(They're 19 and had been waiting for this day for far too long).

It had taken her a little longer than she would've liked to get the others to leave her and Haruka alone.

Takane sighed, glancing in Shintaro and Ayano's direction when she saw that they were lingering behind. Shintaro had a jealous look in his eye, one that said 'hey, Haruka's my friend too, how come you get to hog all the alone time with him', and, frankly, she didn't like it one bit.

"Shut up, and go make up with Ayano already" she had wanted to say to him, but she held her tongue and instead sent him a scathing glance that caused him to finally retreat.

She didn't feel as nervous as she had earlier, when she felt like her heart was somehow going to burst through her ribcage the second she saw him again. She could feel her hands trembling, her throat tightening, and saw the tell-tale lights that danced across her vision.

(Kido's reassuring hand on her shoulder and Shintaro's awkward solidarity had been the only things that helped her not pass out right then and there).

Granted, earlier was only 20 minutes ago, before Haruka was swamped by a bunch of people asking whether or not he was okay and if he could walk. Then there was the Hiyori problem, and though the little girl had refused to let go of Hibiya's hand, she wouldn't stop asking about her "love" for Konoha. That was a little awkward. It didn't help that Takane lingered behind the crowd, hands clasped together and trembling as she fretted over just what to say. Really, she had two years to think about it, and she had to an extent - but that didn't help at all. Thanks, past Takane, you really did help a lot. No advice would help if he didn't remember her though. She didn't have that impressive of a vocabulary to properly express it, but him not remembering anything would… Really suck. Like, really suck.

(But she's happy anyway, because they're all alive and that's plenty to be thankful for, even if the thought of him not remembering made her want to cry).

Then they locked eyes, and Takane wondered if she looked the same way when she saw Haruka visibly freeze, unable to take his eyes off of her.


All the words that she was thinking of saying flew from her brain when she heard him say her name like that, breathy, in disbelief, but with happiness laying just underneath the surface.

And she couldn't believe it, because he did remember her.

She couldn't trust herself to respond properly, not when her mouth absolutely felt like it'd betray her if she spoke, so she simply nods, and takes another step closer to him.

It was then Ayano ushered everyone away from the two and sent a reassuring smile in her direction when she saw the raven-haired girl's terrified look. There's a part of Takane that wants to cry because of how utterly humiliating it was, to be seen like this in front of people, but there's also a part of her that wanted to cry because, holy shit, he was here, he was back, and he remembered her.

Now, they were finally alone, and Takane almost didn't know where to begin.

"C'mon, let's sit over there just in case any of the others try to snoop in on us," She fumbles after a few minutes of them just gawking at each other.

"Alright, Takane," he says, smiling down at her, and god she missed the way he said her name. He took a shaky step forward but then paused, a thoughtful look on his face as if thinking about something. Takane plopped on the ground, and it wasn't until she looked back over at him that he spoke once again.

"Wait, do you want me to call you Ene now?" His voice is so earnest that her eyes widen. She swears that she nearly saw him pout as he said those words, and vaguely remembers telling him to call her anything-but-that after the Headphone Actor tournament all those years ago.

(She tries to ignore the way that him saying 'Ene' felt wrong, and that the way he said 'Takane' for the first time in years made her heart thump in a weird way).

"You mention that now of all times?" She sat down on the grass, patting the spot next to her to show him where to sit, "But… nah, I'd prefer that you'd call me Takane still."

The implication of having the permission to call her by her first name is all too apparent (and though he did call her by her first name before, it just felt so different now, especially when the others called her by a nickname, no less), and she ever-so-slightly wants to die when she sees that his cheeks are tinted a slight pink. She doesn't suppose that she's doing much better, in the flustered sense (or in any sense, if she thinks about it).

She draws her knees up to her chest and rests her cheek on them, angling her head so that she could look at him properly. Though this angle meant that her now much longer hair fell right in her eyes, and she tugged it out of her vision with a huff.

"Your hair got longer," he laughs when he sees her pout and glare at him as a warning when his hand came up to play with her pigtails, "it suits you."

She's tempted to pinch his cheeks in the way that she used to do when they were back in high school, but there's a voice telling her that she shouldn't because things weren't like that anymore — they weren't high schoolers stuck in class with nothing to do.

(You're supposed to be grown up now, the voice tells her, he wouldn't like that type of behavior anymoreif he liked it to begin with. You'd ruin the moment)

So instead, she pouted and crossed her arms, as if trying to stop her urge to just touch his stupid face, "It's annoying, that's what it is, I can't go a second without it getting in my face!"

