Title: Akai Ito
Characters: Sho Sakurai, Ninomiya Kazunari, Aiba Masaki, Jun Matsumoto, Inoue Mao, OCs
Pairings: Sho/OC, Nino/OC, Jun/Mao
A/N: As I have promised, I have two chapters to post for Sho's birthday. Just a warning, there may be quite surprising stuff on this one. Be sure you're not eating or drinking. Hehe. And for fans of Jin, I mean no harm. Sorry. xD Comments are &hearts . (Originally posted: November 2, 2009)
Previous Chapters: One // Two // Three // Four // Five // Six // Seven // Eight // Nine
Died this morning around five.... Suffered head injuries after a skiing accident.
He wouldn’t believe it at first. The bruise on his face Yu caused just the other day was still painful, though he wouldn’t admit it. That stupid cousin of his was also pretty much still alive if one would look at his space inside the apartment. Yu was still there.
Then I’ll leave her to you. You like her that much, right?
Sho continued to stare at the phone due to the initial shock brought upon by the call that just came that morning. Yu left the other day for a ski trip with his friends from the university. Sho would have gone too, had they not fought prior to the day of the trip. He thought his cousin was such an idiot to misunderstand such things. Hana-chan was a special girl, but Sho never looked at her that way. His grip on the phone tightened as he recalled what turned out to be his cousin’s last words to him.
“Such an idiot,” he muttered as he kicked a nearby chair.
He wanted so much to hit him, but then again, he also wanted him to be back alive and well for her. He still couldn’t believe that both would be impossible now. As always, he couldn’t cry despite what happened. He sounded too calm... even detached as he started calling their other relatives to let them know. It was the same as he started to clean up Yu’s mess in the apartment and place his things in order before his parents take them away. He thought that up until the last moment, his cousin had to make things troublesome for him.
He felt drained that morning, but he had to go to work. He’s pretty much alone now, without Yu to support him. He’d be the only one to pay the apartment, and he had to pay the school fees. He had to get used to dealing with things on his own. For two years, Sho always had Yu to rely on.
But he thought it was good to have his job. It was the only way he could forget though it was only temporary. He had not talked to Hana-chan at all since it was Yu’s friend who called her first. He had also been too busy. But he knew in himself that he still wasn’t sure what to do and what to say once he sees her.
It seemed that she was already asleep when he passed by her apartment, so Sho didn’t bother to knock and see how she was doing. But just as he was about to have a very late dinner, someone knocked on the door. He thought it must have been her since he wasn’t expecting anyone at that hour.
“Horrible? I know,” she said with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes.
Without saying anything, he took a few steps away from the door and let her in. It was the first time he saw her like that—her eyes were swollen from crying, her hair was a mess, and her clothes were very plain. But he really wouldn’t be surprised. She and Yu had been together even before Sho arrived in Tokyo two years ago. Despite the disapproval of Yu’s family, he didn’t leave Hana-chan. Whoever knew it was because of Sho that they would suddenly break up?
She sat on the chair adjacent to where Sho was seated and frowned when she saw the cup noodles on the table.
“That was also your dinner yesterday, wasn’t it?” she asked as Sho sat down and started to gobble the noodles. When she didn’t get a response, she glared at him. “Aren’t you going to ask me if I want something to drink?”
“It’s not like you’re a guest,” he replied though he still stood up to make tea. “Are you coming with me tomorrow?”
“Where?” she asked, while tracing the scratches on the table with her finger. “Oh, the wake? Do you think... do you think I’m welcome there?”
“Just come with me then,” he said as he handed her a cup of tea. He tried to continue eating, but she had been too silent that it was unnerving. “Continue talking, or I’m gonna lose my appetite.”
She just sighed and looked around the apartment.
“He’s still alive here, isn’t he?” She chuckled after Sho almost choked on what he was eating.
“Not that I’m scared but... I’m going to sleep here tonight, you know,” he said as he started to clean up and throw away the cup that was still half-full.
She was silent for a while and just watched him as he moved around the kitchen.
“Can I sleep here too?” she asked as she fiddled with the edge of her gray shirt. “I think... I really have a lot to say, but I’m not sure where to start.”
He thought it was both a good and a bad thing. He was exhausted and all he wanted then was to sleep. He should also be up early the next day. But he still agreed in the end, since they needed to talk. She must be in a lot of pain right now, and he knew that she doesn’t have anyone else to run to.
“I told him we’ll talk when he comes back,” she said in a strained voice as she sat his bed. He was too busy laying out a futon for himself on the floor to notice that she had started to cry. “I didn’t even have the chance to tell him.”
Sho dropped what he was doing and sat on the bed beside her.
“What was it that you were supposed to tell him?” he asked worriedly.
Hana bit her lip and looked at Sho. Since Yu left, she had been thinking about what to do and how to tell him. After the phone call that morning, she’s been thinking of what to do now that he’s gone and how to tell Sho. She knew it was something that Yu’s parents wouldn’t accept. They never liked her because of her family background, coming from an abusive household. She took a deep breath before grasping Sho’s hand.
