Haruki gets a message on his answering machine from Chikashi Hayasaka, an old friend from high school. He says Kazusa Touma—the one who was in their class, remember?—is back in Japan, and he’s actually got a ticket to her upcoming performance, so he’s planning to come visit Tokyo for that, and he’d love if everyone could get together and catch up while he’s here.
Also, he’s heard some very exciting news from Takeya, concerning Haruki…
It’s Valentine’s Day, and that has Haruki’s colleagues in the office gossiping—asking him how much chocolate he thinks he’s going to get this year, and so on.
Of course, for Haruki, this is a special day for a different reason, a far more important reason. And, as soon as his colleagues start leaning a little too far into speculation concerning Mari’s “special fondness” for Haruki, he gets right up and leaves.
He’s going to the Ogisos’ for dinner that night, and he hasn’t bought a birthday present yet.
Youko Touma smoothly fends off questions by a reporter: No, no, Kazusa’s injury isn’t at risk of preventing her next performance; yes, said performance will be excellent; no, this is not to say that her last performance was subpar, regardless of what publications might have said. The reporter wonders why she can’t hear all of this from Kazusa herself, when she knows that another reporter from a certain other company has been able to get a good deal of material from her. This, too, Youko handles with aplomb: Kazusa is going to be featured in the next issue of Ensemble, in fact, so by all means, pick up a copy!
Afterward, Youko speaks with Miyoko. Apparently the latter hasn’t been able to get in contact with Kazusa. Perhaps, as Youko suggested during her talk with the reporter, something bad really has happened with her physical condition?
Don’t worry about that, Youko says. Kazusa has an excellent manager to look after her physical condition.
Granted, it may be a double-edged sword…
At last, work was… Well, no, I finished that up at five o’clock.
Finally, I had a present… Though, as usual, it took me two hours to pick one out.
At any rate, all of my important business for the day was completed, and all that remained was to move to the day’s most important item.
Setsuna’s birthday party. A party at the Ogiso family home.
And… my formal salutation to her parents.
Setsuna never asked for that. She simply accepted my words of resolution, with a smile and tears in her eyes.
And my friends spurred me on like arrows. …I was still getting daily messages asking whether I’d done it yet.
But my determination wasn’t really coming from their pressure.
It was just that, last time, I had left the Ogiso house hazy on that particular point, without any real conclusion, so I felt it was only right for me to make a clear declaration of my intent today…
And there’s no pretending the discussion never happened. Not for Haruki, not for Setsuna, not for anyone around them.
As I engrossed myself in these thoughts, the contact I selected was not “Setsuna,” but “Sumio Sakamoto”—Kazusa.
Normally, as it was a weekday, I would return home before the day was over, but I left a message with the number “2”—“I’m not coming home today.”
Because, today… I wouldn’t be able to look Kazusa in the face.
Today, the day that Setsuna and I took that absolute first step…
He wasn’t expecting this.
I always had to wait through eight rings or so to get through to the answering machine.
This time, all it took was two.
And the voice that came through the speaker was not the blunt brightness of the operator, but something quieter, and deeper.
“…Ah, aha, ahaha…”
It seemed like she was trying to speak calmly, and failing massively…
Coming directly through, that unstable, emotional voice, sounding as though she were trying to laugh, but about to cry.
“I… ugh… ugh… S-sorry. I wasn’t supposed to pick up…”
It’s a surprise, since he hasn’t heard that particular voice lately. She’s been eating right, laughing, playing piano again. They’ve spent their nights kissing and making love.
It must be something urgent.
We promised to each other that we would enjoy the little bit of time that we had left to spend together…
“It’s… It’s nothing… urgent, really, I just… thought I should… give my congratulations…”
“To Setsuna, and… you… Congratulations… on your engagement…! Ugh… ugh… ah… ahh…”
How could she possibly have found out about that?