He laughs at that, and she honestly has to take a second because she's missed that sound a hell of a lot.

They take the chance to watch the sunset. The brightness of the midday sky had retreated into the horizon, leaving a trail of reds and purples in its wake. The clouds had scattered, framing the sun as it descended into the horizon. And they sit and talk, trying to make up for the years that they missed.

There's the elephant in the room that they haven't addressed yet, but it isn't awkward - not in the way that two years away from each other would make a normal friendship or, er, whatever they were.

The last two years have been a lot - like a lot. She's still getting used to being, well, real after two years of being stuck inside a computer screen. She still jumps whenever someone quickly touches her, still hears static in her ears, and stumbles so often that she's almost as bad as Marry. The sky here looks similar to the photographs she came across in cyberspace, but now she could also feel the sun on her face and the wind in her hair. She had lived this life before, but after having it all taken away for so long had made her wonder how she managed to live so freely way back when.

"This reminds me of when we all used to walk home together after school," Haruka reminisces, sketchbook balanced in his lap as he reached up towards the sky, as if trying to grab the sun in his palm, "when Ayano would freak out about having to cook dinner before it got too late and we always sent Shintaro to walk ahead with her."

She chuckled at the memory, because she also thought of those times fondly, even though she still didn't quite understand why Ayano was so in love with the guy. But there's a sense of unease that seeing a red sky brings her. To her, the red sky reminded her of the end of the world - of running and running, and knowing that, if she didn't make it then, she'd lose her chance to tell him.

(She takes a deep breath because, even though she failed hone, he's here now, and it takes every sense of restraint within her to not grab his hand right then and there). "Yeah, it's pretty," She says and allows herself to smile because she isn't alone and the end of the world isn't upon her yet, because her world was right there, sitting next to her on that grassy slope, "I haven't seen something like this in a while."

Haruka cast a glance at her and he retracted his hand from the sky, instead using it to flip through his sketchbook to an empty page, though she could still feel his eyes on her.

"Yeah, it is…"

They sit in a semi-comfortable silence once again, and Takane wonders if he's as shaky as her. Her head is balanced on her knees, and though this is usually a comfortable position for her, her legs are shaking, and she doesn't think that she'd be able to walk again until all the words she needed to say are said.

….Shit, did he even feel the same? She hadn't considered that possibility in a long while - not when she was too focused on keeping Shintaro alive and getting Haruka back. Her heartbeat seemed to stutter again, and it's a miracle that she hasn't passed out due to the sheer amount of stress she was under right now.

She finds solace in the warmth of his smile and the scratch of his pencil on paper. It was a sound that was familiar to her, a sound that accompanied most of the days that they had been stuck in their little storage closet of a classroom, and it's comforting to know that the arts are still a constant in both of their lives. She still loves music, and, with the way that his pencil moved quickly over the paper, art seemed to stick with him too.

(Though his portraits of her were always incredibly embarrassing to look at, especially the ones that he made for Headphone Actor, and the ones that he presented to her that he said that he drew whenever she wasn't around. She might've found it creepy if it was anyone else. But this was Haruka, the boy that somehow managed to make her fall head over heels in love with him with his charm and air-headedness. God, that was embarrassing to think about).

"I don't remember all of it," Haruka admits suddenly, and she looks up to find that he isn't looking at the sunset anymore — but at her, "but I remember some things."

His voice is calming, and Takane feels like cool water was poured on her, soaking through her skin and stopping the shakiness in her muscles (Her heart still pounds, her palms are still sweaty, and frankly, she feels gross. But that has to be okay. It's proof that she's real and so very, very alive).

"Kido cooked for me often," Haruka smiled at the memory, and Takane can't take her eyes off of the way he tilts his head to look up at the sky, his pale skin glowing in the golden light and his birthmark ever-so-prominent, "I think Hibiya did too. He's good at cooking for his age."

"Really? I didn't think he could do much else other than cry about that girl," Takane mused, tilting her head to the side, "You should've seen him when we got Hiyori back — they were all over each other."

Hibiya had kind of been like her, standing frozen and awestruck when Hiyori was brought back. Hiyori seemed nearly panicked when she was brought back, but when she saw Hibiya, she calmed down, walked up to him, promptly slapped him, then grabbed his hand and told him that he wasn't allowed to let go ever again.

