Chapter 1: Yuui at Kohane Cafe - 23/05/10
A color snapshot of a young man, maybe twenty-five years old. He's not paying attention to the camera, instead looking intently at the book in his hand, brow furrowed just slightly in concentration. His hair is blond and short, curling over the tops of his ears and the back of his neck. His bangs are a bit longer, and would fall into his eyes if not pinned out of the way by a pair of Hello Kitty hair clips. He's sitting in a corner booth at a coffee shop, wearing a plain t-shirt.
The caption scribbled on the back is in Japanese, blocky katakana made fluid by the hurried writing. The date scrawled underneath in the same hand reads '23/05/10'.
It starts just like every other day.
The morning is a blur of businessmen in crisp suits talking on their cell phones, teenage girls in their skirts and blazers on their way to school, cappuccino and American-style scones. The air is filled with chatter, the hum of the espresso machine and the smell of coffee and baked goods.
Kurogane is busy restocking the glass display cases when the foreigner comes in (he's not allowed on cash much anymore, not since he caught a kid trying to shoplift and vaulted the counter to tackle him outside on the sidewalk. The boss, while pleased he stopped the theft, said it wasn't good for the company's image). So he doesn't see him until he grabs a cloth and goes to start wiping down tables.
He's sitting in a corner on his own, just pulling a book out of his bag and obviously intending to settle in and read a little. Despite that it looks like he's trying to be discreet, he sticks out like a sore thumb. You don't get many foreigners this far from Tokyo, this isn't a tourist-y town.
Kurogane's fingers twitch, and he clenches them around his cleaning rag. He wishes he had one of his cameras with him so he can record this, the stranger so out of place in a Japanese coffee shop.
His skin is pale, pink and white like the pads of a cat's paw, lacking the golden hue to his skin that the Japanese have. But more than that, his hair is what sets him apart. It looks so fine and soft, bright gold, like the way sunshine is in a child's drawing. It seems to glow with an inner light. Kurogane has to firmly tell himself that he is a grown man and will not wander over to pet a stranger's hair.
Instead, he drifts that way, working his way around the shop wiping down tables until he's right beside the foreigner. Too curious to stand it, he glances sideways to see what he's reading.
He'd expected something in English, but to his surprise the book is in Japanese. It's a manga, and when Kurogane cranes his neck to get a better look, he can't help but snort at the fact that the foreigner is puzzling his way through Pokemon Special.
At his snort, the stranger looks up, revealing eyes the color of the sky in high summer, when the sky is free of smog and clouds and seems like you could reach up and touch it. He gives a hesitant sort of smile, closing his manga and running his fingers nervously along the edge. "K-konnichiwa...?"
Kurogane abruptly turns away, well aware that he'd been terribly rude by staring, let alone spying on what he was reading. He starts to bend over the next table that needs cleaning when he feels the tug on his apron.
He turns to see the foreigner smiling at him, absently chewing on his lower lip. "Boku wa Yuui Flourite desu." His voice is soft, but Kurogane thinks that probably has more to do with an unfamiliar language than it does any hesitancy of personality. "Nihon ni... atarashii desu."
Kurogane keeps his expression perfectly steady through the ease of long practice. Dredging his memories for his junior high English, he bows slightly. "My name... is Kurogane."
When he looks up again, he realizes that he was mistaken before. He'd thought Yuui's hair was as gold as sunlight, but it turns out to pale in comparison to his smile.
Nihon ni... atarashii desu - Very roughly means 'I'm new in Japan', but the grammar is entirely off. Sort of the equivalent of saying "In America, I'm brand new!"
Expect more butchered Japanese in the future. Poor Kurogane.
Chapter 2: Yuui, laughing at Kohane Cafe - 28/05/10
Another color photograph, of the same young man. This time he's aware his picture is being taken, and he's laughing, one hand half raised as though he was going to block the lens and wasn't quite fast enough.
Yuui quickly becomes a regular. Of course, it helps that he's so easily distinctive; it isn't a week before everyone who works at that particular cafe knows who he is and what he orders (a large chai tea, and he sits in the corner booth for an hour or two and reads or people-watches while he drinks it. Except on Thursdays, when he orders an iced chai and a chocolate chip frozen latte to go and leaves right away). He's friendly, happy to chatter with the cashiers in his woefully broken Japanese, but at least he's making the effort and it makes Himawari giggle when he smiles at her like that.
Apparently, because Kurogane works most mornings when he's in and is hardly ever busy on cash, Yuui has decided that Kurogane will be his Japanese tutor. Kurogane growls whenever Yuui interrupts him to ask what a word or a phrase means, and the first few times Yuui seems taken aback until he realizes that Kurogane growls at everyone and it shouldn't be taken personally. In response, Yuui just smiles and waits until Kurogane has a break in his work before he asks questions.
After a week, when it's time for Kurogane to take his break, he shucks his apron off in the back room and strides out to sit down across from Yuui.
Yuui blinks at him, bemused. "Hello."
"Hn," Kurogane grunts, already wondering why he didn't just chill in the back room during his break like he always has. "Where're you from?"
Yuui blinks, then smiles, a calm, warm expression that reminds Kurogane a bit of the shop's owner, Sakura, at her most maternal. "America. My brother has a job here, so I moved with him."
Later, Kurogane would think back and read between the lines, that Yuui meant his brother would likely get into horrible trouble in a foreign country on his own and Yuui had come along to keep an eye on him. But for now he just nods.