“I’m pregnant.” She couldn’t even see his reaction as tears continued to well up her eyes. “I wanted to surprise him, but all this stuff happened and—”
She wasn’t able to continue what she was supposed to say after Sho embraced her. She could only cry and cling to him. Now, she really wasn’t sure what to do.
“You don’t have to worry anymore,” he suddenly said after a long silence.
She thought his voice was different. She tried to pull back to see his face, but he was holding her to him too tightly.
“I will take responsibility for everything,” he continued in a calm and steady voice. “And I mean for everything.”
Hana gasped and pushed him away. He had an unreadable expression on his face, and it scared her to see him that way.
“What are you talking about all of a sudden?” she asked as she wiped her tears. “How about that girl you told me about, the one from your hometown?”
“But... this is something more important, isn’t it?” he asked her back. “I couldn’t just stand and watch, knowing about this. This is... this is the least I could do for him.”
He tried to smile and patted her head.
“Let’s just continue this tomorrow,” he said as he stood up. “You need to rest.”
He was about to move to the futon on the floor, but she held on to the sleeve of his shirt.
“You can cry now, Sho-kun. You haven’t cried, right?”
It was Hana-chan who said it, but it seemed like it was Hanako’s voice that he heard. Just like on that rainy day when his mother passed away. Before he knew it, the tears he’d wanted to shed for his cousin flowed down from his eyes. More than this sacrifice he was about to make, it was much more painful to lose one of the few people who had stuck with him all this time.
“Do I still have to do this?” Nino whined after Jun announced that the “double date” would finally push through the coming Saturday.
It’s been two weeks since it had been originally planned to happen, but they had to postpone due to their busy schedules. Nino was almost relieved thinking that it wouldn’t push through anymore. It seemed that Jun was desperate.
“Of course,” Jun said with a frown after hearing him complain again. “It’s not like I really wanted the two of you to be there. If I could have it my way, I won’t do this. But Mao-chan said she wouldn’t come with me to the beach if it’s just the two of us.”
Nino smirked before sipping some coffee.
“Whoever thought you’d go this far,” he said teasingly as he set down his mug to his right. “Back in the university, the girls were the ones who were desperately chasing after you. This time you even have to ask for my help.”
As soon as it was out of his mouth, Jun whacked him with the nearest folder he could lay his hands on. Nino, on the other hand, was quick to stand up and reciprocate by giving Jun a sharp kick on the shin. By the time that Sho entered the small conference room for their meeting, the two were sitting on the opposite ends of the table. Nino was holding his head while Jun was rubbing his shin. Sho sighed and looked at them like a mother who was displeased by her children’s actions.
“What is it again this time?”
“This is going to bruise, Ninomiya!” Jun said through clenched teeth.
“You’re the one who started it!” Nino looked at his reflection on the glass and saw the side of his head turning red.
“Seriously, you guys need to grow up,” Sho said as he sat down. He was still amused the first time something like this happened. However, this was already the third time this week, and it’s no longer funny. “Is it about that date again?”
“This is so troublesome,” Nino replied sarcastically as he tried to hide the sore part with his hair.
Jun finally straightened up on the chair though his left shin was still quite painful.
“It’s not like I’m forcing you to go.”
“Natsumi wants to. That’s why it’s more troublesome.”
“Are you guys done?” Sho asked with an irritated expression. “I have other things to do, you know.”
“Says the person who doesn’t have a girlfriend,” Jun shot back.
It was too late when he realized what he had just said. He looked up and saw Nino giving him a you-just-stepped-on-a-landmine look. He grimaced and looked at Sho who was sitting there quietly with an unreadable expression. Jun cleared his throat and opened the folder in front of him.
“Uh... we’re supposed to decide on this today, right?”
Sho glanced at the two men whose attitudes suddenly changed and smiled inwardly. He took out his pen and nodded in reply to Jun’s question. For probably the first time that week, they were able to smoothly conduct a meeting. After the meeting, he was back working on his desk. He was just about ready to wrap up what he was working on when his phone signaled an incoming message. He took it and smiled when he saw from whom the message was.
Is nikujaga alright for dinner? Shoichi-kun said it’s okay, but I wanted to ask you too. We’ll see you later!
Hanako called him the previous day to tell him that she’ll be working from home for a couple of days to work on an assignment. She volunteered to take care of Shoichi after she found out that he’ll be working overtime for most of the week.
It’s fine. Can’t wait to try it. I’ll just call you later. Thanks again.
He tried to put on a straight face as Jun passed by his desk and looked at him guiltily. When his co-worker had already left, he chuckled to himself.
Doesn’t have a girlfriend, huh? Well, not for long.
“Double date? Eh... I haven’t heard about this,” Hanako told Natsumi while they were preparing dinner.
She invited her friend to go out with her and Shoichi the coming Saturday, but she said she couldn’t because of a double date with Nino and his friends. Not that she expected her friend to tell her about everything she plans to do. In the years that they’ve been together, Natsumi usually told her about such things.
“Well... I just wasn’t sure how to tell you,” Natsumi answered hesitantly. “With what happened days ago and all.”
She probably still felt sad after Toshi left, but she would have been very happy for Natsumi had she told her. Hanako was about to tell her that she was worrying too much over nothing when they heard a high-pitched scream from the room.
