Okaasan, Tsukimi thought to herself, what kind of magic spell did he cast on me?
For this could only be the result of a magic spell.
How could this be reality?
She stared at her reflection, her eyes impossibly large without her thick lenses shielding them. She couldn't see very well without her usual red frames -- the blurry world was so vast and foreign, nothing like she had ever seen before he had barged into her life and stolen her sight with his sheer beauty and self-assurance. Hiding behind her glasses, behind the excuse of being a jellyfish otaku, had been safe -- the world had made sense back then -- but without her inhibitions, she had this.
She was staring at her reflection, yes, but what caught her eye wasn't the makeup or the clothes he had used to transform her into what Mayaya-san normally cursed on sight, like how she had accidentally done at the flea market merely a year ago, though it felt longer, because now not even Mayaya-san made the mistake of not recognizing Tsukimi, not when Tsukimi wore her battle gear so often. Now whenever Mayaya-san saw Tsukimi in her battle gear, she would pose with her arms, elbows sticking out, and point with her fingers, announcing the resemblance between Tsukimi and an impressive general whose name always went over Tsukimi's head, but Tsukimi knew Mayaya-san was comparing her to someone much too grand. It was like comparing her to the princess of the jellyfish world, a role much too big for her even when she donned her battle gear.
That, however, wasn't the magic.
Behind her reflection stood rows and rows of countless jellyfish dresses. It was as if she were emerged in the sea alongside her jellyfish companions. In the corner, she could see the dress that had started it all, the dress she had ripped apart his necklace for, not knowing that the pearls scattering across his floor were each worth enough for Chieko-san to acquire an army worth of dolls, for Tsukimi to buy years and years worth of feed for Kurara, for Banba-san to buy as many trading cards of the Chuou line as she wanted, for Mayaya-san to buy a million capsules of Romance of the Three Kingdoms figures, for Jiji-san to bid on overpriced signatures by her favorite (old) men, for Mejiro-sensei to buy all the inking supplies she'd ever need... and there'd even be money left over in the end.
Tsukimi had torn into the dress, adorning the dress with pearls that brought out her vision, working like a woman possessed without knowing how much those pearls cost. Otherwise, she might have let her inhibitions stop her, but she hadn't stopped.
And look where she was now.
In her hands, she held the latest dress she had designed, a short dress based on Haliclystus stejinegeri. Like the small jellyfish she had in mind, the dress bounced up at the ends, with puffs decorating each fold. They looked like miniature bursts of fireworks, and she couldn't be more enthralled with the result. She swished the dress this way and that, marveling at how the seams of the dress separated it into lobes just like the stalked jellyfish the dress was based on.
Even after designing all these dresses, she still found it hard to believe.
How could she be the designer of the wildly famous Jellyfish brand?
Tsukimi stared at the reflection in the mirror, at the dress in her hands and the blur of dresses enveloping her vision from behind. This entire situation had to be thanks to magic. How else could she have ever attempted to create jellyfish dresses like the one her okaasan had mentioned, the one that Tsukimi had dreamed and dreamed about?
It was then that he walked in while Tsukimi was still lost in wonder, and Tsukimi remembered.
Oh how she remembered.
Tsukimi, let's make them! Jellyfish dresses!
She had once thought him to be one of the princesses so often found in Tokyo, even though he happened to be a male princess. But no, that wasn't all that he was. He was a male witch, one who had cast magic on her with both words and action. He showed her exactly what it meant to go out and grab what she wanted, proudly and freely, like the majestic jellyfishes she so admired.
Magic. It had to be magic.
When he noticed her in front of the mirror, Tsukimi hastily shoved the dress at him, afraid he would think she had been imagining herself in the dress. She hadn't. She had been admiring the dress for the dress itself. It didn't suit her, while it fit him perfectly, like how all the other dresses had fit him. He was beautiful no matter what he wore, and he made the clothes he wore appear even more beautiful than they were.
"Try it on," Tsukimi said quickly and breathlessly, her mind already conjuring up images of how the dress would look on him with his graceful lines, of how he'd be bringing Haliclystus stejinegeri to life. The thought made her heart pound with excitement. With the dress pressed against him, she looked up with sparkling eyes.