"I'm trying to find a job myself," Yuui continues. "But my Japanese isn't so good, so no luck so far."
"Mm," Kurogane makes a non-committal sound. "What do you do?"
"I cook," Yuui beams at him. "Mostly Italian food, but anything really."
Kurogane nods thoughtfully, making a mental note to ask Sakura if she knew of any restaurants nearby that are hiring. In the meantime, he catches Yuui's eye and holds up one finger. "Ichi."
Yuui blinks at him for a moment before he gets what Kurogane is trying to tell him, and then happily dives into the language lesson.
Chapter 3: Fai & Yuui Flourite - 03/06/10
There are two young men in this picture, and at first it seems like a double exposure, since they're both blond and blue-eyed. But on second glance, one has longer hair tied back into a tail high on his head, wisps escaping everywhere to fall in his face. He's wearing a rumpled white Oxford shirt, but no tie. On closer inspection, the tie (blue, like his eyes) has been used to tie his hair back, the long ends dangling over his shoulders.
They're both laughing; the one with longer hair has a wide, infectious smile, seeming to give his whole heart into his laughter. The shorter-haired one has a quieter, but just as warm smile.
Caught down on paper with their arms around each other, it's easy to see the differing personalities in the way they stand and smile, they way they dress. They are both so alike and so different.
The notation on the back is taken down in careful, unpracticed English. 'Fai & Yuui Flourite - 03/06/10'.
Kurogane is grumbling under his breath as he wipes down the front of the display case, erasing finger- and nose-prints left by children eager to get at the goodies within. He's grumbling because he knows he'll have to wipe it down again in an hour or so after another round of children with inattentive parents have left their own marks.
When he looks up, he's surprised to see Yuui sitting at his usual corner table, sipping his chai. An untouched iced mocha sits in front of the empty chair across from him. He's not reading today, instead idly gazing out the front window, chin propped in one hand.
Kurogane is considering going over to ask why he's here on a Thursday when the front door seems to blow open and a young man runs in, shoulder bag and the tails of his lab coat trailing behind him. Kurogane only catches a glimpse of blond hair and a chibi-style anime keychain on his bag as he runs by him.
Yuui looks up and smiles warmly, gesturing to the seat across from him. "It took you long enough, Fai," he says in English.
"I'm so sorry!" The newcomer, Fai, drops into the chair across from Yuui, apparently oblivious to the stares he's receiving for his loud and wild entry to the quiet cafe. "Class ran late, and I had to stay and arrange a couple tutoring sessions, and then I couldn't find the key to my bike lock, so-"
Yuui reaches across the table to nudge the mocha closer to him, and Fai snatches it to suck down the sweet drink. "It's okay," Yuui says into the brief lull that results.
Kurogane realizes that he is staring and starts to turn away. The movement catches Yuui's attention and he motions Kurogane over. Reluctantly, Kurogane steps over, facing both brothers head on for the first time.
They must be twins, he realizes after a moment. They look too much alike to just be siblings. Really, the only difference is in their eyes. While Yuui's eyes are the boundless, deep blue of the sky at midsummer, Fai's are the pale, sharp blue of a clear winter's sky. Far from cold, however, they sparkle with good humor and curiosity. Kurogane wonders if a photograph would ever be able to convey that subtle difference. He spares a thought wishing he had his camera and time to experiment with lighting and color, but pushes that to the back of his mind in favor of more immediate concerns.
Fai's hair is longer too, Kurogane notices now that he's sitting still. He has it pulled back into a high tail, but it would probably be down past his shoulders if it were loose. On the breast pocket of his lab coat, rather than a brand name or a university logo or even Fai's name monogrammed, there is instead an iron-on patch of a plush rabbit holding a flower.
"This is Kurogane," Yuui introduces him in English. "He's the one who's been helping me with my Japanese."
"Ah," Fai grins brightly, offering Kurogane a seated bow. "Hajimemashite! Yuui-chan ni, osewa ni narimasu~"
"It's nothing," Kurogane murmurs, well aware of his imperfect English in the face of Fai's quite good Japanese.
"And this is my brother, Fai," Yuui continues. "He's a chemistry professor at Kumamoto University."
(Thursday is his 'easy' day, Kurogane learns later. He only has one class in the early morning, so he and Yuui usually meet for lunch, arguing about Japanese food versus Western and always ending up insisting on the others' choice unless it's sushi, which is why Yuui never stays at the cafe very long on Thursdays)
Kurogane raises an eyebrow. "That's almost an hour commute."
"Which isn't bad!" Fai says with a smile. "I like riding the trains, so I don't mind at all. Besides, this city is quieter than downtown Kumamoto City is. And cheaper!"
Kurogane nods ready agreement to that.
"We should let you get back to work," Yuui says, glancing around. Sure enough, the cafe is beginning to fill up, and the manager, Syaoron (he's the brother of the husband in the husband-wife pair that owns the cafe), is frowning slightly at Kurogane loitering around talking instead of busing tables.
But before he can turn away and get back to work, Fai reaches out and catches hold of his sleeve. "Yuui! We should have Kurogane-kun over for dinner to thank him for his help!"
Kurogane bristles at the familiarity of being called by 'kun', but he can't really protest. He just grumbles a vaguely affirmative reply (he feels his cheeks go pink at how happy they both look at that) and escapes as quickly as he can.