“What are they doing?” Hanako asked with a bewildered look after she heard Shoichi laughing and screaming inside the room where he was playing with Masaki and Daichi.
“Let them be,” Natsumi said with a chuckle after she heard her cousin’s breathy laugh followed by Daichi’s guffaw. “I don’t think he gets to do that often.”
Hanako still looked doubtful, but in the end, she took Natsumi’s word for it and just continued preparing dinner. But just after she heard another scream from Shoichi, she remembered about their neighbor.
“How about Ohno-san? Won’t he get disturbed by the noise?” she asked again with concern.
“Ah, I heard from Masa-kun that he and Daichi got him back together with his girlfriend, and they’re now on vacation.”
Before she could ask more, Shoichi came pattering into the kitchen. He was flushed and breathing heavily, but there was a sparkle in his eyes. He pulled a chair to where the two women were and climbed up to look at the food they were cooking.
“Is it cooked already?” he asked excitedly.
“Almost done,” Hanako replied as she helped the boy climb down from the chair. “Are you already hungry?”
He shook his head and looked at the clock.
“Are we going to wait for Papa?”
Natsumi moved to take over the rest of the work and motioned for Hanako to go with Shoichi. The latter smiled at her friend before shaking her head in reply to the boy’s question. She took his hand and led him back to the living room where the seemingly exhausted Masaki and Daichi were watching television.
“He’d be home late again, so we’ll have dinner first,” she answered. She lightly kicked Daichi’s leg, and her friend sat up on the sofa to give them some space. “You might be too sleepy to wait for him again.”
“Maybe not,” Daichi suddenly chimed in. “That kid’s too energetic today for some reason.”
Hanako looked at the two men again and then at Shoichi who was sitting beside her.
“If he wore out Masaki then that is something,” she said while Masaki could only look at her and toward the kitchen.
“Is dinner ready yet?” he asked weakly yet loud enough for Natsumi to hear.
“Get yourself in here if you want it ready now,” his cousin shot back.
Contrary to what they thought, Shoichi fell asleep shortly after dinner. Hanako saw him asleep while in the middle of drawing something. Daichi and Masaki, who just noticed it a few moments before she came into the living room, were snickering in a corner and just watching. She gave both of them a smack on the head before crouching down beside the boy and carrying him to her room.
She still had work to do so she stayed there and started typing on her laptop. Once in a while, she glanced at the boy on the bed from her desk to check on him. She was almost done with her goal for that day when she received the message from Sho saying that he was about to leave from his office.
I see. Shoichi’s asleep already. The two idiots tired him out. Take care and see you in a bit.
On her way to the kitchen to reheat the dinner, she felt like an idiot for thinking and feeling like a housewife waiting for her husband to come home. She tried to shake the thought out of her head, but when Natsumi emerged from her room and saw what she was doing, there was a knowing smile on her face.
“He’s on his way?” she asked as she joined Hanako in the kitchen.
Hanako nodded in reply and tried to change the subject.
“Where are Daichi and Masaki?”
“Next door. I’m on my way there too since Nino hasn’t eaten anything since brunch this morning.”
“Why don’t you ask him to have dinner here?” Hanako tried to suggest.
“I already asked but he refused,” Natsumi answered. “Said he’d probably puke if he sees Sho-san’s face again today.”
Their eyes met and they both laughed. It was something expected from Nino. After taking some food for her boyfriend, Natsumi left the apartment and went next door. Hanako also went back to working after she set the table. Shoichi was still fast asleep so she tried to be as quiet as possible as she wrap up the work for that day.
It was already around ten when Sho arrived. He looked really worn-out when he arrived that she could only take his bag and his coat from him as he wearily walked into the apartment.
“I’m really sorry for the trouble, Hanako-chan,” he said with a weak smile as they walked into the living room.
Hanako thought that it’s been around a week since he started to call her that way just because she also started calling him Sho-kun. She placed his things on one of the couches adjacent to where he sat.
“I told you it’s fine.” She looked toward the kitchen then glanced back at Sho. “The dinner’s ready. I think you must be hungry.”
He leaned back on the sofa and closed his eyes. All he wanted then was to fall asleep, but he thought that he still had to go home with Shoichi, and she had gone through all the trouble to prepare dinner for him.
“Thanks,” he said as he stood up and followed her to the dining area. “How is it? The thing that you’re working on?”
“Oh, I was able to write a lot so it’s good,” she replied as she handed him a warm bowl of rice.
Hanako wanted to ask him about his work, but decided otherwise seeing how tired and stressed he seemed. She just let him have his dinner in peace while they talked about lighter topics.
“I’m no good with heights too,” he replied after she shared an experience in an amusement park when she was in high school.
“That’s a lie.”
He was about to say more when he noticed that it was almost eleven. He wanted to talk more with her, but he also had to go home and take a rest.
“Oh, I think we should go now.” He couldn’t hide the disappointment on his face as he stood up to take his things.
“Shoichi’s sleeping here.” She opened the door to her room and went back carrying the sleeping boy.
Sho took his son with an apologetic look on his face.
“He’s getting much heavier these days,” he said in a low voice. “Thanks again.”
