“The cherry blossom front has already reached the northeast, and by this weekend Tokyo will be in full bloom.”
Awkwardly holding chopsticks in his hand, Ilias repeated the weather lady’s words while I slurped up miso soup next to him . Lately the dishes on the table had all turned Japanese because I’d mentioned that I liked traditional Japanese-style cuisine. Stuffing my cheeks with nikujaga1, I explained the coming cherry blossom front to Ilias: “It’s only in our stupidly peaceful country of Japan that there’s a whole weather report on when the flowers bloom.”
“There’s that kind of forecast?” Ilias fascinatedly looked at the TV screen.
The weather report showed a live broadcast of popular cherry blossom viewing spots in the city, and the lit-up cherry trees looked quite pretty. Is it really already that time of year… Yeah, now that I think about it, it’s getting warmer recently.
Unlike me who kept extending my chopsticks toward the other side dishes, Ilias had completely stopped eating, too caught up in staring at the TV. This guy, he has a habit of stopping whatever he’s doing whenever something really interesting pops up in front of his eyes. I already understood this about him. It seems like the distance between us was shortening.
“You wanna go?”
“Tomorrow, let’s go flower viewing.” 2
Ilias’s entire aura overflowed with happiness. I laughed, and after dissuading him from exaggeratedly thanking me in the form of a bow, resumed my meal.
It was flower viewing season and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom, plus it was also the weekend… I really should have guessed that there would be a huge crowd.
We got off the train at Ueno station. As soon as we exited, we saw the park’s fully-bloomed cherry blossom trees. “Magnificent” was the only word you could say to describe them. But, all of the families, couples, tourists, and especially those freakin’ old men who threw picnic blankets on the ground using flower viewing as an excuse to drink… all of these people who had also come absolutely marred the atmosphere. To have to face this overwhelmingly crowded place by myself for this pain-in-the-ass holiday… yeah, the me from last year wouldn’t even consider it.
This guy over here, though, had gotten super hyped up for his first time. With sparkling eyes he glanced around the area, then looked at the cherry blossoms, then at the festival stalls. While he was happily busying himself, I had the unusual thought that I was glad to have brought him here.
“We should look while we walk around.”
I led the way and walked ahead, and like he’d been pulled, Ilias also started walking. Jeez, what is this, Comiket?3 That said, I recognized how to navigate the crowds and slowly advanced. At this time, you had to follow the stream of the people and walk along with them in order to stay safe.
I had only walked a little bit when I suddenly got worried over whether Ilias was okay or not. When I turned back to check on him, my body swayed.
This is bad, I got caught up in the flow of the crowd. Even if I desperately try to stay in place, my body keeps getting steadily pushed in the opposite direction. Shit, if I get separated from that guy in a place like this…!
Just when I thought that my only option was to start pushing people out of my way, a strong grip landed on my shoulder and pulled me over in one swift motion. Even in this huge crowd, the shoulders of this powerful but slender person didn’t bump into anyone else’s. I felt a warmth that reminded me of home from the chest that I’d been pressed against. I could only think of one person who’d make me feel something like that… When I raised my head, I saw a close-up of Ilias’s face, his eyebrows lowered.
“Sorry. Since the cherry blossoms were so beautiful, I’d been looking up at them… I had noticed too late that you were being swept away.”
Since this guy was taller than everyone else by a full head, the only thing I saw while looking up was his face framed by cherry blossoms and the blue sky. “Were you alright?” he asked, worriedly leaning down his neck. Because of this 10/10 full marks, super romantic situation and gesture, my heart somehow started thumping wildly.
… No, no, why the hell are you going ‘doki-doki’ over this, damn heart! Am I a freakin’ shoujo manga heroine or something? While I sighed over myself and wondered just when my sensitivity to these things had changed, Ilias asked, “Were you injured anywhere?”
I snapped back to reality upon seeing him bring his face even closer. “Too close!” I pushed back at his chest and leaped out of his embrace. Ilias meekly apologized to me.
This guy… You respond flawlessly to everything, and you even saved me from a bad situation, so just why are you the one asking for forgiveness… And in comparison, why am I acting so childishly, this is so embarrassing…
“I’m fine… Thanks.”
Though the way my mouth bluntly said ‘Thanks’ didn’t sound appreciative at all, Ilias looked so happy that if he had a tail, it’d be swinging back and forth at full power.