"I want to see," she exclaimed without any of her inhibitions coloring her words, not when all she could think about was how beautiful the jellyfish dress would look on him. After all, if anyone were the princess of the jellyfish world, it would be him.
She had no clue what kind of effect she had on him.
Like Kuranosuke had predicted, the Jellyfish brand turned out to be a huge success with the cute and original dresses they produced. The dresses were ones that even he'd give a fortune to own, so of course he had never doubted their success. Kuranosuke had hit a gold mine when he discovered Tsukimi's talent. Who knew obsession with jellyfish could come in such use?
Their orders came in non-stop. He'd found them a manufacturer, and suddenly all of the Amars had jobs even though “working” had once ranked number one on top of the Amars' taboo word list. He couldn't claim it had been easy to start them on this path, but once they'd begun, none of them could back out, not when they'd accomplished so much, not when they were now so close to their goal of buying Amamizukan. They'd had to break even first, but now they were in the positive and raking in big money.
The glasses girl with a fascination for old men was their head website manager. Chieko-san of the disturbing doll collection was their adviser who helped sew prototypes, while one of her friends who shared her interest of doll collecting was their main pattern drafter. The BL-mangaka he'd never seen with his eyes was responsible for their logos and any other graphic designing they needed. She even consented to doing art for ads, though her art was all of androgynous characters wearing their jellyfish dresses, but he guessed that was apt, since he was their number one model and was a male himself, not that any of them knew that. Only Tsukimi knew, and while he didn't care if the others found out, they would still banish him without a second thought if they were to discover his real gender. Afro was their runner responsible for acquiring materials -- she was allowed to ride all the different trains she wanted to as long as she got to where she needed to go in a timely manner. Mayaya, despite how off-his-rocker she had thought Kuranosuke to be when he had first suggested it, was their second model. With her height and slimness, she could pull off elegance where “Kurako” could only ever be regarded as cute and impish.
As for Tsukimi, well, she was Jellyfish's designer. Without her, there would be no Jellyfish. When he'd first met her, fascinated by her lifestyle, fascinated by her, he'd never thought they would one day end up as partners in a business endeavor that could overtake the fashion world. He'd always been working towards his dream of escaping from politics and making a name for himself in the fashion world, but he had never imagined it would be a plain girl, a jellyfish otaku, that would set him on his path ahead of time. She was entirely unlike any other woman he had ever known. He'd fallen hard without realizing how and when.
And now she was looking up at him with large, expectant eyes and no frames to hide her eagerness. His heart thumped. He was so sure she could feel his wildly beating heart through the dress she had pressed against his chest, and that she had once again forgotten completely that he wasn't a girl, or else she'd be beat red and meters away, pressed against the wall instead of standing so closely in front of him, within reach but not.
"Tsukimi," he asked, glad that his voice didn't betray him as it so often threatened to do nowadays, "Where are your glasses?"
"Next to you...?"
He snatched them off the table and deposited them on her nose in one swift motion.
"Seal!" he exclaimed with a pose similar to Mayaya's usual.
Except he should have known. These glasses that had once been enough to seal her could no longer hold Tsukimi back even when the world came into focus for her, not when he had awakened the creator inside of her. She blinked and fixed her glasses, but when she looked up at him, the eagerness was still there, and no hesitancy was anywhere to be found. Maybe it was because he was still dressed as a girl, because she never saw him as a guy unless he was dressed as one. Maybe that was why she was still unbearably close, staring up at him with eyes full of excitement. He grabbed the dress from her hands and turned abruptly, leaving before his blush could settle in.
Tsukimi was cute, damn it, no matter what she wore. He couldn't believe he even liked it when she wore sweats -- it was as unfashionable as anyone could get -- but it was so much of who she was.
He hated knowing she would have reacted differently to their proximity if he had been his brother instead. How had things turned out this way? He wanted to bang his head against the wall, so he did just that, multiple times, before he rested his head against his cool and unyielding opponent -- his forehead hurt like hell -- and pulled the zipper up against his bare back, his wig falling into his face.
When he calmed his lurching heart enough to step out, he caught the end of Tsukimi's awed whisper to herself. He strained his ears to listen.
"This has all got to be thanks to magic."