He hides in the kitchen, washing dishes and considering drowning himself in the soapy water until a very amused Himawari tells him that they've left.
Hajimemashite - Nice to meet you
Osewa ni narimasu - Basically, "I'm in your debt" or "thanks for what you did".
Kumamoto City - A city in the center of Kyushu, the southern most island of Japan, and capital of Kumamoto Prefecture. About an hour's train ride away is Yatsushiro City, which is where I spent my time in Japan. This fic is loosely set in Yatsushiro.
Chapter 4: Flourite apartment - 20/06/10
The picture is black and white, contrasts and details standing out in the lack of color. It's a two-room apartment, much more affordable here than it would be in a bigger city, and practically a mansion by Tokyo standards. The floors are wood, rather than tatami, a pair of futons folded out of the way into the corner to make room for a low table that likely doubles as a kotatsu in the winter. Besides that there isn't much furniture other than a slightly battered dresser and a desk with a chair, though the apartment looks to be in dire need of a few bookcases.
The things which were sitting on the table have been shoved aside to clear space for plates and cups; several thick textbooks, a box of tissues, miscellaneous papers and a rabbit plush. Other plushes have drifted into piles in the corners, perched on mountains of books.
There's a window set in one wall, pale curtains blowing in a breeze. A quarter turn around the room, a set of glass doors leads out to a tiny balcony.
The room looks lived in, a real home.
Kurogane manages to avoid committing for dinner for two weeks, until Yuui gives him a sad look one morning and asks if Kurogane is really that scared of his cooking. Kurogane feels comfortable enough with him now to swear at him, and does so.
"Kurogane-kun!" Syaoron barks, frowning at him from his place behind the cash. Kurogane scowls, resisting the urge to swear more, and Yuui just laughs and waves a hand at the manager to show he doesn't take offense.
"So Fai and I will see you tonight?" he asks sweetly.
Kurogane scowls fiercely at him and calls him a manipulative bastard (in a good way! he adds quickly at his boss's glare), and Yuui just laughs at him.
That night Kurogane arrives at their apartment bearing a bottle of sake and a case of good Sapporo. He suspects he'll need the alcohol to get through the evening with his sanity mostly intact.
He's surprised that Yuui and Fai live in one of the older residential areas of the city, rather than one of the flashy new high rise apartment buildings downtown. He hesitates outside their door, double-checking the address that Yuui had written down. This building looks like it used to be offices, and had been converted into apartments. After a moment, he raises his hand to knock.
"Coming!" Yuui's voice comes from inside in English. "Ah, I mean... Machi kudasai?"
He opens the door, grinning when he sees it's Kurogane, and Kurogane can't help but chuckle slightly. "Chotto matte," he corrects, and Yuui looks sheepish as he steps back to let Kurogane in.
Kurogane steps into the genkan and bends to take off his shoes, raising an eyebrow when he sees only Yuui's trainers already sitting there. "Where's the loud one?"
Yuui laughs, taking hold of Kurogane's arm to pull him through the small kitchen and into the main room of the apartment. Across the room, the balcony doors are open, letting in the fresh air and breezes and the occasional ambitious leaf or confused insect. Yuui leads him across the room and out onto the balcony. "Fai's over there," he points across the road.
Obediently, Kurogane looks. Open fields are rare even in this part of Japan, but when he cranes his neck he sees playground equipment and a long, two-story white-washed building hiding behind a screen of trees. "An elementary school? I thought he worked at the university."
Yuui just laughs again, leaning against the balcony railing. "He does. Watch."
Kurogane doesn't really have a choice, so he does. After a minute, a herd of small children (boys and girls identical at this age, at this distance, all of them in navy shorts and white shirts and bright yellow caps with their names inked on the brim) come running out from behind the trees, led by a much taller figure with hair that looks like bright butterfly wings in the sun. Kurogane can hear the laughter from here as a soccer ball skitters across the dry grass and packed earth.
He must have made some kind of noise, because Yuui smiles warmly. "He's good with the kids, and they like him."
Kurogane snorts. "He's a foreigner. The teachers trust him?"
"He's charmed them too."
Kurogane looks back across the road to see that Fai has stopped playing, apparently because he's spotted them on the balcony. With a grin that's faintly visible even at this distance, he waves a hand enthusiastically.
Kurogane nearly falls off the balcony. "What the bloody fuck did he just call me?!?"
Yuui's doubled over the railing, in danger of falling himself, he's laughing so hard. "He says that your name is too long to pronounce."
Kurogane grumbles under his breath, cheeks burning as Fai continues to wave. He turns around to storm inside.
Time to break out those beers.
Sapporo is supposed to be a pretty good brand of Japanese beer. I wouldn't know, I'm not particularly fond of beer so I've never tried one.
Machi kudasai - a weird way of saying 'please wait' that's sort of understandable but not grammatically correct
Chotto matte - "Wait a moment"
Chapter 5: Sunday - 20/06/10
The entire photo is a splash of color. Blond hair and blue eyes, pale skin, the white and blue and green of their t-shirts sticking to their shoulders in the damp southern heat. On the table, the milky tan of miso soup, creamy white of udon noodles, the dark brown of iced tea, all laid out in mismatched dishes that add yet more color to the mix.
Fai is laughing, and so is Yuui, laughing at Kurogane for pulling out his camera in the middle of dinner. Leaning against each other and frozen in the picture, they still manage to give the impression of movement; Fai flashing a grin and a peace sign, Yuui with a bite of miso halfway to his mouth.
