Kazusa Normal Ending – IX

Haruki talks Hamada, indirectly, into letting him leave early for the day—he’s got plans for tonight. Hamada almost doesn’t want to let him go, but then remembers Haruki is basically doing the work of three people already, and he doesn’t want Mari spiriting him off to America like she threatened.
Haruki promises to send him a follow-up email by tomorrow.
Somehow, even securing some time off leaves Haruki with a strange desolate feeling. Even a year on, everything that happened is still impacting his day-to-day life.

……

Winter of my second year out in society. The second month since I had stopped going to the hospital.

My symptoms from a year ago, which had been very handily explained as “mental damage due to excessive workload and enormous pressure,” had now settled to the point that I no longer needed to rely on medicine.

For six months or so, everyone kept treating him with kid gloves, like a newbie.
A year after the concert, the national fervor for Kazusa Touma has died down a bit—she doesn’t show up so much in newspapers and general magazines any more—but her treatment in specialized music publications is steadily growing; she hasn’t lessened her activity, or suffered a drop in the world’s assessment of her.
She bloomed marvelously in Europe following that performance, and now, through vigorous activity and Youko’s influence, she’s been performing with famous orchestras, garnering worldwide recognition as “Vienna’s finest young pianist.” Perhaps it’s because of this—because she is no longer “Japan’s young pianist”—that her attention in national publications here has died down.

A year had passed since then…

A year since that final concert. A year since Kazusa disappeared from my sight.

A year since I parted ways with Setsuna.

Setsuna has begun singing again.

He started hearing rumors of it six months ago. Tickets for the band she was singing with would sell out the morning they went on sale.
This is his first time looking up at Setsuna from the audience. Every other time, he’s been behind her, playing guitar.
He used every trick and connection he had to get these platinum tickets, and it’s paid off: Setsuna is absolutely radiant as she stands on that stage—comparable with Kazusa, even, back then. The listeners are all completely absorbed, looks of rapture on their faces.
Everyone can see how dazzling her smile is.

Yes, a year after that…

Setsuna is able to smile like that again.

Betrayed even though she’d done nothing wrong, hurt arbitrarily, subjected to an unreasonable separation.

Just like six years ago, when she lost her smile… No, even in the course of enduring far worse treatment than that, she never broke.

She became someone who was pretty, yet strong. She became someone who was cute, yet resolute. She became a commendable woman.

……

Haruki leaves the venue while the audience are still calling for an encore, hoping Setsuna doesn’t spot him. No one else is showing any sign of leaving; that’s just how popular she is.
As he stands outside, the powder snow that had seemed imminent when he arrived at the show finally starts to fall. It gradually thickens, as though to drown out the remnants of Setsuna’s singing voice in his ears.

……

It fell the day of their oath never to part.
It fell the day that that oath was shown to be nothing more than a house of cards.
And it fell today, the day he saw her up on stage for the first time.
The snow has fallen at every crossroads, forcing them to remember all of the pain and sadness.

……

Suddenly, someone whacks him on the back of the head, lightly but firmly, and scolds him for leaving before the encore.
There she is, little fists clenched, still in her concert attire. She spotted him easily, in spite of his attempts at a stealthy departure. She scolds him further, for not telling her he’d be there.
There she is, making the audience wait for their encore, probably drawing a lot of negative reactions for it, but she insists it’s his fault for leaving.
He tells her he’s truly never known another dummy like her.

Really, it didn’t seem possible for a woman to be like this.

Cute, strong, kind… And yet, so extraordinarily foolish.

The lack of distinction that made her betray the expectations of a whole audience, just for one audience member. The intensity that made her blame him for it, instead of her own judgment.

And… that impossible strength of will, that led her to keep supporting someone for a year, even after he had done such horrible things to her, had betrayed her twice.

Setsuna
“Haruki-kun…”

Haruki
“What is it, dummy?”