“Are you sure you can drive now?” she asked with concern as she walked with him to the genkan. “I can ask Masa-kun to drive for you. He’s just next door.”
“No, I can manage,” he said with a smile.
She walked with them until they got to the parking lot where his car was.
“Take care-Sho-kun,” she said with a smile as he was about to enter the car. “I’ll see you again tomorrow.”
Sho simply looked at her for a moment before responding.
“You too. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Hanako stood there and quietly watched the car move away. She was expecting to see them again the next day, but she couldn’t understand why she felt so alone after they left.
“You’re late!” Nino said irritably as Natsumi walked out of her apartment. He eyed the large bags she was carrying and sighed. “We’ll only be there over the weekend, not for a week.”
Natsumi was in a chipper mood early that Saturday morning, but her mood was just ruined when Nino greeted her that way. She scowled and forcefully gave one of the bags to Nino.
“Sorry. I just want to be prepared so as not to waste your precious money in case we suddenly need to buy something.” She started to walk away then looked back when she saw that Nino was just standing there with a grumpy face. “Nino!” She took his hand and dragged him out of the apartment building and into his car.
He continued to be silent inside the car. Natsumi even wished she was the one driving. At least she could just focus on doing that.
“We can just go somewhere if you don’t want to go.”
Nino quickly glanced to her direction then shifted his eyes back to the road.
“Who told you I don’t want to?” he asked. “I just hate having to wake up early then ending up waiting for you for thirty minutes.”
“I already said sorry, didn’t I?”
“And I forgave you already, didn’t I?”
Nino suddenly started to laugh at her so she couldn’t help punching his shoulder. She couldn’t understand how he does that—making her hate him and yet love him at the same time.
“I’m still having a bad feeling about this trip,” he confessed as he relaxed more on his seat and leaned his elbow by the car window. “But it’s a good opportunity for us to be able to go somewhere far from home.”
“Are we just going to meet them there?” she asked as she took out a camera from her handbag. She attempted to take a picture of Nino, but he blocked it with his hand.
“Don’t do that,” he said flatly. “Yeah. Jun and Mao-chan already left so they’ll get there first.”
After two more failed attempts, she gave up on trying to take a picture of him and just turned on the music. A part of her wished that they were with their friends, but with them around most of the time, they rarely have some privacy. Both of them were quietly listening to the music until a song played, and it seemed like it was Nino who was singing.
“Is that you?” Natsumi straightened up on her seat.
“I’m great, am I not?” he replied with a smirk. “Recorded it a long time ago... just for fun.”
“Well, not that it’s so great. I was just surprised to hear you singing.” She was paused for a moment and then continued. “You should have been an idol or something.”
Had he been at home, Nino would probably be rolling on the floor and laughing at that moment.
“What a stupid idea.”
Nino didn’t really like going to the beach. If given a choice, he’d rather stay home to read manga or play games. But of course, he had to give in and try it every once in a while. Especially if it will be on a weekend that he gets to spend with his girlfriend.
He thought everything was doing well since they came. Natsumi instantly became friends with Mao, while he and Jun were miraculously not bickering as usual. They also got to play around the beach for a bit before having a great lunch, which the two girls prepared. He thought it also helped that Natsumi was looking cute wearing a nice swimsuit that day though he wouldn’t openly admit it.
“I’m going surfing later,” Jun announced when they finished eating lunch. “Want to go with me Mao-chan?”
Mao thought for a moment and then laughed nervously.
“Well... I don’t really know how to—”
“Then I’ll teach you,” Jun said readily. “It’ll be fun.”
Mao seemed to still be hesitant about it, but in the end, they went out into the water to surf while Natsumi and Nino were only lounging on the sand.
“That looks fun,” Natsumi said with a pout as she watched the other couple.
Nino took a peak at them from his manga then frowned.
“You’re free to join them if you want.”
“Eh? But we can’t just stay here all day,” she complained. She took Nino’s arm and started to shake it. “Come on. I don’t think it will hurt to try it for a while.”
Nino just clicked his tongue and didn’t move an inch. He really hates it when someone disturbs him when he’s already at the best part.
“I don’t like to do it, Natsumi,” he said without taking his eyes off the manga. “I don’t think Jun minds if you’ll ask him to teach you too.”
Natsumi just stared at him for a while then suddenly left him in a huff. It would have been easy to ignore, but in the end, Nino dropped the manga and stood up.
“Why does she have to make things troublesome?” he muttered under his breath. He followed her as she walked to the water. “Oi, Natsumi!” He called out to her and tried to catch up, but she wouldn’t turn to his direction nor stop.
He was focused on her back that he didn’t notice that a man who was surfing earlier was waving at her as he walked to the shore. When she saw him, her pace suddenly quickened. She had a smile on her face as she waved back. Nino scowled and walked closer to Natsumi as he got to see who the man was more clearly. It was a tall guy around his age. He was carrying a surfboard while his free hand swept his long hair off his face. He wouldn’t admit it to himself, but a lot of people would think the bastard looks better than him.
“It’s really you, Natsumi!” he said happily as he approached them. “Long time no see.”
“Didn’t expect to see you here, Jin,” she replied with a smile. “How are you?”