She stood in the midst of all the jellyfish dresses she'd designed, a wide, uncontainable smile spread over her face. With her arms outstretched, she turned and turned, the dress he had her wear for their luncheon swishing around her legs.
He held in his breath at the sight, but it wasn't the dress that was making his heart pound once again, despite the moment he'd taken for himself in the dressing room.
Magic? That would explain how Tsukimi had completely overtaken his mind when he never imagined he would ever fall for such a plain girl, not in a million years. It didn't make sense...but this was not magic.
Their success may be magical -- he found himself pushing forward, holding a hand out to her, grinning when she reddened and freaked out at having been caught twirling around among the jellyfish dresses as if she were a jellyfish herself -- but it was all Tsukimi, really. Tsukimi and her inner strength. If only she'd realize it.
He gazed at her flushed face, trusting she'd come into her own sooner than later -- look how far she'd come -- but he didn't trust her to fall for him. She shyly took his hand, and he twirled her around, their laughter filling the air as his poofy dress bumped into her hips. The mirror behind her revealed two female friends enjoying an afternoon together, comfortable in each other's presence.
He supposed if he didn't do anything about it, that was what he'd be stuck as, a friend. And not just any friend. A female friend.
Something had to change, both for her, and for him.
Tsukimi never truly understood Kuranosuke and his motivations. He was clever for sure, and daring, but sometimes he just didn't make sense. He didn't want to go into politics, so he took up crossdressing. He had fashionable friends, but he seemed to prefer hanging out with the Amars more. He could have abandoned the Amars to their own worries, but instead he rallied them up and pushed each of them past their comfort zones even when all they wanted to do was give up and retreat further into their shells. He sounded confident -- he was confident -- but sometimes even his confidence couldn't hide the fact that he didn't have a clue what he was doing.
Yet Tsukimi let him pull her into scheme after scheme, and somehow, he made them work. Somehow, she hadn't stumbled and dragged him down when she could have failed at every turn. She prayed to Kurara the magic would hold.
The latest of his actions that confused Tsukimi started when Jiji-san doodled yet another old man on a napkin from her lunch. The old man had been dressed in frills. Kuranosuke made a passing comment about how the drawing reminded him of the Prime Minister -- that comment made Tsukimi want to giggle hysterically, because only he could ever be so flippant about the Prime Minister -- but his eyes lit up right after as if a light bulb had gone off. Maybe it had, because he immediately grabbed Tsukimi's sketchbook and flipped it open to one of the jellyfishes in the back.
Pointing at the jellyfish, he exclaimed, "What if we started a male line? With ruffles?"
She stared. He stared back at her. He then laughed at himself and slapped a hand on his face.
"Sorry, Tsukimi, that was a terrible idea. Don't even consider it. I know we're trying to expand, but that's not the right path. I don't know what's gotten into me!" He said all this from behind his hand in a muffled voice.
Could it be that he wanted to look like a princess...even while dressed like a man? Tsukimi didn't understand, especially since she had never seen him express interest in male clothing, and if he were to model male clothing, surely he'd give himself away in front of the others.
"Maybe...we can try it out?" she said finally, not knowing if they were taking the right path, but someone had to take charge, and it looked like he was confused. While she had always dreamed of the jellyfish inspired dress that her okaasan would make for her, the thought of matching dress shirts opened her mind to a whole new world of possibilities. There had been several jellyfishes she didn't know how to translate into dresses, but if she were to consider dress shirts, then even those jellyfishes didn't need to be left out. Her hands itched to start immediately.
After her hesitant response, he removed his hand from his face and looked at her through his long eyelashes, his soft lips parting in a quiet exclamation. "...really?"
She didn't think she had ever seen him look so hesitant. Maybe this meant a male line wasn't a good idea at all -- surely he would look a lot more confident if he thought it a good idea -- but there had to be a reason why the thought had even crossed his mind in the first place.
"Really," she said, strongly and resolutely. She'd make the magic work, if nothing else.
Even with her resolution, she slid a piece of paper underneath Mejiro-sensei's door that evening and was relieved when Mejiro-sensei scribbled two gorgeous men dressed in ruffles as her response.