The notation on the back is simple, just the kanji denoting the day of the week and the date.
Kurogane feels pleasantly warm and fuzzy after three saucers of sake and the beer Fai left open on the table. (Fai had been harassing him all evening, so when he got up to skip-stumble to the bathroom Kurogane had stolen his beer. The look on Fai's face when he returned to find his alcohol gone had been priceless. Also disturbingly adorable.)
Later, he will always blame the invitation on the alcohol.
Yuui is half asleep, flopped on a pile of plushes with a half empty wine bottle beside him.
Fai, to Kurogane's eternal relief, is also half asleep. But, to his eternal annoyance, he's laying sprawled on Kurogane's lap and making weird cat noises in the back of his throat. Kurogane's doing his very best not to pick him up and throw him off the balcony. At least Yuui's being quiet.
Kurogane shifts (because he will never allow the word squirm to be applied to him), trying to dislodge Fai. The idiot just 'nyaa's pathetically and clings tighter.
There's a giggle from the corner, and Kurogane shoots Yuui a sour look. He wonders if dumping Fai onto his brother's lap would do any good, or if that would just induce them both to cling to him.
"Kurogane is like the puppy to Fai's kitty," Yuui grins, and Kurogane groans as Fai starts laughing hysterically.
"'m not a dog," he protests, reaching for the sake bottle.
On the upside, Fai is laughing so hard that he's rolled off Kurogane's lap. "Of course Kuro-wan isn't a dog! He's a growly, spiky puppy!"
Would you shut up?" Kurogane growls. "I've been telling you all night, my name is Kurogane!"
"Kuro-peep," Far chirps helpfully from the floor, blissfully unaware of Kurogane's serious contemplation of kicking him.
"Kuro-san," Yuui mumbles, and Kurogane's willing to accept that. At least it's not a childish, girlish nickname.
Realizing that he's lost his place on Kurogane's lap, Fai sniffles dramatically and crawls over to drape himself onto Yuui. Yuui yawns, absently petting Fai's hair as he focuses bleary eyes on Kurogane. "Staying the night?"
"S'pose so," Kurogane grumbles, not quite willing to admit that it's quite late, and Fai and Yuui's apartment is actually closer to the cafe than his own across town.
Fai brightens and 'myaa's happily, looking like he might attempt to limpet onto Kurogane again. Yuui just rolls his eyes, hugging his brother tighter to keep him in place.
"Do you want to go to the Tanabata Festival with me?"
It takes all three of them a minute to realize the words had wandered out of Kurogane's mouth. He's contemplating biting out his own tongue, but both twins look so stupidly happy that he can't quite bring himself to take it back.
Instead, he elects to pretend that he hasn't said anything at all, hauling himself to his feet and making his slow (but steady, damnit!) way to the bathroom.
It occurs to him later how much time he seems to spend locked in small rooms, hiding from Fai and Yuui and his own embarrassment.
Chapter 6: Tanabata Part 1 - 07/07/2010
This picture looks like a rather strange, Japanese version of a Where's Wally? book. It would be titled Gaijin wa Doko Ka?, or, Where Are the Foreigners?
The chaos in the scene comes from the fact that the picture was taken at a festival at nighttime. There are plenty of lights around, so the picture is well lit, but the dark sky overhead still gives it a bit of an eerie feeling. Booths and stands line both sides of the street, lit red and yellow and pink. Profiteers lean out over their counters, hawking their wares and calling to potential customers. The street itself is filled with people until they're forced to spill out the sides between the booths. There are women in stately yukata, men in hakama carrying smaller children on their shoulders, teenagers in jeans and t-shirts in defiance of tradition.
Actually, it's incredibly easy to find the 'gaijin'. Fai and Yuui are both tall, and stand well above the heads of the Japanese around them. Their hair gleams firefly gold in the light of the taiyaki stand they're ordering from, halfway down the street. They're both dressed in casual clothes, jeans and lightweight t-shirts to try and compensate for the July heat. Behind them, several Japanese teenagers are loitering, giving them weird looks.
As he lowers his camera, Kurogane realizes that whereas two seconds ago it had been easy to pick out the twins through the lens of his camera, they had since completely vanished.
He frowns, craning his neck in case they've suddenly shrunk two feet and are hiding among the crowd of Japanese. He glances down long enough to stow his camera back into its bag, then goes back to scanning the street. The taiyaki stand where they'd been before is now quite devoid of blonds.
There is a flash of gold farther down the street, but it's so quick that Kurogane isn't sure if it's one of the twins or someone's particularly colorful yukata. Still, he doesn't have any better ideas, so grumbling under his breath, he starts down the street.
The crowds swirl and move around him like water around a rock as he makes his way 'upstream'. Children laugh, darting between the legs of adults. They carry plastic bags with goldfish in, balloon yo-yo's and brightly decorated fans, dressed in small and cartoonish versions of the adults' yukata.
Despite his annoyance at the disappearing gaijin, Kurogane can't help but smile a little. The children remind him inadvertently of his own childhood at festivals like this, hanging onto his father's arm and being swung into the air, listening to his mother try not to laugh as she chided them for causing a scene.
(He almost regrets not wearing his own hakama and yukata. He's always enjoyed the opportunity to dress in more traditional clothes. But something had told him that he'd never hear the end of it, from Fai, at least, if he did.)