“Great,” he answered as he freely took Natsumi’s hand. “So who’s with you? Your friends?”
Natsumi was aware that Nino was just behind her so as revenge, she nodded in reply.
“They’re surfing over there,” she said pointing to where Jun and Mao are. “I wanted to try it too, but no one would teach me.”
“I never thought you’re interested in things like this. I’ll teach you then, come on.”
He pulled Natsumi’s hand to lead her into the water, but Nino roughly took her other hand. Natsumi turned to him and was about to snap when she saw his eyes. He looked so angry, as he stood there and never let go of her hand, no matter what she did. It didn’t help that he started to speak to her in an icy tone.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“So you’re working while your other colleagues are enjoying themselves in the beach,” Hanako said to Sho on the phone while she was trying to decide what to cook for dinner that night.
She had just come home with Shoichi from the amusement park. The boy just busied himself with his new drawing materials on the dining table while waiting for her to decide since he promised to help make dinner.
“Well... this job is different from theirs so I’m still busy while they could go out and have fun,” he answered with a sigh. “So how was Shoichi?”
“Better at heights that I am,” she answered as she glanced at the boy who was removing some new crayons from the box. “I bought him some new drawing materials after we passed by the store on the way home.”
“Hanako-chan....” Sho’s voice had a disapproving tone to it. “You guys are really spoiling him.”
Hanako just laughed as she took out some vegetables from the fridge.
“Don’t worry. It’s his reward for being well-behaved whenever he’s here,” she said as she glanced back at Shoichi and winked.
The boy climbed down from his chair and then walked towards Hanako.
“Can I please talk to Papa?” he asked as he reached a hand up for the phone.
“He said he wants to talk to you. I’m going to give him the phone.”
She handed the phone to Shoichi who walked back to where he was sitting. She watched him for a while and chuckled. He looked quite serious while talking to his father at one moment and suddenly would laugh after a while.
After a few minutes, she heard Shoichi walking back towards her. She stopped chopping the vegetables and turned to him as he returned her phone.
“Papa said he might eat dinner with someone,” he said with a pout as he pulled a nearby chair for him to stand on. Hanako thought that he was a bit slow with it today. Probably because he was tired. “And not to wait for him because he would be very late.”
“He’s got a lot of work this week, Shoichi-kun,” Hanako said gently as she continued to chop the vegetables. “I’m sure he’ll try to make it up to you next time.”
Shoichi still had a worried look on his face as he placed his warm hand on her arm. She stopped what she was doing and faced him.
“What if... what if he has a new girlfriend?”
Hanako felt as if her world froze for a few seconds. It was, of course, something that would be highly improbable, but the thought of Sho eating out in a fancy restaurant with another woman made her feel... strange. Honestly, it did make her slightly angry thinking about it.
She was only snapped out of her trance when Masaki came into the apartment exclaiming, “Tadaima!” She tried to smile as she and Shoichi replied with “Okaeri” when he stepped into the kitchen.
“I’ll be at work tonight, Hana-chan,” he said as he tried to take a strip of carrot from a bowl, but his hand was blocked by Shoichi. He tried once again, but Hanako slapped his hand.
“Are you going to eat here?” she asked as she opened the fridge again.
He opened a cupboard and took some bread from inside.
“I’ll just have dinner somewhere,” he said before taking a huge bite from the bread on his right hand and giving the one on his left to Shoichi. The boy just held the bread for a while and then set it down on an empty plate. He thought it was strange since he always ate it. “See you next time, Shoichi-kun!”
He patted the child’s head before he went to get his bag and leave for work. After they said goodbye and Masaki left, the apartment was silent again. Hanako silently worked in the kitchen and only spoke every once in a while to ask Shoichi for something. She still couldn’t take the image of Sho with another woman out of her head. She couldn’t understand why she had to feel that way over it.
She sighed and busied herself with cooking. She didn’t even notice that as the time passed, Shoichi started to act differently. He looked more tired that he was just sitting languidly on the chair where he was standing. When Hanako was almost done, she was surprised when he suddenly hugged her. She looked down and noticed his flushed cheeks.
“Hanako-neechan, I feel dizzy,” he whimpered.
“You have a fever,” she said in an alarmed voice after placing a hand on his warm forehead.
She carried the boy to her room and made him lie on the bed while she opened his bag. She was thankful that Sho had things organized inside and even included medicine in case of emergencies, such as this. His temperature wasn’t very high and he fell asleep after a while, so Hanako somehow felt relieved. She just felt bad that she couldn’t do anything when he asked for his father before falling asleep.
After sending a quick message to Sho, she went back to the kitchen to make some porridge for Shoichi. When she came back to the room, she tried to wake the boy up so he can eat.
“Shoichi,” she called softly as she gently shook his shoulder. “I made some porridge for you.”
The boy slightly opened his eyes and then whimpered.
Hanako felt more helpless when he called for his mother. She didn’t know why she felt suddenly hurt. She took a deep breath and shook her head. She must be too tired that she’s thinking of strange things. She tried to smile when Shoichi finally opened his eyes. In the end though, she couldn’t control the tear that fell down her cheek.
