1. he doesn't know he's in love until he is
The surprises he had received the day he had finally left the detention center were numerous, but none trumped the discovery of Sawada Shin of his feelings for his homeroom teacher. He had asked her to let it be, to not let anyone know that Natsumi had sneaked out herself. Yankumi, his oblivious weird yakuza ideal-wielding teacher, had somehow changed everything that had troubled him into gold. He still couldn't believe it, but his father getting into the car was no ghost. Words were pale and couldn't express what he felt.
Yankumi's serious look was lethal, everyone knew that. Everyone's heart pounded when she looked at them that way, but this was different. “I am, until you graduate, your homeroom teacher.” Shin doesn’t dare blink now, seeing her so intently looking at him, determined to see him graduate along with the rest of his classmates.
In this moment, he knows that he is in love.
The next moment, lost in her eyes, he realizes he is screwed because of all the people in the world he could have fallen in love with, it had to be the most oblivious person in the world who incidentally also knew how to kick butt.
The moment is lost, though, when he is clapped on the back again by Kuma and told that he should treat them to lunch. Of course Yankumi joins in with the cheers, and he gives her a wry look. “Shouldn’t the person who’s working be the one to treat?”
She scrunched up her forehead in thought. “Hm, you have a point…”
“Then you should treat us, Yankumi” Kuma cried joyfully.
As everyone starts to convince Yankumi to reluctantly part with some of her money, Shin gets his breath under control. This was not the time to think about this sort of thing.
2. if you don't have the answers, chase them down
Everyone looked to Shin for advice, but he had nothing to give them. Not after Yankumi had left them. Left her job to protect them, no matter what she had said to them earlier when they had chased after her.
Yankumi was absolutely shit at lying. The others may have been fooled for a second, but he wasn't. He could see her tears, hear them in her voice. He knew her, she couldn’t say those things and mean them, not after everything they’ve gone through. Everything she and he went through. Together.
If everyone else wasn’t around, he could have run after her. He could have shook her until she finally looked properly at him. He might have done something incredibly stupid like punch her, kiss her, tell her that he-
That he loves her.
That there was no point in graduating if she wasn’t his teacher when he did.
That she was the woman who changed his life.
He sighs as he looks at her table. “What can we do to help her, guys?”
3. the surprises that aren't
Yankumi calling him out after dark to Shirokin Gakuen? If there was nothing suspicious in that, Shin wasn't as smart as he thought he was.
"Aren't you supposed to not do illegal things in the school you're employed in," he asked dryly, seeing her crouched behind a bush outside the school. "To think you had just gotten back in Vice-Principal's good graces, even if Shirokin is supposed to close."
"Sawada!" She reared up and her head hit his chin.
"Ow, Yankumi, that hurt!" For a woman who could deck five grown men with no problem, she sure got surprised easily.
"Never mind that," she said forcedly. "Anyway, we have to hurry!" She grabbed his hand and pulled him into the school.
Shin bowed his head, his cheeks surely stained red as he realized they were in effect, holding hands. He groaned, he sounded like a school girl. "In a school that is about to be condemned?"
Yankumi's voice is harried as she replies, "Of course!"
They finally reach 3-D's classroom and walk into it. Still the same, Shin thought, down to the chalk message they had drawn for her after graduation. They walked into the middle of the classroom, Yankumi looking confusedly at the desks. He supposed that everyone was about to 'surprise' him with a party and Yankumi had been let in on part of the plan but not all of it.
"Surprise!" Like when he had come back from the detention center, confetti dropped from a ball above them. This time most of them landed on Yankumi.
"There you guys are" she cried, blinking at all the streamers that had landed on her head. "You didn't tell me you were going to hide!" She turns to him and grins gleefully. "Surprise!"
He grins as he brushes some off her head.
It isn't at all a surprise that she drags him off after the goodbye party or that they end up in her house. She had run off immediately saying she had to prepare something 'special' for her beloved student, leaving Shin with her grandfather. He tried his best to school his emotions as he bowed slightly.
"Kumiko tells me that you are going off to Africa," said Kuroda Ryuuichiro.
He nodded. "She decided to have a party for me with my classmates earlier, then she brought me here."