Wading his way through the crowds, he finds a corner between two booths that's sheltered from the worst of the flow. Hands on his hips, he gazes out at the street, searching in vain for blond hair or a snatch of warbling English.
Somewhere off to one side, he can hear the steady beat of the taiko drum. He contemplates for a minute, but there's still no sign of Fai or Yuui so he shrugs and rejoins the crowds in the streets. If they've gotten lost, it's their own damn fault.
He lets the crowd carry him along toward the stands where the drums are set up. It's only when he's almost there that he remembers Souma's probably drumming tonight. He hasn't seen her in awhile, if he hangs around he may be able to catch her when she's done. He looks for her, pulling out his camera as he circles the drumming towers, hoping for a good shot.
(At home, in one of his albums, there's a snapshot that doesn't show much more than a fierce brown eye, a nose, a scowling mouth and a few locks of black hair. It was taken about three seconds before Kurogane's first ever cracked lens and second ever black eye, but he keeps it because it just sums up Souma so well.)
Kurogane knows he should probably be a bit more worried about Fai and Yuui, but to be honest he's enjoying the silence. Besides, Fai's Japanese is good enough to have charmed every shopkeeper so far, Kurogane has no reason to think that will have changed. In fact, Kurogane rather suspects that Fai deliberately speaks in broken Japanese when Kurogane's around so that he'll be forced to act as interpreter.
It's getting darker, going from twilight to true night, but Kurogane only notices when the lights strung in the trees and the strings of lanterns hung between booths begin to come on. It still doesn't quite register beyond the fact that he has to fiddle with his camera's settings to account for the change in ambient light.
It's while he's doing this, standing in the small clear area around the base of a tree, that Fai and Yuui manage to find him again.
"-wandered off!" Fai seems to be waxing poetic (and dramatic), his voice rising over the lower murmur of voices around him.
Kurogane wonders who he's regaling with his tale of 'woe', since Yuui's sure to have heard it all before. Face settling into a scowl, Kurogane steps out from under the tree to confront the idiotic twins.
They're both there, alright.
Along with all three of his bosses.
And their (
Fai bursts into laughter at Kurogane's flabbergasted face, but Sakura just smiles sweetly, shifting Kohane enough that she can bow.
"Good evening, Kurogane-kun."
Lots of notes this time!
Yukata - lighter weight and simpler summer version of a kimono, usually made of cotton and only involves one layer instead of a kimono's two or three silk layers. Yukata refers to both the full length female garment, and the top 'shirt' part of the male style. The funny pleated 'pants' that men also wear (like what Kurogane wore in Outo country) are called hakama.
Taiyaki - My favorite Japanese snackfood ever. They're a fish-shaped pastry (no, I'm not kidding), usually filled with custard, pudding, or ice cream, and can be served hot or cold depending on the weather. My favorites are hot ones with chocolate cream inside. Yum.
Taiko drums - the large orange drums you see at a lot of Japanese festivals. Drumming on them is actually a lot of work. Check out some videos on YouTube and you'll see what I mean.
Kohane - Yes, Kohane from xxxHolic. Yes, I made her Sakura and Syaoran's adorable sparkly daughter. Adorable, yeah?
I'm not going to explain the Tanabata festival here, hang around for next chapter to get an explanation.
Chapter 7: Tanabata Part 2 - 07/07/2010
This is the first picture that doesn't involve Fai or Yuui. Instead, there are three adults and one small child; the owners (and namesake) of the Kohane Cafe.
The woman in the middle has short brown hair, the color of warm hot chocolate. In fact, the word 'warm' can be applied to a lot of things about her. Her eyes are warm, the color of the new leaves on an apple tree in spring. Her smile is warm too, her expression one of kindness and openness. Her yukata is pink, with white and gold cherry blossoms scattered across it, her obi the same rich green as her eyes with a pattern of white vines twisting across it. She looks motherly, which is appropriate considering she's holding a young girl of about two years old.
The toddler looks very much like her mother, with the same nut brown hair, but dark blue-gray eyes rather than green. She's wearing her own tiny yukata, bright yellow with a pattern of coin-sized, brightly colored stars and a pale blue obi. She looks a little shy, hand tightly curled in the collar of her mother's yukata.
Two men stand on either side of them, another set of twins. These have sandy brown hair and amber brown eyes, identical in face and body. But a hint of their differing personalities can be seen in the way they stand, their expressions.
The one on the left seems more relaxed, smiling readily, one hand resting on the woman's arm. The toddler is looking at him, rather than at the camera. He's wearing a plain yukata of a dark hunter green, with paler tan hakama.
The man on the right is more reserved, back straight and expression more guarded. He's wearing a yukata and hakama in shades of blue.
Altogether, the four of them make a family.
The notation on the back is a scrawl of kanji, listing the names of dear friends.
Kohane reaches for him again, and with a long-suffering sigh Kurogane scoops her up out of Sakura's arms. (Though 'scoop' is not exactly the right word, he's very careful not to squeeze her too hard or jostle her too much as he settles her in his arms.)
Fai makes a noise rather disturbingly like a squeal, and Kurogane glares at him. He just grins, completely unafraid of Kurogane while he holds a small child in his arms.
Sakura smiles brightly as Kohane hugs the disgruntled Kurogane around the neck. Kohane has known Kurogane her entire life, and is completely tolerant of his grumblings. Kurogane sighs and pats her hair, wishing Fai and Yuui weren't grinning so knowingly at him. He's never going to hear the end of this from them.
