Ryo/Yukari/Ayaori, on marriage proposals and telephone conversations.
"Have you seen this?" Ryo demanded, as soon as Yukari picked up the phone. "It says, Narasaki Yuzuru in a one-sided love affair with his ideal girl. Tell me, why did you have to go and tell him that you were a girl, again?"
"Hello, Ayaori-san," Yukari said, completely ignoring Ryo. "How's America?"
Ayaori made a noise that sounded like a cross between a grunt of assent and a so-so mumble. "It's okay. No movie star stalkers I reject on a daily basis, though."
"Well," Yukari said, after a beat, "could it be that perhaps he's a bit of a masochist?"
"I have a feeling Narasaki isn't going to stop even after forty years," Ryo spluttered. He tightened his hold on the phone, the corner of his mouth twitching. "Not until you marry me."
Yukari laughed, as if she found the thought of it genuinely funny. "Thanks," Yukari said, after recovering, "but no thanks. That would feel like incest."
"It would, wouldn't it?" Came Ayaori's voice from the other line, and Ryo flipped him a finger even if he knew Ayaori couldn't see it.
"Like when the two of you kissed in that movie, one time," Yukari said, sounding thoughtful.
Ryo made a face. "I didn't really kiss him."
"His mouth tasted like takoyaki," Ayaori said at the same time, sending Yukari into another fit of laughter. "Oh dear. I shouldn't have said that."
"Tabloid fodder," Yukari said.
Ryo scowled, turning red. "Shut up."
Narasaki/Yukari, on the importance of pickled plums for breakfast.
Narazaki woke up to the smell of pickled plums coming from the kitchen, faint, but still strong enough to pick apart with his heightened senses. Even after two months of cohabitation, he still hadn't gotten used to waking up on a proper bed instead of a tent, of sluggishly trudging to the bathroom to wash his face instead of starting a camp fire and finding the nearest stream.
He folded the blankets and set aside the pillows. The smell of soap lingered on the sheets -- clean, unperfumed, devoid of pretension.
Fujimaru was setting the table when he entered the kitchen. "Morning," she chirped. Her hair was cut short this time, like when she'd been posing as a boy. He'd loved her, even then. He loved her, now.
He reached out to tangle his fingers into her hair, fluffing it up with innocent wonder, and she patiently waited, bowl of umeboshi in one hand. "You have split ends," he said, without malice, and she hit his arm with a wooden spoon. His skin turned red, still smarting, still sensitized.
"It looks good," he amended, taking the bowl from her hand lest it fall to the wooden floor. "For a moment I thought you were your old self again."
"Narazaki," she said, with some fond exasperation, only to look properly chastised at the slight slump of his shoulders. "I'm sorry. Yuzuru, I meant."
"Yukari," he said, smiling. "It still takes some getting used to, doesn't it?"
She nodded, the soft skin of her arm brushing against his hand. They had plenty of time left -- all the time in the world.
Ayaori/Yukari, on the division of household chores.
"This," Yukari said, holding up a bottle, "is bleach. And this," she said, hefting up a larger pack, "is detergent."
Ayaori nodded, ever the serious student.
"Detergent, Ayaori-san," Yukari repeated. "Not bleach. Bleach is for dyeing Ryo's hair to punish him for barging in the bathroom without knocking, not for washing your clothes."
"Sorry," Ayaori said, shuffling in his seat on the floor. The tiles were cold and his clothes were still a faded pink from a mishap with the laundry. "I wasn't wearing my glasses. I couldn't see."
"It was in a bottle," Yukari said, voice filled with volumes of earnest disappointment at his intellect. "It wasn't a powder."
"Next time," Ayaori said, the tips of his ears turning red, and Yukari shook her head, adding another to-do item to her list of already long chores.
Ayaori/Yukari, on testing her proficiency in Italian.
Yukari was studying, again. There were a few phrasebooks spread out on top of her desk, and she mouthed sono, sei, è under her breath, in time to the track that was playing in the background. Ayaori watched her struggle with double consonants, with the ls foreign to her Japanese tongue, and when the track came to a stop, he asked, "non hai il dizionario? Glielo do io."
"Non lo capisco," she said, automatically, and blushed at her ineptitude. "Sorry, you were speaking too quickly for me. Um. Puoi ripetere?"
She pronounced it wrong. He cracked a small, though not unkind, smile at that.