“I-I… ah… ahh…! N-nothing, it’s… nothing…”
No… That was a decision he made when he was trying to reject Kazusa, before things could end up this way. That was then…
“…Let’s meet up and talk.”
I could enumerate as many excuses like that as I wanted, but I wouldn’t even be able to convince myself that way, let alone Kazusa.
“There’s… nothing to talk about. You haven’t… done anything wrong…”
He pressed on even after things took this direction with Kazusa. He still doesn’t think that decision was a mistake.
He made love to her in his apartment and left her there, even knowing the lie might be found out…
“You’re on your way to Setsuna’s right now, right? To celebrate her birthday?”
In other words… The one who had made Kazusa sad, yet again, was me…
“I’ll be back soon. Stay right where you are. Got it? Don’t move a single step.”
“You’re going to Setsuna’s parents… To have them acknowledge your engagement…”
He tells her he’s not going, he’s coming to her, but he’s not sure whether his last words reached her. Whether his feelings reached her.
His head knows he’s losing his presence of mind, but when it comes to Kazusa, his limbs don’t listen to his head.
My mouth, on the verge of telling the worst lie imaginable, dominated the entirety of my heart.
“I’m sorry, I… At work… I got thrown into a job that I absolutely can’t get out of…”
“Well… Let’s get started, I guess…”
“What did Kitahara-san say?”
“He said… he’d be late. Something came up at work that he couldn’t avoid…”
“Oh, dear… After you went to the trouble of getting the day off and everything, Setsuna…”
Setsuna’s father suggests that any man who could get off work that early, that easily, on a weekday, wouldn’t be especially reliable as a husband in the first place.
“We aren’t living in the age any more when working later is more admirable. I prefer a man who values family.”
Takahiro calls his father out on being so blatantly relieved by this hiccup in their plans.
Haruki stands up from the priority seat he’s been occupying on the train. The middle-aged woman who gave it to him eyes him with concern. He insists he’s all right.
…Apparently, right at the moment, my body was shaking with sweat to the extent that it caught the attention of strangers.
The announcement plays: they’re about to pull in at Minamisuetsugu.
The moment I boarded the train, all sorts of troubling physical symptoms visited me at once.
Headache, nausea, chills… My heart was pounding like an alarm bell, and my hand was shaking so hard as I tried to hold the strap that it was almost funny.
At first, I assumed it was because the heating on the train was a little too effective. I thought that, once I got used to the temperature, I would be fine.
But the heat coming from my body was nothing so simple, and before I knew it, I had gone pale enough to be noticeable to my surroundings.
They’ve arrived. “Please be mindful of the doors as you exit.”
And, the closer I drew to my destination, the worse my condition grew.
My destination… One stop before my real destination, Suetsugu—Minamisuetsugu.
“…Huff… huff… huff…”
The instant I set foot on the platform there, I was assailed by an unpleasant sensation—as though an electric shock had gone through my entire body.
As my limbs began to disembark of their own will, my head alone frantically opposed—“Not here.”
The doors are closing.
But, it was too late for any of that…
Because, by the time I called Setsuna earlier, I had already made up my mind.
To do the same thing I did five years ago—on Setsuna’s birthday, our most important day…
I would betray her, once again.
Even though the ground beneath my feet was no longer moving, I still felt as though I were floating in midair.
I wanted to sit down on a bench and rest for a minute.
I wanted to expose my body to the cold wind, to make the sweat and headache and nausea go away. The chill… I could bear for now.
But I didn’t have the time for that. I didn’t have the freedom to make considerations for myself.
I had to hurry past the ticket gate. I had to hurry back to my apartment. I had to hurry… and catch Kazusa.
The cold wind that I had anxiously awaited as I stood in the train blew powerfully down the platform steps.
But now, as I had to climb those steps against that wind, the dry chill against my face was hateful to me.
The chills grew more and more severe, while the sweat and headache didn’t abate at all.