"Kohane-chan isn't afraid of the big grumbling puppy, is she?" Fai laughs, which only succeeds in making Kurogane glare harder.
"Kurogane-kun and I are second cousins," Sakura explains, and Fai looks delighted. She pauses uncertainly, looking at Kurogane. "I think."
Kurogane nods, shifting Kohane a little in his arms. "Through marriage. Your mother and Tomoyo's mother were cousins; my mother and Tomoyo's father were siblings."
"That's right," Sakura nods, brightening.
"Tomoyo?" Fai asks, sounding curious. Kurogane has a sudden feeling of dread, a flash of foresight of what might happen if his cousin were to ever meet Fai and Yuui (especially Fai). There would be lace and ruffles involved, he's sure of it.
"Tom'yo!" Kohane smiles sweetly, squirming a bit in Kurogane's arms as though she expects Tomoyo to appear. (Kurogane sincerely hopes she won't.)
"You haven't met her yet?" Syaoran looks mildly surprised. "She comes into the cafe on a fairly regular basis."
Fai shakes his head, still looking intrigued about meeting any close relation of Kurogane's.
While Kurogane's busy dreading that meeting, Yuui steps over and smiles gently at Kohane. "Konban wa."
She ducks her head, suddenly shy. "Konban wa..."
He smiles, a calmer version of Fai's megawatt grin. "Kohane-chan wa, kawaii da ne?"
She stares at him with large blue eyes, looking so surprised that the pale man with blond hair could speak Japanese. After a long minute his words seem to penetrate and she gives an embarrassed squeak, hiding her face in Kurogane's neck. Yuui looks alarmed for a moment, until Sakura laughs softly and puts a hand on his arm. "I'm sorry, she's a little shy with strangers."
"And I don't think she's ever seen a blond up close before," Syaoron drawls with an amused look.
Yuui laughs, looking relieved. "Oh good, I was just hoping I hadn't scared her."
Sakura shakes her head, taking her daughter back from Kurogane. She smiles reassuringly, petting her daughter's hair. "Are you enjoying the festival?"
Fai and Yuui both nod happily. "The food is great!" Fai looks blissed. "I've never had real takoyaki before."
"The yakitori is good too," Yuui adds with a small smile. "For something deep fried."
Kurogane just rolls his eyes. Leave it to them to pay attention to the food. "Idiots."
Everyone else ignored him.
"Do you know the legend behind the festival?" Syaoran asks. By general consent, everyone turns to begin walking among the booths again, making their winding way toward the park at the other edge of the festival. Instinctively they smoosh together into a group because of the crowds, Kurogane trailing behind and trying to pretend he's not connected to them despite that Kohane is watching him over Sakura's shoulder.
Fai shakes his head, looking interested again. "Something about the stars..."
Syaoran nods, eyes brightening a bit as he settles into storytelling mode. Shaking his sleeve away from his hand, he points upward to where the Milky Way paints a broad pale swath across the dark sky. "On either side of the Milky Way are two bright stars, Hikoboshi and Orihime. Alter and Vega, in English. According to the legend, Orihime was the daughter of the star king, and was in charge of weaving and sewing his ceremonial robes.
"One day, she met and fell in love with Hikoboshi. She wanted to spend all of her time with him, and began to neglect her duties. This angered her father, and so he set the Milky Way between them."
"That's so sad..." Yuui murmurs, looking up at the stars.
Syaoran smiles. "They both became so depressed that they couldn't do their work then either, so the king decreed that if they worked hard all year then they would be able to meet for one night each year. That night became the Tanabata Festival."
Sakura slips her hand into her husband's, smiling as well. "It's said that if you tell someone you love them on Tanabata, that the love will remain true even if you are separated."
Syaoran's face turns bright red in a blush, and his brother smirks, leaning over to Fai and Yuui to whisper loudly, "Syaoran proposed to Sakura at the festival, five years ago now."
Syaoran squawks, turning even redder as Fai makes 'awwww' sounds. Sakura just laughs happily, squeezing his hand and giving him a loving look.
By this time, they've made it to the park. Fai and Yuui look around curiously, but Kurogane ducks between them and took the lead. They reach the small hill overlooking the festival just as a loud bang shakes the street.
Kohane squeaks in fear, hiding her face in Sakura's shoulder until Syaoran scoops her up and nuzzles her, lifting her onto his shoulders. She quickly gets over her momentary fear, eyes widening in wonder as another firework lit up the sky in sparks of red and blue. "Wow..."
Yuui smiles, leaning against the railing at the edge of the hill to watch the fireworks. It feels good, warm, with Fai on one side of him and Kurogane a looming shadow just behind. It seems so right, somehow.
He hopes there'll be a lot more nights like this.
See the previous chapter for clothing notes.
Konban wa - good evening
Kawaii da ne? - Isn't she cute?
Chapter 8: Potential - 19/07/2010
This picture almost looks like a painting until one looks closer. It's a blaze of color, warm yellows and bright oranges, hot reds bordered by cool blacks. The sun is setting over a wide river, kindling water and sky alike into fire and presenting everything else in startling midnight relief. A graceful bridge arches over the center of the photo, pillars plunging down to anchor it in the fiery water. Tiny blobs on top of it might be cars, light glinting off their metallic tops.