Setsuna
“If you keep calling me ‘dummy’ like that, over and over, I’ll actually turn into one.”

At some point, Setsuna’s face had buried itself in my chest.

Setsuna
“I’ll love you so much that I won’t be able to hate you, no matter what you do to me.”

Haruki
“…Idiot…!”

There’s no “at some point” about it. He’s the one who pulled her in.
She asks him if he’s all right.
He’s fine, except for one thing: he feels wrong about falling in love with her again.

I was going to put that burden on Setsuna again. All I could do was have her protect me.

Kazusa’s final concert ended, and Setsuna left me.

Still unable to accept that reality, I spent my time in my room in a daze, paying no mind to day or night…

And in the midst of that… After only a week, Setsuna came back to my apartment.

She recovered by her own power—even more quickly than me, the perpetrator—and then she put everything she had into the rehabilitation of the one who did her wrong.

…Unbelievably pushy, far too helpful, foolish.

Haruki
“Why the hell did you come back…?”

Setsuna
“I came to take you back for myself…”

Haruki
“Why would you take someone like me…?”

Setsuna
“Because I hate Kazusa. She’s my worst enemy.”

Haruki
“Why did you show up so soon…?”

Setsuna
“In the past week, I was desperate and cried a year’s worth of tears. So, I feel like I can make it through this next year.”

At that point, I was completely broken.

Going outside and seeing people was agony. Just trying to hold a conversation made my whole physical constitution crumble, and I was in no state to go to work.

On top of all that, Setsuna’s visit brought those symptoms on, and I said horrible things to her, rejected her viciously.

What Setsuna said to me then… I was unlikely to forget, for the rest of my life.

Setsuna
‘Your choices now are to forget all about me and overcome this, or overcome it with me, right?’

Setsuna
‘Do you know which one would make me happier?’

And, in the face of this astonishing foolishness, Haruki wept aloud—just as he had done on the day that he and Kazusa parted ways.

Now, half a year later…

Setsuna
“Happily, the plans for my next birthday have been decided… It starts at midnight on the fourteenth of this month, Valentine’s Day.”

Haruki
“Well, it’s a week day… How about we start at eight p.m., here at my place?”

As I slowly healed the scars on my heart, and blended back into society, as I had before…

Setsuna
“Eight? Wasn’t six our usual time? I know you’re normally pretty busy, but…”

Haruki
“I was going to say… In exchange, why don’t you come to my place, right now? I’ll take you home tomorrow.”

That foolish woman was right next to me the whole time, nestled close to me.

Setsuna
“My dearest, darling Setsuna, you are the one I love the most in all the world. Please, stay with me until morning.”

Haruki is taken completely off guard.

Setsuna
“…If you say that, maybe I will.”

Haruki
“Setsuna… You’ve turned pretty formidable.”

So foolish, and so dear to him.

Setsuna
“Well, I’ve been trained pretty hard. By the one I love most in the world. …By the one who loves me second-most in the world.”

Haruki
“…You’ve really grown.”

Setsuna
“…So? What do you say?”

Haruki
“You are the one I love most in all the world.”

Setsuna
“Liar…”

Haruki
“I’m only… half-lying.”

She seems willing to accept that.

In all likelihood, I still loved Kazusa. I probably loved her enough to tie with Setsuna for first place in the world.

But, as I was this time, I couldn’t live without Setsuna.

Without Setsuna by my side, I would lose my bearing in life… I wouldn’t know which way I was headed.

Setsuna’s singing voice spreads through the snowy streets, wrapping him up like a lullaby.
It fell today, too, this calm, quiet day, in which nothing happened but the deepening of their own bond. It covers over their recollections of past pain, past wrongs, leaving a clean, gleaming white world to shut them in.

……

Even so, snow is snow. One day it will melt, and call the past, that pain, back into their hearts—like a nameless flower, piercing through the earth and snow to shoot its sprouts into the sky.


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