Natsumi didn’t really expect Nino to be that angry. She was scared, but it was a relief that Jun and Mao came and somehow the atmosphere around them changed. It seemed that Nino didn’t want his friend to see him having problems. She was even able to properly introduce Nino to Jin, her ex-boyfriend while Jun invited him to have dinner with them.
“Ex-boyfriend, huh?” Nino muttered with a scowl on his face as they walked back to the hotel where they were staying.
Natsumi bit her lip and tried to hold his arm. She was really guilty but felt better when he didn’t try to shake her hand away.
“I’m sorry, Nino,” she said in a low voice. Their companions were walking ahead of them and happily talking. “I just... I just thought I’d get some revenge for what you did earlier.”
“Yeah, right.” He paused and just watched the couple in front of him before he continued. “So he’s the cool dude that Masaki was talking about. I think I had seen him once before.”
“That was around three years ago. I rarely see him since then,” she said as she tried to remember when he might have seen Jin.
She was surprised when he suddenly stopped walking and faced her. The look he was giving her made her feel uncomfortable, but she tried not to flinch.
“You are telling the truth?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I believe you so there should be no issue.”
He smiled faintly and started to walk again to catch up with their companions. Natsumi was still surprised, but she felt grateful that he believed in her.
He believed in her, hence he should try to endure all this bullshit.
Nino sighed and rubbed his temple as Natsumi’s ex-boyfriend continued to babble about nonsensical things. He thought he’d rather listen to Masaki talk all day than spend a few minutes listening to Jin. It seemed like his co-workers were feeling the same, but trying to be polite, at least. He smirked at the thought of Jun probably regretting that he invited this guy as an apology.
“Why are you not eating?” Natsumi asked in a low voice which was almost drowned by Jin’s laughter.
“I’m still full,” he replied though he really wanted to say that he lost his appetite.
After a while, he finally gave up and excused himself so he can smoke outside. He almost kissed the pack of cigarettes inside his pocket for giving him an excuse to leave. Natsumi couldn’t stand them so they were in a non-smoking table. He lit a cigarette for himself as he wondered why his girlfriend fell for that guy before. He even smirked at that thought that she got fooled by first impressions and the dazzling and handsome face. At least now she made a better choice.
He was smoking quietly by himself when someone suddenly joined him. The calm look on his face was instantly erased when he saw that it was Jin.
“Do you have a light?” Jin asked as he took out a cigarette and slipped it between his lips.
Nino gave his lighter without a word. He was about to extinguish his cigarette so he can leave when Jin suddenly spoke.
“You’re her next-door neighbor, right?” he asked as he returned the lighter. “I remember seeing you taking out the trash before.”
Nino just bit his tongue and nodded in reply. He really hated the arrogant tone in the guy’s voice.
“It must be easier to do it now that you’re just living next door,” Jin said again with a smug look as he blew smoke toward his direction. “Or are you too slow?”
“What are you talking about?” Nino asked back with a glare.
“So I was right,” the other man muttered, but it was loud enough for Nino to hear. “That girl... I tried to do everything for her and even tried waiting for six months, but she still wouldn’t sleep with me. Man, you should leave her before—”
He wasn’t able to finish his sentences after Nino hit him in the face. He lost control after Jin started talking about Natsumi that way. He didn’t care anymore where he hit him or if he was hit. He was just so angry that he continued to attack despite his smaller frame.
Nino was still on a blind rage as Jun tried to pull him away from Jin. It was only when Natsumi sharply slapped him in the face that he regained his senses. A lot of people had been watching them, but he didn’t notice that. He could only look at the expression of hurt on Natsumi’s face. She suddenly turned away from him and tried to help Jin up, but the man only shook her hand away.
“Your boyfriend is crazy!” he exclaimed as he wiped the blood off his lips. “I was just talking nicely and then he suddenly hit me.”
“I’m really sorry—”
“Whatever,” he said cutting off Natsumi’s apology. “I don’t want to see any of you ever again.”
He started to walk away as the people watching started to leave and talk. Natsumi started to cry, and Mao tried to comfort her. Nino felt Jun’s grasp on him loosen as he started to calm down.
“Na-chan....” He took a step closer and tried to hold her hand, but she shoved it off. “Hey, just listen to me first.”
“Why do I need to?” she said as she angrily wiped her tears. “Isn’t what I have seen enough to show me what a jerk you are?”
He felt like he had just been slapped again. Or rather he felt like his chest was being slashed continuously. He never thought that she wouldn’t even try to listen to what he has to say. He clenched his fist and tried to stop himself from saying anything more that he would regret.
“Fine. Then believe what you want to believe. Thanks for your trust,” he said bitterly before walking away and ignoring Jun’s attempts to stop him.
He was right all along. They shouldn’t have gone on this trip.
Natsumi still couldn’t stop herself from crying even though they were back in the hotel. She felt bad to see Nino resort to violence over petty things.
“Th-thank you,” she said with a hoarse voice after Mao gave her a glass of water. She took a sip and took a deep breath. “I’m really sorry that the plans for tonight were ruined because of this.”
“What are you saying, Natsumi-san?” Mao said as she placed an arm around her shoulders. “It’s too bad the night had to end this way... but I hope you will also try to talk to Nino.”