It'll take the viewer a moment to notice the figure in the lower left hand corner, apparently sitting on the bank below the photographer. A head, the curve of a back are outlined against the lapping water as he or she contemplates the sky.
The text on the back translates to the title of the piece, Potential.
Kurogane is riding his bike home along the river after a long day at the cafe, enjoying the wind cooling the sweat that trickles down his spine from the muggy summer heat. The sun is setting behind him, leaving him to chase his shadow home. His bag is bouncing against his hip, his camera case swinging around his neck like a pendulum. Rather than riding through town as he usually does, today he chose the bike path along the levy precisely because you can always expect a nice breeze.
(Also, no cars are allowed onto this path, and having to skid out of the way of one too many
moronic inattentive drivers is beginning to wear on Kurogane's nerves as though that's some great feat.)
This close to the sea, the river tends to flood on a regular basis in the spring, so there are high levies built on either bank to serve as protection. In other seasons when the water is low enough (like now), there are paths at the bottom of the levy too, right along the water's edge, but these are usually gravel or dirt and not good for riding on. The top of the levy is paved. Every hundred yards or so, the smooth green grass of the hillside is broken by a set of stone steps leading down to the water.
There's no one else on the path tonight, so Kurogane doesn't have to worry much about running into anything. Instead, he watches the river, mind on other things as his eye assesses wave patterns and light plays.
He nearly doesn't notice the young man sitting at the bottom of one of those sets of steps, except that he raises his arms in a stretch just as Kurogane bikes past. His silhouette is so striking against the sunset-lit waters that Kurogane is already braking to a stop almost before his mind has formed the thought. As he puts down the kickstand on his bike and starts to pull out his camera, he hopes the young man doesn't take offense to having his picture taken. But the image of his silhouette with the bridge looming in the background, surrounded by sunset fire, would make such a good photo.
The subject of Kurogane's thoughts and photography doesn't seem to notice Kurogane behind him at the top of the levy and keeps staring out across the water. It isn't until Kurogane has taken several pictures that he notices it isn't just the sunlight turning the young man's hair to gold.
He lowers his camera and looks closer, but he can't tell from behind, from this distance, if it's Fai or Yuui or another blond entirely (unlikely in this part of Japan, he thinks). He tucks his camera back into its bag and leaves his bike where it is, starting down the stairs to the riverbank.
At the sound of footsteps behind him, he finally turns and reveals himself to be Yuui. He looks startled to see Kurogane descending the steps behind him. "Kuro-san..."
Kurogane just grunts in greeting, stepping off the last stair and lowering himself to sit beside Yuui. For a few minutes there is silence, and Kurogane reflects (not for the first time) on the differences between the Fluorite twins. In this exact same situation, Fai would have been chattering on about space monkeys or ammonia reactions or something else equally inane. But at least Yuui respects the value of being quiet.
"It's nice out here," Yuui finally says, shifting a bit and still looking out across the river as the sun sinks behind the bridge. "Relaxing."
When he doesn't say anything more, Kurogane makes an inquiring sound. Yuui smiles. "You're a man of few words and many sound effects, aren't you, Kuro-san?"
Kurogane turns to stare at him, sputtering a bit in indignation, and Yuui laughs. "Sorry, I didn't mean to offend you." He sobers then, leaning forward to wrap his skinny arms around equally bony knees. Kurogane thinks it makes him look much smaller than Kurogane knows him to be, with his tall and lanky frame, arms that seem too long and legs that go on forever.
He says it so softly that Kurogane almost misses it, and he looks sharply over at Yuui. He gives Kurogane a small, thin smile. "Fai came here to work," he explains. "I'm just here on a visitor's visa. If I don't find a job soon and get my status changed, I'll have to go back to the States."
Kurogane stares at him, trying to work through the sudden tumble of emotions in his gut, fueled by his rapidly beating heart. He's only known the twins for six weeks or so, but he already knows it's rare to see them apart unless Fai's at work. He can't imagine them living on separate continents. Fai would be insufferable without Yuui, he thinks, moping around and whining and clinging onto Kurogane more than ever. It gives Kurogane chills just thinking of it.
And somewhere deep inside him, where he doesn't like to admit a sensitive place exists, he can't imagine his life without Yuui now. He's a regular at the cafe, and somewhere along the way Kurogane had filed him in the folder marked 'Friend' for no particular reason other than the fact that folder tends to run a bit empty. But now, sitting here staring at Yuui's melancholy face highlighted in fading gold light, he realizes it's true.
Without really thinking, he lifts his camera to snap a photo of Yuui's expression, then says, "What kind of job do you want?"
Yuui blinks at him, from surprise at both the sudden picture and the question. "Preferably cooking, since that's what I love to do and it doesn't usually require too much language skill..."
Kurogane nods thoughtfully. He has a place in mind, and he seems to remember Sakura saying something about them needing another cook. "I might have an idea."
Yuui stares at him a moment longer, then leans over to hug him. Kurogane feels his face turn bright red, all the way to the tips of his ears. He fully expects Fai to come flying down the stairs behind them, crowing about how adorable they look and aren't they such a cute couple and shedding sparkles everywhere. Kurogane briefly entertains a very vivid mental image of throwing Fai into the river.
Yuui pulls back after a moment, and offers him a bright, warm smile. "Kuro-san... Thank you."
