Ever since he was a child, Fumiya was often subjected to sexual harrassment by his classmates, casting a shadow of his past. Not only he developed a severe case of stuttering but he also suffer from fear of men. Because he inherited his mother’s geisha looks, the teachers at his school would pay more attention to him, causing him to lead a miserable and lonely school life.
In the new semester, Fumiya was assigned to share a dorm room with Ernst Souichirou, an overbearing half-Japanese upperclassman. Souichirou is the son of an Earl and as a half-blooded Japanese, he naturally possessed a handsome face with a pair of dark gray eyes. Although this upperclassman tried to persuade him that he was different from those classmates, Fumiya still felt uneasy. However, seeing the frightened Fumiya suddenly made Souichirou to suggest him to be his own retainer…
With the chilly winter air creeping along his skin, Akamatsu Souichirou stood by the window. The heavy snow that had been falling since the day before still showed no signs of stopping that morning.
As the result of the dedication and persistence he’d put into his kendo training, the boy’s arms were well-defined. So, although the joints of the window were stiff, he was able to pull it open.
When the piercing cold wind burst in and enveloped him, the edges of his lips turned up in a satisfied smile. Behind him, his three roommates moaned in discomfort while pulling the covers over their heads.
Sniggering at their reactions, Souichirou gazed at the snowy landscape spread out before him.
Surrounding the bronze statue of the board chairman which stood between the east and west dormitories was a garden. The clay figure was concealed by the snow, leaving only an outline, as were the satsuki azaleas, whose vivid flowers bloomed in spring and summer, and the garden rock, expertly placed to complement the plants. Absolutely everything was underneath the snow.
The powder snow had even made its way inside the needle-like leaves of the towering cedrus deodara, dying it a dull gray.
A long time ago, Souichirou had been part of that scenery.
He was the heir of the earl, Lord Akamatsu, but his mother was the daughter of Hessen, the Marquis of Austria. She was raised in a magnificent castle surrounded by a forest until she was nine years of age, just before the start of World War I.
As one would expect, her perfectly-shaped face didn’t look Japanese. Her long hair was gold-brown in color, and her eyes were gray tinged with blue.
Her captivating, serene figure almost seemed unworthy of the yukata she loved to wear as her sleepwear, but the youthful body that could be seen from the nape was enough.
When Souichirou threw the window open, it would make sense for him to feel cold, considering how thin the fabric of his yukata was, but there wasn’t a single goosebump on his fair skin.
He reached out to the snow still dancing in the air and held out his palm.
“…Snow is such an ephemeral being.”
At that moment, he suddenly saw a person down below.
Souichirou had always thought that he was alone in his curiosity of walking through the snow at dawn, but surprisingly, it seemed as if there was one other.
The boy was standing quietly in the passageway, looking up at the empty sky. He remembered seeing an underclassman that looked like that boy.
His name was Kobori Fumiya.
A handsome young boy, it was rumored in Riotsu*, a part of the school in which homosexuality was not shunned, that Fumiya had managed to enroll in the school within one year.
*Back in the olden days, around the Taishou era, senior high schools were split into ‘classes’ based on electives. Riotsu is the Science-German class (Ri = Rikei (science) and Otsu = dokugo sentaku (German elective)).
Souichirou didn’t really know him personally, but he’d turned around when they passed by each other once and saw him.
He had seemed shy, the kind to never raise his head and to always keep his eyes on the ground.
As if realizing he was being watched, Fumiya suddenly looked up. Seemingly curious about Souichirou’s foreign appearance, his glistening eyes stared at him.
When Souichirou frowned at his rudeness, he jumped slightly, as if taken aback, and hurriedly walked away.
Certainly, Fumiya had pretty features, and his beauty was not to be ignored, but through that conduct alone, Souichirou couldn’t help but see him as low-class, similar to a servant.
Even after that, he was sure they would have several other chances to meet one another.
However, ever since then, Souichirou had never caught sight of Fumiya again, let alone be able to talk with him.
Fumiya was now standing in front of the garden in the middle of the snow, a padded garment placed over his sleepwear.
Although they were the kind of clothes someone would wear when going to the toilet in the middle of the night, his thin neck, the slender wrists poking out from underneath his sleeves, and his bare feet, nestling in his geta, looked far too cold.
Unaware of Souichirou’s presence above him, Fumiya continued to gaze at the fluttering snow.
Suddenly, he reached his hand forward.
Flakes of snow landed on his upturned hand. Fumiya closed it, before slowly opening it again. His body heat would just melt them though, wouldn’t it?
Souichirou couldn’t tell what the boy was thinking as he looked down at his palm, now most likely empty. Something about the way his slender neck tilted to the side and his plump red lips mumbled words made him look so innocent.
The paleness of the boy’s skin only emphasized the scarlet of his lips, pulling Souichirou’s eyes to them.