It felt strange to feel strange about buttoning a dress shirt, but that was what he currently felt. Strange. His shoulders weren't exposed, and there was no padding in front of his chest or draft between his legs. He felt underdressed in a sense because he wasn't going for the extreme like he did while crossdressing, but he couldn't not admit that Tsukimi had outdone herself with the design of the dress shirt. Maybe his half-baked idea wasn't so outrageous or disgusting after all -- he'd thought the idea brilliant until he started imagining buff men wearing the frilly dress shirts, and that was an image he entirely didn't need. He also knew that they'd be aiming for a very small niche, unlike how their dresses aimed at pretty much any female who wanted to look cute and pretty. The last factor was that he plainly didn't care about men's clothing, but for a split second, he had wondered if appearing as a man in front of Tsukimi would make any difference at all, and that was what had made him blurt the suggestion out.
A selfish reason, but that was who he was.
With a flourish, he finished buttoning the top button and stepped out of the dressing room, parting the curtains before him. He watched Tsukimi's reaction. She was definitely looking at him, and her expression was different from usual. It wasn't her usual wonder, or her stiffness whenever something was too much for her otaku self to take in.
Yes, look at me, Kuranosuke thought, look at me and think of me as handsome.
"Wow, you look exactly like a dashing young man, Kurako," exclaimed Chieko-san.
"Just like Oscar-sama," marveled Jiji in awe.
Kuranosuke smiled widely and pleasantly, while Tsukimi now looked like she was about to faint from how dangerously he was treading the line. Maybe he was giving Tsukimi a heart attack instead of attracting her with his good looks, which wasn't doing him any good, but man oh man was it fun to see her squirm.
"We should get Mayaya to try crossdressing too," Kuranosuke suggested perkily.
He was sorry, however, when Mayaya turned out much more handsome than him even while she continued her spiel about Liu Bei and his eye-opening victory against some rebels. She looked proper, like a handsome and smart man. Maybe a noble, or some prim lawyer, while he only looked like a school boy playing dress-up. As a woman, he looked grown-up with his stature, but as a man, he was too slim and dainty.
That was not how he had wanted things to go.
Mayaya walked forward, stopped, and struck a pose with her head held high. Afro clapped next to her.
Chieko-san looked on in approval. "I think you're on to something here. It doesn't have to be a men's line even. There are women out there who will appreciate this style. What are they called? Handsome women?"
Kuranosuke snapped his fingers. “You're a genius, Chieko-san!” It was a brilliant idea, though not at all what he had in mind. He wasn't ever going to be viewed as a male by anyone, was he?
That was how Kuranosuke found himself "crossdressing" even while wearing men's clothes. It was his own fault, really, and he was silly for wanting to impress Tsukimi while wearing frills. Seriously, who was he kidding? That wasn't the way to look manly.
He would have thought the entire effort a failure in regards to his private concerns -- nothing had turned out the way he had planned, what with a men's line possibly turning into a line for handsome women, and then him getting overshadowed by Mayaya of all people -- but one glance at Tsukimi convinced him otherwise. Although he had failed on one front, it looked like he had succeeded with the other, because Tsukimi was fervently jotting down Chieko-san's suggestion and gesticulating wildly at the same time, talking a mile-a-minute about all the ideas she had for such a product line.
Kuranosuke grinned and rested his chin on his hand to watch. He didn't have to give her any pushes this time. He'd only made an offhand suggestion, a suggestion that he thought ludicrous, but Tsukimi was making it work. She was the one making it work.
“Tsukimi,” he called out.
“Hm?” she didn't look up as she tucked a strand of hair behind her ears.
He could have said a million different things, and he had even more than that he wanted to say, but he settled on just this one.
Even after a week, Tsukimi still hadn't deciphered Kuranosuke's out-of-the-blue gratitude. While he was always blunt and never held back, that didn't mean he was easy to understand. It all went back to how she found Kuranosuke and his motivations mystifying. Why had he decided to help her and the Amars in the first place? If anyone was doing the thanking, it probably should have been her instead.
She looked down at her sketchbook and decided to stop thinking.
When she wasn't designing a new dress, Tsukimi liked to retreat to the corner and sketch more drawings of jellyfish. There was one particular jellyfish that she had to make a dress shirt of. Her resolve had strengthened after she'd seen Kuranosuke walk out from behind the curtains in the dress shirt she had designed. She'd drawn several pictures of the jellyfish over the week, as well as several attempts at dress shirt designs based off of the jellyfish, but none of her ideas came close to representing the majestical qualities of this particular jellyfish.