"Voglio," he said, instead. "Ti voglio bene."
It was easier to declare love when it was scripted, when it had no consequence to his personal life. She would never understand beyond the literal translationo, would never realize he'd meant it with every fiber of his soul.
True to form, she looked confused. "That's not in my phrasebook," she said, yanking the nearest one and skimming it with an attentive eye. He placed his hand on top of her head, stroking her scalp with his thumb.
"You wouldn't need it anyway," he simply said, and left it at that. When he pulled away, his hand was cold to the touch. He blamed it on nerves. Nerves, and nothing else.
Ryo/Yukari, Narazaki/Yukari, on appreciating beauty in the face of small mercies.
He waited in the booth hidden in the corner of the small pastry shop across the Ministry of Finance, nursing a cup of barley tea and picking at a slice of cheesecake. From his vantage point, he could see the passersby, too few at this time of day -- housewives, some high school kids who must have played hooky. No faces familiar to him, not yet.
The part-timer manning the cashier kept giving him meaningful glances, depressingly mistaking him as a woman and unsuccessfully chatting him up when he'd ordered. He supposed he could blame the effectiveness of his disguise. He had no need to wear a dress today, but Yukari had expressly forbidden him to brave the streets of Chiyoda-ku without so much as sunglasses and a wig to disguise himself with.
Yukari entered the shop half an hour later, and he raised his hand in a small wave. She took the seat across him, and her apologies were lost to him as he observed the wrinkling of her white blouse, the stiff fabric of her blazer. Even ten years later, she looked like a middle school student playing dress up in her mother's clothes.
He smiled, a force of habit, when she asked about his brother. "You don't keep scrapbooks of us anymore?" He teased, looking disappointed.
"Ryo," she said, vaguely reprimanding, and he closed his eyes, pretending to think of what to say when all he wanted was to repeat the way his name rolled out of her tongue.
"He's okay," he said, stirring his tea with the tiny silver spoon, set it on the platter with a small clink. It looked fragile in his hand, now longer and more calloused than in high school, but still retaining the air of delicacy he'd mastered for show. It came unconsciously now, and he wondered if it bothered her. If she even noticed. "He still doesn't talk much, but he worries about you, in his own way."
"I hope he doesn't forget to remove his contact lenses before he goes to sleep," she said.
"Still the doting manager," he said, tilting his head to the side. "I wondered why you never considered it as a life-long career."
"My dream was to be a bureaucrat," she said, reaching up to tuck her hair behind her ear. His eyes followed the motion of her hand, caught the glint of a ring on a slender finger. Not his, but someone else's.
"Are you happy?" He asked, and she smiled folding her hands on the table. "With Narazaki, I mean."
"Yes," she said, and he knew, he knew. She was lost to him.
Narazaki/Yukari, on appreciating traditional clothing.
The traditional image of a pair of lovers is a figure clad in a resplendent kimono, sitting in seiza, straight back, unmoving, with not a single strand of hair out of place. It would involve the stooping form of an admirer, a hand boldly slipping past the folds of the front, the other undoing the knot at the obi. In the usual scenario, the one in the kimono would also be female. Usually.
"You're so beautiful, Narazaki-san," Fujimaru said, breathing deeply. She was so close Narazaki could differentiate her eyelashes, could tell where her lipstick ended and where his began. He could still see the small bruise across her jaw, when he'd spread worshipping kisses across her skin. "It's no wonder so many people want you."
He said nothing to that, only placing a hand over hers, pressing it closer to his bare chest. His fingers twitched as she peered up at him, wondering. He had no use for beauty if not for her satisfaction.
"May I?" She asked, tugging at the sash at his waist, not enough to remove it, but still a suggestion. Her small, shy smile belied the meaning in her words. He would have trembled, if he could afford it, if it did not ruin the illusion.
"Yes," he said, exhaling, and bent to kiss her.
Ayaori/Yukari, on invading personal space at the wrong time.
"Manager," Ayaori called, opening the door without knocking, "I'm brushing my teeth for a minute."
Yukari stared at him, perplexed but making no move to hide her chest. Her fingers flexed, itching to hit him on reflex. "Okay," she said, unsurely, and didn't look at him until she heard the sound of the water running, the faint noise he made as he rummaged for his toothbrush.
Really, Yukari thought, sinking deeper into the bathtub, since when did I get used to this?