I’m back with another fic based on Inoo’s 2015 play, Karafuto Ojisan. This is a companion to 赤いスイートピー set one year after. Also, a warning that it deals with PTSD and natural disasters, so please read with discretion!
“How about we try to figure it out together?”
Tohru squints at Kouji as if he’s speaking Greek— he may just as well be. No matter how many times he turns the words over and over in his brain, he can’t make any sense of them, nor figure out how they could possibly connect to the conversation that came before them. He supposes this isn’t a rare occurrence; it used to happen a lot more, before he lived with other people and saw a therapist once a week and took medicine to make his brain function more like that of a normal human being, but in recent years, he’s usually at least had more success in following along during average conversations without going into a panic or his brain otherwise shutting down. Still, this hasn’t exactly been a normal conversation, and so he knows he ought to cut himself some slack and just try to calm down and understand what’s going on. But instead, he finds himself unable to do anything but stare, his mouth hanging open in confusion.
After all, this isn’t just any average conversation. It’s early March, and in the year-or-so since Kouji had been hired at the metal factory where Tohru has worked basically his entire adult life, conversation between the two of them on their way to clock out and head home in the evenings has become the norm. Today, just like any other day, Kouji had sidled up to Tohru on his way to the time clock, making conversation about seasonal allergies and when the sakura trees will probably start blooming and other regular seasonal topics, and Tohru had nodded along, grunting monosyllabic responses when necessary. It’s routine now— a routine that had irked Tohru at first, but over the past year, he’s come to grudgingly accept, or maybe even (in his heart of hearts) like the few moments they spend together on the way out the door each day, and while he doesn’t really have whatever it takes to express that beyond the level at which he responds, he thinks that Kouji understands, somehow, regardless.
But while the conversation had started out normally and pleasantly, it had taken a sudden turn when Kouji had mentioned, “Oh yeah, we’re coming up on March 11, huh,” and Tohru had felt his stomach drop like it always did whenever anyone brought up any sort of earthquake and then snapped, “Well how am I supposed to feel about that?!” before he could stop himself. And then he had braced himself for whatever fallout was sure to come from that, because as much as his coworkers and acquaintances are all aware that he doesn’t tend to be the most diplomatic, especially when it comes to the topic of natural disasters, he knows that his natural defence of snapping back at people who trigger his PTSD isn’t always particularly well-received.
But Kouji had only looked at him for a moment before smiling warmly, that stupid, genuine, toothy smile of his, and simply replied, “How about we try to figure it out together?”
And so now Tohru finds himself squinting at Kouji and trying to figure out what that means and why Kouji isn’t upset that Tohru had snapped at him, and, most baffling of all, why that expression Kouji makes causes Tohru’s heart to squeeze the way it does inside his chest. But before he manages to sort out his thoughts, Kouji is shrugging and adding, “I mean, I just figured maybe you’d be free to hang out on the 11th, if you want. ‘Cause I’d like that.”
And maybe sometimes it feels like he hasn’t really made a whole lot of progress in the whole tangled, messy process of sorting through his issues, but sometimes it feels like things are suddenly, unexpectedly easy. And so, while Tohru feels like his insides have turned into an unintelligible ball of emotions and his brain has shut off in the most infuriating way, somehow he finds himself replying, “Sure… why not.”