She kept at it until she lost track of time, finding it relaxing to draw without thinking too much.
When a shadow came over her sketchbook, Tsukimi glanced up, woken from her trance, glasses sliding down her nose.
"What are you drawing?" Kuranosuke asked curiously from above with the light behind him, illuminating his figure with a hazy glow. At once, she was reminded of the jellyfish her okaasan had taken her to see all those years ago, the jellyfish that had so bewitched Tsukimi that her entire life began revolving around jellyfish after that. She didn't know why she hadn't realized this sooner. She'd been captivated then, and she was captivated now. Did it matter why he had given her a hand? Probably all too much, but she didn't understand all that. She only understood that she was completely captivated by this being in front of her, had been captivated all along, and she hadn't realized that until now.
That thought changed everything.
She felt herself freezing solid, but she forced her jaw to move. Think jellyfish, she told herself.
"Sanderia malayensis," she replied mechanically. Tsukimi pulled herself back and tried to focus on her drawing, determined to see it through even when her heart was pounding way more quickly than usual, loud enough to drown out all logic. He wasn't even naked or in danger of having his gender discovered, so why was she suddenly nervous? She was a rock so why was her heart beating so quickly? Rocks didn't have heartbeats!
Think jellyfish! She yelled at herself loudly over her pounding heart.
She shifted her eyes away. His usual crossdressing appearance had never drawn such a reaction from her before. He was almost too much to look at. It made her dizzy.
“Is that a new sketch for your next dress shirt?” he asked as if nothing was wrong and Tsukimi's heart wasn't pounding furiously against her ribcage, threatening to leap out. “I don't think I've seen you use this particular jellyfish in our dresses before.”
She nodded and continued sketching, trying to distract herself. Talking about jellyfish always served as adequate distraction. She started blabbing. “Truly, Sanderia malayensis is the prince of the jellyfish world. I always thought your oniisan and Sanderia malayensis look exactly alike. Do you think your oniisan would mind trying on this dress shirt after I design it? I know we're keeping females in mind for this line, but maybe we can still have a small section for males...”
When he didn't respond, she looked back up, only to see his face shadowed by his wig, one hand clasped on his other arm.
Tsukimi stilled her pencil.
“Say, Tsukimi, what kind of jellyfish would you say I resemble?” he asked instead of answering her question.
If he had asked a year ago, or a month ago, or even just yesterday, her answer would have been different. There was no doubt in her mind that he was beautiful and breathtaking enough to be the princess of the jellyfish world, which meant he had to be that particular jellyfish, but there was also another species that greatly reminded her of Kuranosuke. In fact, no other jellyfish matched as perfectly.
“Aurelia aurita,” she answered.
He blinked at her. “Common jellyfish?” he asked in an aghast tone, hands curled into fists at his side. “You consider my bro the prince of jellyfish, while I'm just some common jellyfish?”
He stamped his feet in indignation, his heels clicking sharply on the tiles.
She was more surprised, however, that he even knew the scientific name of the common jellyfish. She hid behind her sketchbook, her face flushed at how much time he must have spent to learn about her hobby. Tsukimi gripped her pencil hard, the lines of the jellyfish becoming darker and darker with each pressured stroke she drew across her sketchbook. “I'm not trying to demean you or anything! I totally think you resemble the beautiful princesses of the sea, but on the other hand, you've always been here for me, a constant in my life...Just like Aurelia aurita that I can't imagine living without...”
She trailed off, not at all knowing what she was babbling about or if she even made sense.
When she lowered her sketchbook, she was surprised to find that he had turned completely red.
Tsukimi blinked and turned over her own words.
“Ah!” She exclaimed, jaw refusing to close in her disbelief. She flushed red. The tips of her ears burned.
Wasn't this...wasn't this...wasn't this just like a confession!? What in the world was she thinking?
“Fine, I'll ask him if he'll come in,” he mumbled.
She almost didn't remember what he was referring to.
"Oh, okay," she said dumbly.