Many times I nearly got swept away by the throng of people, but each time Ilias held my shoulder and pulled me back, casually protecting me. In that way we arrived once again at the place on the main street where we had taken off from earlier. I made Ilias sit at a table that looked like a box with plywood on top and some simple chairs around it, then went to go buy stuff. When I came back with food, beer, and hot sake from the food stalls, the uneasy-looking Ilias brightened up and cheerfully greeted me. I placed the disposable chopsticks and beers on the table.
“Want to drink some alcohol?”
“Yeah, I’d love to. Thank you.”
Ilias looked curiously at me when I lightly raised my cup, so I told him about how us Japanese usually toast ‘Kanpai!’ in this kind of setting. We tapped our paper cups together as a toast, and then started putting our hands on the food. Since it was cheap stuff you couldn’t really say it was particularly tasty, but because of the festival atmosphere the food from the carts felt somewhat more delicious.
We watched both the cherry blossoms and the people who attended the flower viewing. Next to me, who simply enjoyed watching the flowers, Ilias babbled on his own.
“To think that going to a festival is actually this much fun!”
It seemed that he hadn’t planned on saying that. When I stared at him, he seemed to realize what had just come out of his mouth. All at once he faltered.
He tried to gloss over it, but when I remained quietly fixated on him, he understood that I wouldn’t let it go. A bitter smile floated up on his face, and he began to speak. “I, until now, had never been able to participate in an event like this before.”
“Seriously? Not even when you were a kid?”
“Yeah… that’s because, as a child of nobility, most of my childhood was spent on studying and training… To walk through a place like this with such a great number of people was also forbidden, as it was difficult to ensure my safety. Once I’d been admitted into the Knight Academy, we had drills every day. By the time I got back into town I was already exhausted, and all I could think about was sleep.”
I couldn’t find the words to say in return to that unexpectedly heavy personal story. Ilias seemed to realize how lost I was, and just said ‘sorry’ while once again smiling bitterly.
“It was for that reason that I had been greatly intrigued when I saw this event relayed over the TV. Just what kind of thing is this, is what I thought. You realized how I felt and decided to bring me here, and for that reason I’m truly grateful to you, Azusa.”
“I’ve truly taken advantage of your kindness so many times, now.”
“… I’m not kind at all.”
“You are. I hope that, one day, I’ll be able to return the favor to you. That would be good…”
Ilias gazed at me earnestly, and as if trying to escape, I turned my face away. How come every time he speaks he ends up making this kind of sweet atmosphere, this damn good-looking guy…! How come he can say such embarrassing things with such a calm face, can’t you be a little more awkward? Give me a break, seriously…!
Ilias let out a small laugh upon seeing my shy reaction. Irked, I gulped down some hot sake all at once, making Ilias call out my name. Shut uuup. I ignored him and downed another, and he called my name again. When I got fed up with how he kept calling me, I turned around to look at him. From this close distance, his face was nearly on top of mine. I froze in surprise, and Ilias extended a hand toward me. He smoothly brushed his fingers over my bangs and grasped a cherry blossom petal which he held up in front of my dumbfounded face.
“Though this had fallen in your hair, would you mind if I took this with me?”
After getting smiled at like that, my face turned bright red. I swatted the cherry blossom petal right out of this guy’s hand.
Afterward, I drank some more and we walked around the park to look at the surroundings. Once we’d had enough of reveling in the flower viewing atmosphere, we got on the train to go back. It was already evening by the time we arrived at the station closest to home and the temperature was much lower than it’d been during the day. I felt chilled down to the bone; even my spine felt like it was shivering.
“It was quite warm in the daytime, but the evenings get much colder, I see.”
So said this guy, who had a face like he didn’t feel even the slightest bit of cold at all. I nodded in agreement with his words.
“Yeah, bit by bit it’ll get warmer, and then summer will come by soon enough.”
“You’re not familiar with the four seasons? In your country, is it always usually the same temperature all year round?”
“…Yeah, that’s right. The temperature is always chilly the entire time.”
“Huh, so it’s like that. In Japan, the temperature changes a lot. Right now, it’s winter… uh, the cold season, and spring is around when it starts getting a little warmer? Once it gradually gets hotter it becomes summer, and when the heat eases up, that’s autumn. When it’s cold again it’s winter, and that’s pretty much how the seasons cycle throughout the year.”
“So your days come and go like that… how interesting.”
“Pretty inspiring, right? It’s one of Japan’s selling points.” 4
It felt good to see Ilias sincerely listen and be impressed by my speech. This was the place where I was born and raised, after all, so I proudly talked about it. He stared at me with a surprised face, and I figured it was because the normally practical and pragmatic me was now smiling with a fairly loose expression. Though I don’t really have a lot of something as lofty as patriotism, it can’t be helped that I feel happy when my home country is praised.