…It almost looks as if he’s wearing lipstick.
Suddenly, Souichirou thought of the maiko his father, the Count, had summoned to the tatami room while discussing his trip to Kyoto with him.
Of course, Fumiya wasn’t a girl. Although his face was so white it looked as if it had been powdered, it didn’t hold the plumpness of a female’s.
Never tiring of watching him, Souichirou continued to watch Fumiya. For some reason, he couldn’t seem to avert his gaze.
I wonder if this inability to look away is related to love? Souichirou had never done bad deeds like hanging around the red-light district flirting with girls, but he wasn’t a straight-laced person either.
He quickly shook his head. I’m just curious, that’s all. It was only because high-schoolers, including himself, were sentimentalists in one way or another.
The beautiful underclassman standing around in the snowy morning.
Standing silently in the passageway, Kobori Fumiya’s figure was imprinted on the back of Akamatsu Souichirou’s eyelids, and for a while, his image refused to disappear.
The snow soon thawed with the arrival of March, at the time when the school’s art and literature newspaper, “Keitou”, was displayed on the bulletin board.
Works derived from the students’ pathos of having lost their way and foolishly pessimistic points of views were all lined up in a row.
For some reason, Souichirou’s eyes stopped on a published three-line tanka.
If I hadn’t grabbed hold of the dancing snow, that everlasting pink could have remained,
That memory of naive frolicking in the first snow appears as an ephemeral dream, just like flowers in full bloom,
While snow falls on my clothes as I walk along the cherry tree row.
Through using part of another waka to model the tanka off of, the writer had done a fine job of describing the snowy winter scene as it blended into the cherry blossom-filled spring, along with effectively conveying the delicate emotions felt watching it happen.
Tanka – an unrhymed Japanese verse form of five lines containing five, seven, five, seven, and seven syllables respectively
Waka – Japanese poetry
The writer was a Riotsu first year, Kobori Fumiya.
Souichirou couldn’t help but grin at how that early morning reverie had been portrayed through a tanka.
Without delay, he made his way to the dormitory’s cafeteria. When he found Fumiya, he quickly made his way over.
“Kobori-kun, I saw your entry in Keitou. That wasn’t a bad tanka.”
While Souichirou spoke, the shy underclassman drew back. Was he surprised at the suddenness of it? Without even looking at his face, Fumiya cast his eyes down and thanked him in a voice so quiet it was almost a whisper.
“I saw snow scattered about on top of cherry blossoms in full bloom once when I was younger. It was in Europe, though… Ever since then, I’ve felt like there’s some kind of bond between snow and cherry blossoms,” Souichirou said, but Fumiya didn’t utter a single word in response.
After seeing how cleverly the boy could weave his words, Souichirou had thought that maybe bringing up the cherry blossoms would elicit a reaction from him, but…
He couldn’t help but feel let down that his expectations had been betrayed.
With his head hung down low, Fumiya waited for his upperclassman to walk away.
“Sorry for interrupting what you were doing.”
As expected, he shook his head without saying a thing, his black hair, as smooth as silk, swaying from the movement.
“You may leave now.”
Once permission was given, Fumiya left at the speed of light. Without raising his head even once.
Souichirou, dejected after his meeting with Fumiya, didn’t know what to do with himself. I’ve just made everything so awkward…
He shrugged his shoulders.
It’s not like this is the first time I’ve been disliked by someone.
Souichirou rarely paid attention to it while on the school premises, but the people who looked at him with suspicion in their eyes because of his mother’s German blood were not few in numbers. After the first Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War, militarism became common and the contempt held toward foreigners had only increased since then.
As the first child, Souichirou’s father and grandfather and their side of the family supported him. However, his stepmother and her side of the family were arrogant, believing the second child, his younger brother who was born to his stepmother, should be the one to succeed the family.
Even though Souichirou was a charming young boy, his stepmother ignored him and didn’t show the slightest hint of loving him.
Souichirou was never raised in Lord Akamatsu’s residence; rather, he was raised in Musashino, where his grandparents lived. However, anyone could tell from a glance that he wasn’t of pure Japanese blood; as much as his grandparents might have loved him, it would make sense if it worried them.
Even after becoming an earl following the Meiji Restoration, and even after he no longer had his topknot, Souichirou’s grandfather, born into a prestigious family in the Kinki region, had never lost his samurai spirit. He drove the arts of fencing and horse riding into his grandson, regardless of how people viewed him. His grandmother, born into nobility, taught him the basics of waka.
Yet, despite being taught in both the literary and military arts, prejudice and discrimination cast a dark shadow over his future.
Souichirou was alone. Even if he garnered attention because of his beautiful features and his noble heart and became respected for it—no, because he was respected for it, Souichirou would have no choice but to remain as a boy left in solitude.