Since she had asked, after Tsukimi finished designing the poncy dress shirt inspired by the “prince” of all jellyfish, Kuranosuke invited his brother over like promised. His brother tried on the dress shirt in the robotic manner he was prone to resort to whenever he was in Tsukimi's presence, Tsukimi blushed fiercely and clapped her hands in approval, and Kuranosuke looked on, wishing he were in his brother's shoes, but that was silly because he was not jealous of two blundering virgins. Absolutely not. Also, Tsukimi had practically confessed to him his importance in her life, since he resembled the common jellyfish and all, a constant in her life, something she couldn't live without.
He snorted. Only Tsukimi. Seriously, only she could ever make such a strange comparison and mean it wholeheartedly. He was in deep for feeling so glad that he had been compared to some jellyfish.
“Tsukimi-san, do you really think this suits me?” asked his brother who was looking down at his shirt in horrid fascination. Kuranosuke supposed frills could do that to any guy...except himself. The frills on this shirt were particularly excessive. They trailed down the middle, but that wasn't bad. What took the frilliness to a whole new level were the sleeves. All in all, his brother looked like a butler or something. A frillier version of Hanamori-san in fact.
Tsukimi nodded fervently, her eyes practically shining. “You look just like Sanderia malayensis like I thought! This enhances that resemblance even more.”
“Thank you, Tsukimi-san,” replied his brother softly and fondly. Kuranosuke rolled his eyes.
Kuranosuke could tell his brother didn't understand what Tsukimi was on about, but he was in no hurry to explain to him. His brother certainly didn't need to know that Tsukimi thought of him as a prince. If he had still been trying to set them up, like what he had naively tried to do when Tsukimi and his bro had first met, Kuranosuke would've used that piece of information right away, but things had changed. Now, it was every man for himself.
“Oniisama,” Kuranosuke started. “Smile for the camera!”
Before his brother could even react, Kuranosuke snapped a photo of his brother in the frilly, jellyfish-inspired dress shirt.
“What was that for?” his brother asked.
Kuranosuke grinned cheekily. “Why, advertisement for our new line of course! Imagine that, even the first son of the Koibuchi family supports the Handsome line! This can only be topped if the Prime Minister himself gives us his blessing too. Actually, that's not a bad idea, huh...”
However, he shivered at the thought because just like buff men and frills didn't mix, he didn't really want to see old men in frills either, no matter how enthralled Jiji would be with the idea. He quickly trashed the idea.
“Wait, you should ask your oniisan for permission first,” said Tsukimi worriedly, her eyebrows furrowed.
“You don't mind, do you, dear oniisama?” asked Kuranosuke while batting his fake eyelashes at his brother.
Kuranosuke watched as his brother rubbed his temples. Oops, he had probably caused his brother another headache, but it wasn't like he could go easy on his rival. After all, he was up against a prince while he was just a commoner.
Soon, they began advertising the Handsome line everywhere. Tsukimi added new photos of Mayaya and Kuranosuke to a scrapbook she had begun of Jellyfish. To this day, Tsukimi still found it hard to believe that people she knew were being featured in fashion magazines, and that they were even wearing clothes that she designed. The only person more shocked at this turn of events would probably be Mayaya, since every time she saw herself in magazines, she would stare and stare and accuse the “woman” in the photos (herself) of being a fake. The woman in the photos certainly wasn't the normal Mayaya, but Tsukimi didn't think that Mayaya was fake either. Just like Tsukimi had taken to wearing her battle gear, Mayaya was dressed to fight too.
Tsukimi also eagerly saved a photo of Kuranosuke's oniisan -- courtesy of Kuranosuke -- that had been printed in a newspaper article. She pasted the black-and-white photo down in the scrapbook under a section she had allotted for Jellyfish's Handsome line. It was the only photo she had of him. Smoothing the photo down, she couldn't help but smile at his pinched expression, so unlike the lively expressions Kuranosuke presented every day. Kuranosuke's oozing confidence used to make her uncomfortable, but now she found his confidence reassuring. Recently, however, she sometimes caught him frowning, or doubting himself like that time with his suggestion about a men's line, but that was okay. Whenever he faltered, she would be there.