I’d gotten into a great mood, but sadly that didn’t protect me from the freezing cold. Though I tried to endure, I sneezed loudly. The cold winds blew right through me, and as I hastily tried to clinch my coat shut, something warm wrapped around my neck. Surprised, I looked over it and confirmed that this was the scarf that Ilias had been wearing. “What’re you doing that for?” I asked, darting a glance at him. An incredibly soft smile floated on Ilias’s face, and he laughed at me.
“Since you’re cold, it’s better to wrap this up around you.”
“… This is yours though.”
“Your health is more important, Azusa.”
Aaaaah not good. Just now, because this guy was earnestly worrying about me, I couldn’t fight back at all and just accepted what he said. All I could do was retort with some frivolous words since I felt too mortified to give an honest reaction…
And so, once again, I, with my increasingly embarrassed temper, got caught up in this shoujo manga-like development. The only thing I could say was, “Aren’t you cold?”— just those few words.
When I spoke, Ilias’s eyes rounded back toward me, and in the next instant a joyous smile spread across his face as he said, “I’m perfectly fine.”
Stop that…! Don’t create this kind of bittersweet atmosphere…!
“In any case… I have one request, if that would be alright?”
“What is it?”
I’d diverted my gaze earlier, but when he’d made a rare request, I returned my gaze to him. This time it was my hand that had gotten warmer. No matter how dark it was, and no matter that there weren’t any other people around us, two fully grown men walking around holding hands was indecent, wasn’t it…? Though all sorts of thoughts and feelings mixed up in my head, I didn’t say a single thing and just stared at Ilias, dumbfounded. I felt like if I told him to stop it, he would definitely get all apologetic. His eyebrows would droop, and the entire trip back home would be excruciatingly painful, so… For that reason, I didn’t speak up. I nodded to tell Ilias that it was okay, and from then on lowered my face and walked with my head down.
What did he mean, ‘I’m perfectly fine’? Aren’t his fingers incredibly cold right now? He was just trying to act cool, wasn’t he. Pisses me off. Ilias asked about how I was feeling, and despite being obviously nervous, he gently wrapped his large hand around mine and held it like he would never let go. Seriously, it’s so irritating.
All throughout today from morning to evening, I had the feeling that somehow, when it comes to being a man, I had completely lost to him. While filled with regrets, I returned a tight squeeze to that guy’s hand. When I did that, Ilias’s shoulders jumped and trembled.
See, this is what happens when a loser like you tries to hold hands, moron.
I’m actually posting this at work while my boss sits behind me. Scary… so scary… boss, please don’t turn around!!
Happy Valentine’s Day. Enjoy this lovey-dovey couple’s date. A very certain two JP translators from Blob T translated Azusa’s extremely tsundere parting line. It made my heart skip a beat! (Just like Azusa’s did for Ilias!)
Thanks to the lovely Psyx for her amazing editing and proofreading! I would kiss her if I weren’t full of disease. It’s flu season over here…
In the next chapter, the wheels start turning, and our ship will finally set sail.
- a Japanese dish of meat, potatoes and onion stewed in sweetened soy sauce, sometimes with ito konnyaku and vegetables. Generally, potatoes make up the bulk of the dish, with meat mostly serving as a source of flavor.(via Wikipedia) ↩
- Hanami, or flower viewing, is the Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers (via Wikipedia). In the same way that Americans in summer might say “Let’s go to the beach!”, people in Japan might say “Let’s go flower viewing.” As the weather gradually heats up and causes the flowers to bloom, the advancing line of blossoming trees is referred to as the ‘cherry blossom front’. Since the flowers only last for one or two weeks, people watch the blossom forecast to determine when they should go flower viewing. ↩
- Comiket is a convention for all kinds of anime, manga, and indie fans to gather and sell their fanmade work, or to show off their cosplay. It happens twice a year during Summer and Winter, and is infamous for being one of the most crowded events in Japan. There are entire youtube videos showing the enormous line of people trying to enter Comiket, and the stampede of visitors leaving the train station to get to it. ↩
- He says “風流だろ？” / [Fuuryuu daro?]. The literal meaning of the word fuuryuu seems to be ‘elegance/taste/refinement’, but he’s probably referring to the term 風流韻事 [fuuryuuinji], which is an ‘elegant appreciation of nature through artistic pursuits such as poetry, painting and calligraphy’. In other words, he’s saying that because of the changing seasons, people can get really creatively inspired. ↩