Natsumi just looked down on her lap. She thought it would be hard to do that now. She had trusted Nino to behave well around Jin, but instead, he acted immaturely and caused trouble. She only looked up when there was a knock on the door of their room. Mao stood up to check who it was. Natsumi thought that if it was Nino, she’d probably still refuse to talk to him.
“What do you mean?” she heard Mao say as she stepped away from the door and let Jun enter the room.
“I just left to buy something for the cut on his face, but when I came back, all of his things were gone,” he said worriedly. “Even his car isn’t there anymore.”
“Well, let him be,” Natsumi said bitterly as she stood up from the bed and placed the glass of water on a nearby table. “If he wants to leave then let him.”
She walked toward the window and opened it. The cool breeze from outside somehow calmed her. Jun who had been silent after what she said suddenly spoke after a while.
“Natsumi-san... I hope you wouldn’t mind me saying this, but I’ve known Nino since high school,” he started. “He might be really cheeky at times, but I don’t think he’ll just hit someone without a grave reason.”
Natsumi just stayed silent. She might have said that it was alright for Nino to leave, but now that he really did it, she felt that she wanted him to come back. Maybe it was fine to hate him, but still know that he was there. Maybe... maybe she really wanted to talk to him after all.
“He turned his phone off.” Jun clicked his tongue as he tried to think of other ways to check where his friend was.
“You could try calling Daichi.”
She was surprised with herself when she suddenly made that suggestion. Despite what he did, a part of her was also worried about him.
“You can ask Daichi to call once he gets home,” she said without turning away from the window.
Jun and Mao’s eyes met and they both smiled. Jun promptly dialed Nino’s home phone number and was able to talk to Daichi. After the phone call, he said good night and promised to let them know once Daichi calls him again. Natsumi felt stupid for feeling envious when Jun gave Mao a hug before going back to his room.
Natsumi decided to try to go to sleep after that. They still had more than half a day to spend there before leaving. Mao was thinking of leaving earlier, but Natsumi thought that she didn’t want to trouble them more by taking away the time that they could spend together.
She was feeling so tired, but her head was still full of thoughts. She closed her eyes and instead of worrying, she tried to imagine that Nino was just at home, reading manga, and complaining about everything. It didn’t work though as tears started to fall from her eyes again.
In the end, she just wanted to see him.
Shoichi’s fever had gone down by the time that Sho sent Hanako a message that he was on his way to her apartment. She thought it must be really hard for him to raise Shoichi by himself for the past two years. Within the past couple of hours, she had only been sending messages to Sho and taking care of Shoichi, but she felt so exhausted afterwards. She even almost forgot to eat her own dinner.
She was finally able to breathe out a sigh of relief when the doorbell rang. Sho got an apologetic look on his face when Hanako opened the door to let him in.
“I’m really sorry I couldn’t get back sooner,” he said as Hanako took his things from him and he took off his shoes.
“It’s fine,” Hanako said as they both stepped into the living room. “And don’t even tell me that you’re going to look for a daycare where you could leave him next time.”
Sho just found himself smiling despite all the stress. It’s like she just read what was on his mind. He collapsed onto the sofa and let out a sigh.
“At least things won’t be this busy for the next couple of weeks,” he said. “I don’t think I could take more of this if it’ll continue next week.”
“Then that’s good. I think Shoichi-kun missed you a lot.” Hanako placed his things on the couch and then looked toward the kitchen. “Have you eaten dinner?”
He nodded and closed his eyes.
“Sorry, if you've already prepared something before I called,” he said in a low voice. “Mind if I close my eyes for a while?”
Hanako chuckled and sat on another couch.
“They already are closed!”
Sho could only respond with a faint smile. Hanako thought he had fallen asleep after he had been silent for a few minutes. She took a blanket from her room, but just when she was about to cover him with it, he opened his eyes slightly and spoke.
“Thank you... for being like a mother to Shoichi.”
The thoughts that she had earlier came flooding back. With an uncomfortable smile, she gave him the blanket and then went back to sit on the other couch.
“But... it’ll always be that way. I mean, I could never replace her. I’d never be his mother.”
Sho was surprised to see the expression of hurt on her face. He straightened up on the sofa and faced her.
“It’s not like you need to replace her,” he said. “Actually, what you’ve been doing for him so far... I really appreciate it, and I’m very sure he also does.”
Hanako shook her head as she felt tears well up in her eyes.
“He called for his mother earlier... Shoichi-kun did.” She took a deep breath and tried her best not to be too emotional about it. “I think I felt somewhat jealous. Call me crazy but... somehow, I do care for him in that way. Like he’s really a part of my family.”
“You don’t have to be blood related to consider someone a part of your family,” Sho suddenly said with an unreadable expression.
“I know, but... I don’t think you’ll understand where I’m coming from.”
“I can totally understand you. Really, I do.”
Hanako was surprised when he suddenly said that. She gave him a questioning look so he could make her understand what he just said. But he looked away from her eyes when it seemed like she was searching them.
“How can you? How can you understand my situation?”