The older man smiled. "Don't tell her I told you, but I think you are her favorite student. She'll miss you terribly when you go."
Shin ignored the fluttering feeling in his heart.
"Ta-daa!" Yankumi breezed in, carrying a dish full of... was that fish? The burnt smell irritated his nose and it was impossible to miss the meat being blackened. It was just like that night she tried to cook for him.
He raised an eyebrow. "This is what you brought me here for?"
She wilted. Wakamatsu walked in and winced at the smell, before his eyes lit upon the fish. He reached for it and took it away.
"Leave the cooking to the professionals, Yankumi" Shin said with a grin. It was touching that she had clearly tried to cook for him, even if the results were inedible.
"Hai," she said glumly.
"Ojou, the rest of the food is ready" said Minoru.
"All right, bring it in!'
“For Young Master Shin! Congratulations again!”
He smiled as he accepted the food Minoru passed him. “Thanks.”
Minoru grinned at him. “Africa, that's so far away! Maybe you’ll see some tigers there!”
Tetsu hit Minoru on the head. “There are no tigers in Africa, Minoru!”
“Lions,” offered Wakamatsu. “Lions are in Africa.”
“Yes, that's right” nodded Minoru. “Maybe you can have a picture taken with one, Young Master Shin.”
I think I’d run away if I ran into one while out in the field first, he thought.
“Baka Minoru!” Yankumi hit him. “That’s dangerous, the lion might bite his head off! Sawada, you must promise me to be careful while you’re out there!”
"You don't have to tell me that," said Shin, though he was pleased that she was worried.
At the airport the next day, he had just said goodbye to Natsumi, his mother, Kuma, and the others when Yankumi had popped out of nowhere and dragged him off somewhere.
"You're late," he informed her, though his heart was pounding. Was this the right moment? He glanced at Kuma and Uchi, who were making weird gestures at him. Was Kuma making a heart with his hands? Crap, did they know? And worse, did anyone tell Yankumi?
The image of her smile, bright and cheerful, would be something he would take to Africa, along with the bump on his head after she swatted it playfully. “Baka, the important thing is that I came!"
"I guess," he said, ignoring Natsumi now pointing at them and Kuma and Uchi gesturing frantically. It was a good thing he was leaving for Africa, he thought, Natsumi would have teased him to death about his feelings for Yankumi if that was what Kuma and Uchi were telling her about.
"Of course I came,” she said happily. “You’ll be gone for pretty long, right?”
He fought down the grin that wanted to show itself. “Yeah.”
She grinned. “Actually, Grandpa and the rest wanted to come too, but there was a-“ She shook her head. “Anyway, they told me to tell you to take care. And come back, of course. You'll be welcome any time at our place.”
He supposes this is the perfect time to tell her about his feelings, but he stops himself, settling for a warm hug that surprises Yankumi but which she returns enthusiastically.
I will become a better man, then I’ll tell you.
4. all the days I'm not there
"And this time I've finally gotten a new job! At Kurogin - I haven't heard what kind of students they have but I'm sure they'll be wonderful like you guys were!"
Shin shook his head as he put down the letter. He knew what Kurogin was - a school full of delinquents like Shirokin. Yankumi would have her hands full, but she wouldn't be as happy with prim and proper students anyway even if she didn't know that yet.
"Everyone's fine here," Kuma wrote. "I see Yankumi all the time and her family sometimes orders ramen from us. She doesn't seem to see that guy she liked though, that policeman."
That's good, he thought. He sighed as he gazed towards the small box on his table. He has a collection of letters he hasn’t sent to her, all of them sounding overly sappy and something that would likely make her laugh instead of actually try to understand what he was trying to tell her.
Because of that, the letters he does end up sending are very sparse.
I’ve started building a house.
I’ve met some teachers. I told them about you.
I’ve met some kids.
I miss Kuma and the other guys.
He knows he’s supposed to conserve paper here, but he can’t help but try every so often to write to her properly of his feelings. I love you. You're the world to me. I'm not going to forget you.
The right words still don’t come.
"Good luck," he writes to her instead. "You'll need it."