Kurogane just grunts, turning his face away with a scowl. "The other blond bastard would be even more of a menace to society without you here to keep him in check."
Yuui laughs, but Kurogane can tell that he recognizes that isn't the only reason he offered to help.
To hide the blush that he doesn't think will be going away anytime soon, Kurogane raises his camera to capture Yuui's smile.
Chapter 9: Shiroyuki - 23/07/2010
This picture is a landscape, or more properly a city-scape. The subject is an old, Japanese-style house, one that looks a hundred years old or more. The sides are traditional white-washed and light weight, the roof of heavy black ceramic tile, whole thing built to withstand typhoons and earthquakes both. It is two stories tall, the warm brown shutters thrown open on the windows to let in light and air.
Around to the side, just visible in the picture, a modern addition has added a balcony near the back of the second floor. Laundry flutters in a breeze, hakama and kimono and blankets adding a splash of color and movement to the photo.
The front door of the house has been modified, turned into a sort of entry alcove instead, the top half covered by a fluttering curtain called a noren, signifying that this place is open for business. The noren is fresh, crisp white, embroidered in midnight blue and silver with the same two kanji that adorn the sign hanging beside the door.
Four days later, Sakura calls Kurogane out from where he's washing dishes in the kitchen. There's a unique happy-annoyed note in her voice, so Kurogane already suspects who he'll find when he steps out into the cafe proper.
A tall, broad shouldered man is leaning on the counter, smirking at the fuming Sakura. His dark hair is cut short, though it's not so spiky as Kurogane's.
(Kurogane, being an only child, has always found it interesting that in this case brother and sister look nothing alike. At home he has a picture of them just after little Kohane was born, with Sakura leaning against her brother's shoulder as he cradles his new niece. They both look so in awe of the baby, their expressions are the same, and Kurogane kept the picture as proof that they're related after all.)
When Kurogane steps out of the kitchen, the visitor turns toward him and raises a hand in greeting. "Yo. Where's this prospective cook that the kaijuu was telling me about?"
"I am not a monster!" Sakura hisses from behind them, and her older brother smirks.
"Grown woman of twenty-seven," he leans closer to Kurogane as though he's telling some great secret, "And I can still make her flail like a ten-year-old."
Kurogane just grunts, knowing Sakura's contemplating throwing something at his head. "Over here."
Yuui looks up from his manga at their approach and blinks at someone new being with Kurogane. He quickly scrambles to his feet to bow, and Kurogane rolls his eyes. "Yuui, this is Kinomoto Touya; he owns an izakaya in town. This is Yuui Fluorite," he adds to Touya, gesturing.
"Nice to meet you," Touya says in accented but very good English, returning Yuui's bow. "Kurogane-kun says you're a good cook."
Yuui nods automatically, then flushes and quickly shakes his head, suddenly aware that this is an interview for a potential job. "My training is in Italian cuisine, though I've had experience with a wide variety of Western food. I haven't had the chance to learn many Japanese recipes yet, though," he admits.
Touya actually looks quite pleased. "That's fine. We've already got a cook who specializes in Japanese food, but we get too many customers for him to keep up with alone and if we hire you we could begin to serve Western dishes too."
Yuui's starting to smile, eyes lighting up. "I'd love to be able to learn Japanese cuisine," he offers. 'I've just never had anyone to teach me before now."
Touya snickers and nods. "I've had Kurogane-kun's cooking," he says, ignoring Kurogane's growl. "My sympathies. In fact," he glances down at his watch. "The other cook should be dropping by soon, I told him to meet me here..."
On cue, the bell over the door jingles, and they turn to see another man walk in. He's just as tall as Touya but much more slender, with pale silvery hair and round glasses that give him a rather innocent look. Sakura squeals happily, practically jumping over the counter to give him a hug. "Yukito-san!"
He laughs lightly, patting her hair. "Hello Sakura-chan. How are you today?"
Touya rolls his eyes. "Oy, kaijuu, get off him."
Sakura huffs and glares, but at just that moment several more customers come in and Sakura has to return to the cash to serve them. Yukito makes his way over to the small group, looking at Yuui in open curiosity.
"Hello, I'm Tsukishiro Yukito. To-ya and I own the Shiroyuki together."
Yuui bows again with a smile. "I'm Yuui Fluorite, it's nice to meet you. You're the cook there, too?"
Yukito nods. "Yes, that's me. We've been looking for another cook for a little while now. I can only work so fast, and we're beginning to get a lot of customers, especially at dinner."
"I don't have any experience with Japanese food," Yuui warns him. "But I'd like to be able to learn."
Yukito smiles. He and Touya exchange glances, and then Touya offers Yuui his hand. "I think we have a deal."
Yuui beams as he takes Touya's hand.
Touya and Yukito sit down to work out the details with Yuui. Kurogane has to go back to the kitchens, but he can't help the
warm fuzzy annoying sensation in his chest when he realizes this means Yuui will be able to stay in Japan. It's like he's got kittens curled up in his stomach.
Grumbling and blushing all at once, Kurogane goes back to the dishes.
- 白雪 - the name of the izakaya, which means 'white snow'
- Izakaya - a sort of a Japanese... pub is probably the closest English word. It's not exactly a restaurant, but more than just a bar. There's tables where you sit down and you're served by waiters/waitresses, but usually they don't have as extensive a menu as an actual restaurant, and a much better alcohol selection.
- Kaijuu - 'monster', Touya's pet name for Sakura.