Sho thought he might regret it later, but at that moment, all the feelings and the secrets he had bottled up inside for the past four years had started to get so unbearable. He tried to steady his breathing as he looked back into her eyes.
“Shoichi... Shoichi is not my son.”
Natsumi opened her eyes and sighed when she saw that it’s been a couple of hours since she went to bed. She didn’t feel like she had been able to sleep at all. It was like she only closed her eyes for a very long time. She was about to sit up on the bed when she felt something different in the room. It was as if she could faintly smell him.
She suddenly sat up when she heard his voice. But due to the sudden motion, she felt a sharp pain on her head. She slowly looked to her right and saw that Mao was not in the other bed. When she turned to the other direction, she saw Nino sitting on the floor in a corner just next to the windows. He was still wearing his clothes from the previous night, and it seemed like he hadn’t had much sleep too.
“I realized that I had paid too much for this,” he said flatly in response to her quizzical look. “I was almost home, but I turned back.”
“You’re really stupid,” she said with a small smile that she even forgot for a while what had happened the previous night.
She slowly stood up from the bed and moved to the couch near him. Somehow she felt better seeing him back and knowing that he’s safe.
“I was really hurt last night,” he said honestly, and she knew he wasn’t talking about the bruise on his face. “I did something rash because I felt that you’ve been disrespected. But you quickly judged me.” He paused and looked at Natsumi who couldn’t help looking away from his gaze. “I thought... well, if she won’t listen then fine. She’s not even worth my time.”
There was a long silence before he continued.
“But I couldn’t leave you after all,” he confessed with a small smile on his lips as their misty eyes met again. “For the whole time I was driving I was only thinking about you. Damn, it’s irritating how you got this hold on me that I have to go through all the trouble of going back here.”
Just as he had finished talking, Natsumi had already thrown her arms around his neck.
“Thank you for coming back,” she said softly against his shoulder. “And I’m sorry for not listening to you... for not believing in you.”
She was so happy at that moment, but she frowned again when she pulled away and saw the all-familiar smirk on his face.
“You definitely owe me one, Shimizu,” he said smugly.
Natsumi moaned in complaint, but then she thought that she should do something to make up for what she has done.
“What should I do then?” she asked with a frown.
It was definitely his chance for revenge, and he just had the greatest one in mind. It would surely be such a pain for her as much as it would make her happy. The smirk faded from his lips as he took her hand and looked deep into her eyes.
“Stay with me... always.”
Hanako stretched her legs on the floor as she leaned her back on the sofa and stared at the ceiling. She still couldn’t believe everything that Sho had told her. He was sitting beside her on the floor and staring at his hands as he talked.
“For four years you’ve never told anyone?” she asked with a tone of disbelief though she knew he was telling the truth.
“I thought for once, I’ll try to handle things by myself,” he answered wearily. “Hana-chan had no objections because she was scared that Yu’s family might take Shoichi away.”
“They’re already in America, right?” she asked again. She glanced at him and saw him nod. “Would you let him know? Shoichi, I mean.”
He leaned his back on the sofa as she did and looked toward the ceiling. He wondered how long they had been talking. Shoichi was sound asleep in the bedroom, but they were still talking in very low voices.
“When the right time comes, of course,” he said before yawning. He paused for a while and then continued to speak. “I can’t believe I’ve finally told someone else about it now.”
Hanako turned her head to him and smiled when she saw the calmer expression on his face. Now she could understand everything. But she still felt sorry for him because he carried such a heavy burden for the good of someone he cared about. Maybe even a little envious at the fact that he could do so much for her.
“So that’s the reason why you never pursued the girl you liked?” she suddenly found herself asking.
Sho sat up and turned to her with a look of surprise. It’s been a while since he had mentioned something about that to her.
“Well, I had planned to once I thought I was good enough for her,” he started to say after a long silence. He really had worked so hard before so when he comes back, he’d be someone she would approve of. Only, he had to throw it all away. “But... but I thought then that maybe she wasn’t waiting for me anyway. Hana-chan needed me more at that time.” He laughed uncomfortably when he saw her reaction
Sho felt more nervous when he couldn’t read the expression on her face. But he didn’t say anything more, lest he would just regret it later. She just stayed as she was then she took a deep breath before sitting up straight and looking at him with tears in her eyes.
“But what if... what if she had waited, even for just a while?”
He could only stare at her with an expression of disbelief. Could it be that she had known all along? His head was still in a whirl at the sudden turn of events. But when their eyes met it seemed like they both understood. He reached out his hand to her face and inched closer as he wiped the tear that trailed down her cheek.
“I truly apologize then for keeping her waiting,” he said sincerely. “And I would understand if she wouldn’t accept me anymore.”
“How could you say that after you have done so much?” she said as she shook her head. No matter how hard she tried to control her emotions, she couldn’t help crying. “I really don’t see why she wouldn’t.”
Sho finally smiled. It had been such a long day. A part of him wondered how things would be different tomorrow. When she smiled back to him, he felt as though every decision and sacrifice he had made so far had been worth it. She’s now finally in front of him, within arm's reach, and he was no longer simply watching her from afar.
He didn’t dare to hold himself back anymore as he leaned forward and kissed her.
go mood: accomplished