5. it's time to be a man
It’s a great plan. He’s finally come back from Africa, has the acceptance letter to continue his studies, and Kuma and the others have agreed to help him do this. He’s had enough time to think about it after all, when he got used to the labor Africa required of him.
Uchi’s note is tucked in his pocket. “You have to get her alone. And don’t talk to her about her students, she’ll go on all night about them. Trust me. Get her to focus on you. And if her focus shifts, get it back.”
And Minami’s hastily added scribble, “Hopefully none of her students gets into any trouble while you talk to her. Maybe we should get the guys together and lock them up in their classroom or something, make sure they won't interrupt your confession.”
Of course, considering that it’s Yankumi, everything goes wrong about five seconds in this planned confession. He should have known.
Her irritating cell phone tone predictably breaks the moment he had carefully orchestrated. “Sawada, wait.”
He should have taken Minami’s advice, he thought as he watched her answer the phone.
“Where are you? Who’s there? I’m coming! Don't do any more fighting!” She groaned as she hung up, hunting for her bag.
He put his hand on her shoulder. “I’m coming too.”
“Eh? No! Sawada, you just got back! I’m not getting you involved in something like this especially for kids you don’t know.”
“But you’re going,” he said.
“Of course, they’re my students.”
“And you’re my friend,” he said firmly. “And friends help out each other, right?”
She blinked at him.
He tried again. “Where are we going?”
She exhaled and nodded. “Well, I could use some back up, I guess.”
Shin allowed himself a grin as they started running. Maybe this wasn't a total loss, if she at least started to consider him as more of an equal.
6. it's time to be a man (again)
“You know,” said Kuma conversationally to him while Yankumi was of course, predictably late to their ‘not-date’ at his restaurant, “I saw her with Vice-Principal’s wife again this morning when she was walking to school.”
“Yeah, you know, she had some pictures out. Maybe she’s going to get another omiai?”
“Yankumi wouldn’t go,” he said hesitantly. It was a good thing Yankumi always picked the most oblivious guys to crush on, something he had been worried about especially while he was in Africa, but an omiai...
“Well, maybe she’s thinking a little more about what will happen to… her family and all,” said Kuma. “And there was mention of how the other party didn’t care about her rough ways anyway… maybe even liked her rough ways. Maybe even had some dealings with them on their part, so a yakuza heiress would be a good opportunity...”
Shin stopped. “What?”
“Shin,” said Kuma. “You have to give her a reason not to go on those things anymore.”
His palms were sweaty as he walked her home on the pretense of wanting to talk to her grandfather about some business dealings. That went well enough, with Yankumi nodding approvingly at him as he answered all of her grandfather’s inquiries. After that, he was invited to dinner again, all the while hoping that what he was about to do wouldn’t get him buried in the river in a steel barrel.
He blinked away that last thought. “Yes?”
“Are you all right?”
He could have backed out of this all over again. All he had to do was say the words he usually said, “I’m fine,” and if Yankumi probed he could probably spin something up to at least keep her off his case for another night. He could do that.
“Yeah,” he said as he stopped walking. He was glad that no one was around to witness this. “Yankumi.”
“Look at me.”
“I am looking at you.”
“No, not like that.” He groans, deciding to finally take Uchi’s advice, and just leans down and kisses her, fully expecting to be punched in the face when she recovers.
Her lips are soft, he thinks, and while he doesn’t have any experience he thinks he’s doing well enough by the fact that she still hasn’t punched him after a while. But why hadn’t she? He pulled back, wondering if she had fainted.
She looks up at him dazedly. He supposes it's better than he expected - he hadn't been punched yet, hadn't been pushed off, hadn't been run off from yet. He discreetly takes hold of the edge of her jacket just in case she suddenly decided to bolt.
She shrunk back from him, almost like she had been burned. “S-Sa-Sawada! Wha-What was that?”
“A kiss,” he said, hoping it came out more cool than it sounded to him. Probably not, but this was Yankumi. It was hard to be cool when you knew the woman you loved could deck you if she was confused, angry, or happy or any combination thereof.
“Yes, but w-whhhhhyyyyy?”
If you don’t say it you aren’t a man, Sawada Shin. “Because I love you.”
She faints for real this time, Shin barely catching her, and he just shakes his head. Typical Yankumi.