Her hand froze on the photo. She felt that maybe she was on the verge of a groundbreaking realization, even more groundbreaking than when she discovered how alike Kuranosuke and the common jellyfish were, but when she tried to think some more, the threads connecting her thoughts escaped her like an elusive jellyfish. Blinking, she glanced down at her scrapbook, gulping when she noticed she'd been pressing her finger in Kuranosuke's oniisan's face. Hastily, she withdrew her finger and clapped her hands together above her head, her scrapbook falling against her knees.
When only silence greeted her apology, she opened her eyes hesitantly to look down at the photo of Kuranosuke's oniisan. The photo seemed to say, "I understand, Tsukimi-san."
Tsukimi breathed a sigh of relief and reached a hand out to the scrapbook.
As she turned the pages, she found her tension melting away. She smiled at each progressive dress that showed Jellyfish's growth. They'd designed miniskirts and evening gowns, sundresses and empire dresses. Kuranosuke had modeled each and every dress, and she'd kept each and every photo. She ran her finger across his photos, marveling at his sheer beauty, that breathtaking smile of his and the way he held his head high and never looked down. When she turned the page, coming across a blank page ready for her next design, she knew immediately what she wanted to design and see him wear.
She couldn't wait to tell him.
After waving enough for his arms to fall off and smiling enough for his cheeks to start hurting, Kuranosuke still continued waving and smiling as the cameras flashed in front of him. The silky sleeves of the dress shirt slid down against his arm as he waved, a completely different sensation from the dresses he'd modeled all this time. He wondered if maybe the sleeves would remind Tsukimi of a jellyfish's tentacles. He thought he could spot her in the back, but he couldn't see very well with all the flashing.
I am a jellyfish, thought Kuranosuke as he waved. I am also Jellyfish. I can do this.
He answered their questions.
Was Jellyfish going to step away from dresses? No, he answered. Of course not. Jellyfish has always been about cute, jellyfish inspired dresses for females. What did they plan to do with this new product line then? We aim to provide Jellyfish-inspired dress shirts and blouses for handsome females and males who wish for something more than the normal dress shirt and blouse. As you can see, I am wearing one such dress shirt. This one is based on a jellyfish that can be said to be the prince of the jellyfish world.... The questions continued. How was the Handsome line faring? Better than expected. We're catering to a small niche with this line and were pleased that everyone responded so positively to our new idea. Even the Prime Minister has given his approval!
Kuranosuke smiled broadly because his uncle had worn one of their dress shirts in the end despite how much Kuranosuke hadn't needed the image.
"What does Jellyfish have planned next?"
He hummed and pretended to think, though he didn't need to pretend since he truly was thinking, just not about their next project since they didn't have anything planned yet. He needed to come up with some kind of ambiguous answer that would let the reporters think they had something amazing in the works.
"A wedding dress."
Kuranosuke blinked. That wasn't him. That was...
All cameras swiveled towards her. She'd been in the back of the room, but now she was completely in the spotlight.
Their eyes locked. It was as if she were speaking directly to him. No one else mattered despite the sea of reporters between them.
"We're designing a wedding dress next. A white, flowing wedding dress," stated Tsukimi loudly and clearly.
Slowly, a wide smile spread across his face. Tsukimi was taking the initiative. She was speaking in front of everyone without any hesitance. He was sure she was going to collapse later once she realized what she'd done, but Tsukimi had walked into the spotlight herself, presenting one of her ideas.
He knew she had it in her.
"Is Jellyfish going to produce a wedding dress line now?" asked a reporter.
"Yes," Tsukimi and Kuranosuke answered at the same time. He watched as her lips tugged into a smile at their simultaneous answers. His smile grew even more, though he didn't know if it was possible to be smiling this much.
A wedding dress, huh? Maybe he could somehow get Tsukimi to model their next dress, but then, his mother had always said that a white dress was the only one she couldn't wear, since there was only one occasion where white dresses were allowed.
He'd continue as their model then. He was a guy. It didn't matter to him while in Tsukimi's case, he only wanted to see her wear such a dress on one occasion, and it'd have to be the occasion.
Surely such a day would come.
He gulped, surprised by his own thoughts. He couldn't believe he'd just thought about marriage.
One step at a time, Kuranosuke reminded himself. One step at a time.