(For a second, Hibiya had rubbed at his then-red cheek and looked like he was going to complain, but Hiyori squeezed his hand and sent him a look that conveyed at least ten years' worth of emotion. It was then Hibiya smiled, not one of the overly-giddy smiles that he got whenever he talked about Hiyori — but a real one, one that conveyed the same ten years' worth of emotion right back at her).

It was nearly… sweet, to see the way the two kids clung to each other, though she knows that 16-year-old Takane would probably kill her if she heard her use the word "sweet" as a method of description.

"Well, he achieved his goal then, didn't he?" Haruka jibes playfully, and he tilts his head to smile down at her, "Though waking up to Hiyori calling me Konoha was a bit weird…"

He laughed at the way Takane's nose scrunched up at the memory, the same way it did back in class whenever said something that she deemed ridiculous (and oftentimes, Haruka did too). He feels a pang in his chest when he thought of his teacher because he thinks that it's unfair that he got to come back and that didn't. But all the same, he allows himself to smile at the memory and continues: "I remember that Shintaro and I were friends, I think. We must've been an odd duo to any onlookers."

"A video game character and a shut-in 'must've been' odd?" Takane jokes, feeling a sense of normalcy settle between them, "You two still are, in my book."

The smile he sends her is soft, but it's bright enough to rival the setting sun: "Yeah, but you still stick with us anyway, don't you?"

When he thinks of friendship, he thinks of many things. He thinks of the people that have the same hobbies as his, of people who he hung out with, of people who would answer "we are" when asked if they are friends. He thinks of Kido, and how she considers her 'friends' as 'family'. He thinks of Kano, Momo, and Hibiya who consider friends as mysterious, important beings who would never change. He thinks of Hiyori, who finds friends based on whether or not they're interesting. He thinks of Marry and Seto, who you know are friends because they would have the same answer on what a friend is: a person who changes you for the better. He thinks of Ayano, who would consider her friends the whole reason why she was alive — why she was still here (and he agreed. Because 'friends', to him, were what made him fear death so much in the first place). He thinks of Shintaro, who he can simply say is a friend of his because he knows that Shintaro feels the same.

For some reason that he had come to terms with long ago, he realized that Takane was all those things and more. She's the first name that comes to mind whenever someone asks him who he's friends with, was one of the ones who his dad hated so much for making him want to keep living, and was the one who he wanted to hold on to and never let go.

In a moment of confidence, Haruka reached out an arm to her, and, at her puzzled look, he thought she was going to push him away. After a few seconds passed and she didn't, he wrapped his arm around her and pulled her closer to him in a christian-sidehug type of way.

Oh my GOD, I am absolutely going to die, Takane thinks and doesn't move. It's when Haruka places his sketchbook on the ground and he uses his now-free hand to cling to her like he never plans on letting her go that something inside of her snaps.

It takes her a second, but then she's clinging to him back, and god she's glad the rest of the Mekakushidan isn't there to see this because this was incredibly out of character for her. Her eyes stung, and it takes everything within her just to push the tears back because no, she just got him back and there was no way in hell she'd let herself ruin the moment she'd been waiting for two goddamn years.

Her grip tightens on his shirt, and she's hyper-aware of the crescent moons her nails must be digging into the soft material, but not as much as she's aware of the feeling of his breath ghosting the top of her head and the way that he's big enough that his arms wrapped all the way around her back.

"But most of all," He says, muffled this time due to their proximity, "I remember missing you, Takane."

Takane heard the way his voice stuttered, and oh no — all that work she did pushing down her tears would be for nothing if he started crying because there's no way in hell that she would be able herself from crying with him.

"Haruka, I swear to god that if you start crying I will too," She stuttered, already wiping tears from her eyes, "and I don't think any of us wants to see that."

From the corner of her eye, she watched as he bit his lip and as his eyes dropped down to her face and, when he realized she was looking, his sketchbook.

"I had always wondered why I was drawn to Shintaro's phone so much. I thought it was because it subconsciously reminded me of video games of something," He stammered, voice muffled by the way his mouth was pressed to the top of her head, "But now I know It was because of you and — I'm sorry," he choked out, unable to fight the tears that flowed down his cheeks as held her even closer, "I'm so, so sorry."

He pulled away from her for a moment, and she absentmindedly thinks of how she missed the feeling of his head pressed to the side of hers. He looked at her with those big and tear-filled eyes, and, like she had said, that's when she felt the dams break.

"Don't be stupid," she whispered, equally as choked up as him, "what are you sorry for?"

