bit of infatuation, but it's more than that; it's more than Sakon's heart thrumming against his chest when he sees Zenkichi's tongue loll around a random bank's lollipop, stained red like the blood going elsewhere. But it's a lot of that too, and Sakon's lying if he denies it. 

It's more than that, though. It's the first time somebody outside of his family is willing to go above and beyond for him, scratching and clawing for the answers Sakon so desperately wants. Like an over-sized puppy, Zenkichi follows commands and requests and does well all around to do well. But for all he knows Zenkichi would do for him, Sakon knows Zenkichi won't force himself to love him.

Sakon can't help using it to spend time with him. Or more accurately, Zenkichi likes spending time with him and Sakon views such as the sweetest of indulgences, so they do it - hanging around Sakon's estate, going on road trips and outings together - even more. He even crawls into Zenkichi's sweaters and covers, waking up on his shoulder, a book nestled between their tangled legs. It's bordering on a relationship.

It's good like this. 

Then, Zenkichi stares at his lips for too long. He finally takes notice of himself doing it, and Sakon, hope pricking in his heart, feels his chest fog with something rotten as Zenkichi stares down at his feet, hair almost covering the eyes dull with dread. Sakon's sixteen; Zenkichi's twenty. It's completely legal, but Zenkichi swallows and scoots back. He knows what a bad idea it is, but indulges in one thing: a kiss to Sakon's forehead. It burns because Zenkichi gives nothing more but the touch of his hand. 

"Sorry," Zenkichi shakes his head with a wry, depreciating smile, "I never--" 

"...You don't need to say anything else, Zenkichi-san." 

"I don't need to, but I want to," He thumbs Sakon's cheek. "I never shoulda thought of you like that, and I'm sorry about it." 

Sakon leans into the touch and closes his eyes. Against the black, if he avoids reality, he can vividly imagine Zenkichi being with him. It's only four years, but four years is a difference. Zenkichi, he assumes, doesn't want to take away his experiences and life. But Zenkichi is young himself, and Sakon can't take that away either. None of them are in the wrong; humans are instinctual animals, and the heart desires what it desires. Sakon knows he isn't wrong for loving and knows well the laws and moral codes of a man like Zenkichi like he knows the nape of his neck. 

"Don't be sorry," Sakon says. His voice falls into a whisper, not hesitant or tongue-twisted, but soft. "I like you." 

He only thumbs at Sakon's cheek. "I'm an adult."

Sakon slumps with acknowledgement. 

"...I know,"

"Then you know I can't." And that's the end of it. 

Sakon falls asleep in his arms, but they don't cross lines. The fire that burns the brightest ends in embers, and some people are born to the wrong stars. Sakon only wishes Zenkichi doesn't have to create distance to fulfill his morality.

 

iv.

 

Sakuras, chrysanthemums, baby's breath. Shiho is innocent. Aloe, calendula, marigolds and adonis. Once upon a time, he was. Sakon isn't.

He won't corrupt her. She's nearly perfect (all humans have flaws, he reminds himself in ways that never really work) the way she is — and  instead, he corrupts himself for her. He becomes a horrible person because that's what love does. It's an emotion that makes you do irrational, reckless things. But he doesn't know the full of it; it's a strong emotion, and he's barely rolled through the ringer. 

But Kazuki inhales as he begs, eyes hazed over with a desperate fog, wilting energy. He writhes like the people he hurt, and Sakon notices the black on his own hands. He's willing to do so much for a girl he's barely met yet so very loves, and it's terrifying. Kazuki doesn't die because she doesn't want him to, and deep down, he never intended to kill the 'Prince', only dethrone him, but a sick satisfaction lingers in his stomach. Stomach swirling, guilt festering, he's weighed down by the after images of panicked eyes — both hers and Kazuki's. But he likes that on Date, when he's down on his knees and prostrated before him.   He almost likes how the name Date slips off his tongue, but he isn't trying to investigate it further. (But he thinks about it late at night.)

He's tainted. After so long, murder does that to a man. But somehow after all she's seen, Shiho isn't. She's goodness and safety.

Sakon likes guiding lights and the Northern star because they are so bright and wondrous that they drown the disgusting, festering bits of him. He's phototropic. Like the rest, she shares a bit of sunshine, though unlike them, she isn't overt in her kindness. Rough around the edges, she's a geode with a million yen jewel in the middle. She has all the eloquence of a sailor and the mannerisms of a boy, but Sakon knows better the softness inside than the hardness of her exterior. 

She is a summer sea. Spend ten hours in the sun and lines start to waver, colored in purples and greens. Once he hits the dark, however, he sees with clarity to the light. He's submerged in it, and she, never failing, drags him out. She reminds him that he is always Sakon, Ukon is always Ukon, and she is there. 

"Sakon," She says into his shoulder, indescribably tiny. "Ya know I like you, right?"

Somewhere along the line, beyond the admiration for her purity and the golden light that'll never erase the bitter parts of him, he begins to like her too. 

 

v. 

 

When he wakes in the morning, the first place he goes is to a box. Innocuous to others, the world to him, it holds a doll nine times his age. Ukon sits still until Sakon puppeteers him, and when that happens, the world falls silent. There are no worries, only him, Ukon, and the great unknown. Well, it doesn't seem to be so unknown to him; it's full of good things and niceties he can indulge in as the confident, silent, passive player he becomes with Ukon. 

Ukon's always been his. He's always been Ukon's. Sakon's never failed to realize it, but perhaps he's failed on realizing how deep the river runs. 

He came close when his heart skipped with the thought of Ukon burning to embers, but he never realized it. 

Maybe before Rinsuke, maybe after, maybe his entire life, he loves Ukon. Rinsuke only made him notice the threshold — holding a friend in your arms does that. Feeling them wither away into nothing only furthers it. When Sakon holds Ukon, he is complete. Alive. It isn't simple satisfaction; it's one of the feelings in life that can only be felt. He doesn't need to stare into a mirror and remind himself he's human when the puppet that twists and turns in his hands keeps him feeling alive. 

The only thing Sakon really knows is that it's something between romantic and platonic, and well... Ukon's something of a puppet, so he isn't in a rush know. All he needs is Ukon. 

But he'll always be Ukon's, and Ukon will always be his, so does he ever need to know?