Now, all I could do… was pray that it didn’t start snowing.
I prayed that the scenery around me wouldn’t overlap with that day.
Haruki was pondering getting a taxi to cover the five-minute walk to the apartment building, but Kazusa is there, waiting for him, instead of staying at the apartment like he told her to. Was she trying to run away? Or was she just that desperate to see him?
She tells him to go to Setsuna. She says there’s nothing wrong with her.
“All I did was give you and Setsuna my blessing. You said we should talk, but there’s nothing to talk about!”
He apologizes for not saying anything.
“It’s not your fault… You haven’t done anything wrong…!”
The heat in his body dies down, and his head starts to clear with it.
“I was the one who told you to lie. The one who told you to hide everything from me, and love me… It was none other than me!”
His brain gradually regains its control over his limbs.
“The one who told you to do all that, while still loving Setsuna… It was me!”
“Still, I’m sorry. I knew that wasn’t really how you felt, but I still…”
“It was! You were being exactly how I wanted you to be!”
“Kazusa… That’s enough.”
Right now, it’s about protecting Kazusa.
“You just kept on the best path you had, without hurting me, without hurting Setsuna.”
To that end, he thinks nothing of wrestling himself into submission.
“I’m a fool… I can’t even uphold my own rules. I’m such a fool…”
Over and over, he tells her, Stop. Don’t say that. That’s not true.
“I’m so narrow-minded… I found out something I was never supposed to know, something you went to the trouble of hiding from me, and I couldn’t even congratulate you properly…”
So, he follows his brain’s orders. He faces his feelings honestly. And he takes her in his arms.
He scolds her for being spoiled, for not being able to understand from words alone, for needing him to spell everything out through his actions.
As I embraced her, I finally understood. Kazusa had been waiting for me.
“What’s wrong with being spoiled? What’s wrong with making a mess of everything I say? What’s wrong with not being able to wait five damn minutes?”
Unable to wait for my return, she rushed out of my apartment, and came all the way here, so she could be in my arms.
He apologizes for not being able to keep up the deception all the way to the end.
He can tell that the people passing by the station front are throwing glances at them—the couple wrapped in one another’s arms, paying no heed to their surroundings. They know. But neither of them has any intention of loosening the embrace.
“From now on, I’m only going to look at you. So… let’s make up, okay?”
Their lips are only a centimeter apart.
While Kazusa dithers, he takes off the glasses that she had been wearing as part of her regular disguise. He wants Kazusa Touma, not Kazumi Touno.
Next, he takes out the comb that had been holding her hair up. Both the comb and the glasses were gifts from him, to keep Kazusa from being exposed to the world; now he’s bringing her out from behind the mask he gave her himself.
Now, he can show off this beautiful woman he loves, to everyone else.
Finally, they kiss.
It took ages to close that one-centimeter gap between us…
But, once we were connected, our lips and tongues intertwined, so deeply, so strongly, so fiercely, that it was difficult to imagine that we would ever separate again.
The scene has wound up lining up in many ways with his very first betrayal, all those years ago—skipping out on a promise to Setsuna, embracing Kazusa, kissing her.
But there are important differences, too.
Kazusa is just as aggressive in the act as he is. And they don’t care about anybody seeing.
Because they don’t want to hide any more. They want everyone to know of their love for each other, how deeply, completely connected they are.
And we didn’t make the five-minute walk back to the apartment.
Unable to wait even that long, we made our way to a small park nearby, slipped into a small thicket, and stuck closely to each other through our coats.
This time, just this once, Haruki doesn’t want to hide away from the world when they do it.
There are people walking past only a short distance away. Someone could easily hear Kazusa gasping.
It’s audacious. It’s reckless. It’s so deeply sinful that even Youko, perhaps the one person in the world who would ever acknowledge them, would feel betrayed.
I bit into the base of her neck, as though to make her swear obedience to me—this time, this time.