"For dying," He sniffed, not-so-graciously wiping his nose with the sleeve of his cardigan, "and for making you cry."

His memories are still hazy from the whole thing. But he remembers it — the numb feeling that death brought you, the coldness that encased your whole body and refused to let go. But all the same, even as the cold crept up his arms and legs and left his veins tingling, he had wanted to see her — wanted to say goodbye to her, wanted to tell her that he loved her and that he really wouldn't mind spending the rest of his life with her. He wanted to live, not just for the sake of living, but for the sake of them.

And then, there was nothing, and Haruka had cursed himself for missing his chance. Well, he's pretty sure he did. What else would he be doing in that other world? Playing video games? He wished, but Something deep within his mind tells him that that was far from the case.

"You're back and that's all that matters," she closed the distance between them once again, cupping his face with her hands when she finds that having them on his shoulders wasn't enough, "we're here."

Real, real, real. He was real. He was back. He was alive.

Haruka leans into her touch, feeling the way she absentmindedly traced his birthmark and thinks that this is probably the closest he has ever gotten to her. More than anything, he wanted to slip his hand into hers — to lace their fingers together and feel the warmth of her palm, to give a gentle squeeze in an effort to properly communicate the affection that was bubbling inside of him.

But he could be patient. He knew that coming back was already a lot and that they actually had time now. His heart was no longer a ticking time bomb and, though it was annoying that doctors wouldn't shut up about him being some sort of "medical miracle", he could finally live his life now; with the others, with her.

Takane let out a defiant chuckle as if releasing something that has been stuck inside her for too long.

And then she sobs, and it's then he realizes how much worse everything must've been for her. He didn't remember most of it. There was no need to sugarcoat it. All he knows is that the day he died, everything went to shit. For him, time had essentially stopped and had been forced into a consciousness that was not entirely his own. For her, she was forced to give up her previous sense of self for the well-being of another. She had to act like she didn't have a past while mourning — mourning him, Ayano, and her own body.

...He didn't know much else about it, though, but in his mind, he remembers seeing flashes of blue on a phone screen, eating food made by a green-haired girl who he still hasn't had a proper conversation with in this body, and being friends with a shut-in who most people would consider a disappointment.

He pulls her back in and he holds her close, close enough that he could feel her tears on his neck, and he cries with her, mourning the years that they had lost. But, mostly, they were happy tears — because they made it they could live the lives that they had wanted to live in the first place together, and, for Haruka, that alone was enough.

From where her head was tucked in the crook of his neck, she could feel everything- the stutter of his chest when he choked in a breath, the cool clamminess of his skin. But his pulse is the thing she finds the most reassuring, strong and steady and so definitely real when she feels for it. It's hard to think that there was an instant where it wasn't lying underneath his skin- when his skin was cold, still, and dead.

She figured that she was the same in a way, with her body that had locked within a test tube somewhere and inaccessible to her until she escaped the life she had been forced to live. Now she has to deal with the shakiness, with the overstimulation and that shocks that physical contact brought her, of the instances where she just wanted to sleep but always ended up popping up in some sort of technology, of the feeling of blood rushing beneath her skin and of the pounding of her heart.

But now, the jolts akin to electricity that through her chest, sending shivers down her spine. For once, she finds that she doesn't want it to stop, wants it to continue going over and over until it turns into a rhythmic beat, timed to the pulses of her own pounding heart.

Eventually, when their tears are dried and their sobs erupt into a sort of deranged-yet-happy giggles, Takane feels his finger under her chin and tilts her head back to look at him. He still had the bedhead that she had begrudgingly loved back in high school, still had those big grayish-brown eyes that were now tinted red from crying (though she supposed she must look the same way), and still had the smile that contained the warmth of a thousand suns.

Even though they had been forced to grow up, even though they had changed, they both had held on to the things that the made them both so incredibly unique, and for that, she was thankful because this was the boy she knew — the boy she always found herself staring at in class and the boy she fell in love with.

"I love you," Haruka whispered almost reverently, as if reading her thoughts, his eyes glowing with the very love he was declaring.

Takane's breath hitched in her chest and she couldn't help but laugh breathily at his words, "Great, I waited 2 years just for you to say it first."

There are tears in their eyes but he's laughing with her, a sound that let out tears worth of festering sadness for the teenage years that had been stolen from them both.

But, all the same, she breathes in, draws him in close, and whispers: "I love you, too."

The world had denied them too much in the past two years. And now, with the sunset as her witness, She wasn't going to let it deny her this moment too.