"I'm happy," Kuranosuke said after he walked into the room wearing the first wedding dress Tsukimi had ever designed. The dress was completely white and came to Kuranosuke's knees, with lace framing the edge of the dress and frills extending from the bottom of the dress, covering the remaining distance between the dress and the floor. She'd based the dress on the common jellyfish, wanting the dress to represent what she felt about Kuranosuke.
Tsukimi held her breath in at the sight. How was it possible for a man to look this stunning? Once again, she was completely captivated by him. She thought she might suffocate if she held her breath in any longer.
"Tsukimi?" he prodded.
Gulping for air, like a jellyfish out of water, Tsukimi breathed and breathed.
"I thought you might not like the idea," she said finally. She hadn't told him about her idea beforehand -- she still couldn't believe she'd gone and blurted her idea out in front of all those reporters without consulting him first, and that she hadn't fainted while doing that -- and she was making him, a guy, wear a wedding dress of all things.
He arched one fine eyebrow, and turned on his feet, the frills on the dress waving in his pivot. "Why wouldn't I? It's a brilliant idea, much better than that detour we went on with the Handsome line. Truth to be told, I still appreciate dresses a whole lot more."
"Detour?" she asked.
"A detour," he answered with a wry smile, one hand resting on his hip. "One that you made work."
She didn't understand.
He gazed at her with an emotion that she couldn't decipher. "If not for you, Tsukimi, that absurd idea of mine wouldn't have ever seen the light of day."
Tsukimi couldn't tear her eyes away.
"And this?" he asked while he looked down at himself. "This beautiful wedding dress? This is all you too."
She watched, mesmerized by his every motion.
He extended his arms out towards all the dresses they had in the room. His eyes danced as he looked at each dress and then back at her.
"And all of these dresses? They were all you too," he said with conviction.
She stared, eyes wide.
"Magical, isn't it? But it's not magic. It's you, Tsukimi. Thank you for making my dream come true."
There were so many things he'd said that she needed to make sense of, so many things she wanted to ask, so many things she wanted to say in response, but all she could think about was the way he had thanked her once again when she was the one who wanted to thank him.
"No, it's not me!" she protested. "It's all thanks to you, and how you've always been there for me, supporting me, and how you never let me give up, and how you made me realize that I could do this, and, and..."
She could go on and on and on.
She dropped to her knees -- her legs refused to support her anymore -- and covered her mouth, overcome with the need to thank him. He'd done so much, so much that no amount of words could ever express her gratitude.
In her shock, he'd approached her and enveloped her with his arms, the end of his wig brushing against her cheeks with the way her face was resting against it.
She thought she might stiffen at his touch, but instead, she relaxed into his warm embrace. Hesitantly, she brought her arms around him, clinging onto him like she might have done to a teddy bear.
"Shut up, Tsukimi, and stop thanking me."
She blinked, his words completely at odds with his comforting gestures.
"You are amazing, Tsukimi. This room full of jellyfish dresses was all thanks to your creativity, and I wanted to thank you for that. I've always wanted to see my mother's closet again, a magical closet full of breathtaking dresses. This tops even that. So...thank you."
Were her ears tricking her, or had Kuranosuke's voice gotten shaky by the end? She glanced up just in time to see him gulp, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down at the motion, reminding her that yes, Kuranosuke was a man and she was still in his embrace.
The realization -- several, groundbreaking realizations actually -- that had been darting around the edge of her mind finally settled in.
She flew away from him, her entire face heating up.
The first was that she was the one who had made all these dresses happen.
The second was that he had always been supporting her.
The third was that...Kuranosuke was very much a man...even when wearing a wedding dress.
She thought that maybe, maybe she had known this all along.
He was looking at her. Straight at her, as if he knew every tantalizing thought she was having if his grin were any indication. Somehow, her response to their proximity had him grinning like mad.
When he spoke the next three words, it was as if time had stopped. Tsukimi couldn't believe her ears.
Together, the two of them, along with the rest of the Amars, continued running Jellyfish. Their brand flourished despite ups and downs, they purchased Amamizukan and made it their headquarters, she never ran out of inspiration though she did get frustrated at times, and he continued to support her by her side like the common jellyfish that had so captivated her and still captivated her even now.
Okaasan, Tsukimi thought while staring at Kuranosuke's profile as he curtsied. Although this might not be all thanks to a magic spell, I never want it to end.