I worked my hand up underneath her clothes, violently grasped one of her heavy, shuddering breasts, and dug all five of my fingers in.
I pressed against Kazusa with all of my weight, crushing her against the tree she was leaning on in the thicket.
After her neck, I took her ear between my teeth and pulled hard, as though to tear it off.
My middle finger at last reached the point of her breast, and I dug the tip of my nail in, scratching.
Kazusa’s up on tiptoe now, their thighs and calves hard up against each other, and her legs are shaking. When they kiss, their teeth knock together.
We bit each other’s lower lips, twined our tongues together, mingled our hot breaths.
Now I sucked her tongue into my mouth, took it between my teeth, and bit down with my canines.
I was ravaging Kazusa with all I had. Violating her, defiling her, wrecking her.
“Hah, ahh… Mine. You’re… mine…”
She has asserted her ownership over him, as he drives her this hard, as he violently ravishes her. They’re both intoxicated by it.
“Kazusa, I, I… I want to… be inside you…”
She knows. And she wants it, too. She tells him to wait while she gets ready to take him in, slowly lifting up her skirt and pulling down her stockings and underwear.
When he sees her skin—her thighs, just a flash of everything else—he can’t wait any longer. With one hand he lifts her skirt, with the other he undoes his belt; and then, gripping her hips hard, he takes her in one stroke. She cries out.
Then he stops moving, already on the verge from the sensation inside her.
He apologizes for not being able to wait. He’s losing control, doing it in a place like this.
“Sorry for… doing such horrible things. It hurts, right? Aren’t you cold?”
She tells him she’s never cold with his heat around her, and inside her. She tells him to burn her up completely.
This drives Haruki to the edge of tears—sheer, overwhelming emotion—just from having her in his arms.
So, I thrust into her furiously. Digging my nails into her breasts, digging my teeth into the base of her neck.
I exchanged the pain in my heart for pain in Kazusa’s body.
He asks her if it hurts. It does, but she’s happy about it.
Because, that way, all of the bitterness I felt would disappear. Kazusa would absorb all of it.
Because the cold and the sweat, the headache and the chills—Kazusa would change all of it into pleasure for me.
As he rams himself into Kazusa, the pleasure he begins to feel is something like the pleasure he felt on another day—the day he didn’t go to her concert—in another place, with another person…
As I bit into Kazusa’s tongue, I tried to forget all the pain that kept coming back and coming back, no matter how many times it faded away.
I gave pain to Kazusa, and in doing so I escaped my own pain.
Kazusa doesn’t care how inhuman it is. In spite of her favored position in the world, she cares more about being loved by someone as tiny and insignificant as Haruki.
He kisses her deeply, moving his tongue around inside her mouth, swallowing her saliva down, because he knows the effect it will have: a look on her face that’s both shameful and ready to melt.
Even smeared with saliva and tears, even twisted up with everything she’s feeling, Kazusa’s face is still a work of art. Of course he would fall for her at first sight.
In the course of that mere half-year, five years ago, they experienced as complete a lovers’ fantasy as anyone could conceive of: feelings from the start, growing further, intensifying with separation, reigniting with reunion; the rollercoaster the other person’s emotions and reactions built for you and kept you on; crying, kissing, embracing, joining feelings and bodies together—
And yet, when they reunited, they surpassed that fantasy for each other by far. Surpassing society’s rules, surpassing their own chosen worlds, to make dream into reality.
Kazusa is ready.
As always, she’s prepared to take it inside. She wants it. She doesn’t balk at the risk.
…Or maybe, for her, it isn’t a “risk” in the first place.
And he sends it all into her, straight into the deepest part of her, filling her up.
He tells her he loves her. She says she loves him, too. He can tell, because her body is swallowing so much of it up.
She asks if they can stay that way for a while.
She wonders whether anyone saw them.
Neither of them really cares.
She smiles at him, and they kiss, while the proof of their immorality slowly drips down from between them.