Mayuko prefers not to think about the day she first met Hatori. It starts a chain reaction of thoughts, which tumble through her memory like dominoes. She cannot remember his happiness without thinking of everything that happened afterward. And while she is glad to have him in her life now, she hates all that he's gone through. If it were in her power, she would undo it in a minute, even if it meant sacrificing everything that's happened to bring them to where they are.
When she does think about that day, the first thing she always remembers is the churning awkwardness she felt when she realized that Hatori and Kana were in love. The second thing she always remembers is the way her pulse skipped and skittered when she first looked into his eyes -- they were so unique, and yet something about them made her feel like she was coming home again after a long journey.
At no point did dating Shigure ever seem like a particularly good idea, but it did seem to be a way for Mayu to move past her infatuation with Hatori. She's always had a short fuse with the novelist, but that stems mostly from the frustration she felt whenever she looked into Shigure's brown eyes and saw Hatori's blue ones.
Each and every time Hatori visited her parents' bookshop, he came alone -- never with Kana. These visits were always a sort of blissful hell for Mayu, allowing her the pleasure his company brought, while constantly reminding her that he was out of her reach, like standing behind the Gates of Paradise, forced to watch through the bars.
For two years she continued trying to find her own happiness, but when she looked, she only found men who weren't quite tall enough, weren't quite quiet enough, whose expressions weren't quite serious enough, whose voices reminded her nothing of moonlit fog hovering over still, dark water. Soon she just stopped looking.
Hatori suppresses people's memories. As such, if he can be said to have any "relationship" with the past at all, it is certainly a rocky one. And when he is alone with his own memories, he finds them sometimes difficult to navigate. So when he reflects back on the moment he first met Mayuko, it is impossible for him to simply overlook the fact that he'd been in love with Kana at the time. It's emotionally exhausting to create a hierarchy of rules regarding what he will permit himself to think about and what is forbidden -- his life is already so strictly defined with borders and propriety. He does think about it, but it is a memory around which he treads carefully. He does not romanticize the meeting, nor does he make attempts to read too far into it. That said, there is one thing he does wonder -- and it is something Shigure has pointed out to him more times than is tolerable -- and that is how he could have possibly been so oblivious as to not notice Mayuko noticing him.
If he is asked what he remembers about the first time he met Mayuko, he will more often than not give a perfunctory answer dismissing the question. Sometimes he will comment on her height. What he does not tell anyone is that he first noticed the sharp spark of intelligence in her eyes and her ready smile. When she smiles at him now, he's a bit bemused, because it's the same smile, he's sure; it just means... more to him now.
It comes as no surprise that Mayuko and Shigure's relationship -- and Hatori uses the term loosely -- came to a sudden end. The Dragon knows better than most how trying the Dog can be. However, he does wonder how Mayuko came to be attracted to Shigure enough to date him in the first place; even he has to admit the Dog has a sort of magnetism to him -- nothing like Ayame's confident charisma, but something a bit more elusive and indefinable. He knows it's something he does not possess, and while he does not worry about it necessarily, he is aware of it.
At the time, he hadn't given a great deal of thought to those lazy afternoons he'd spent peering at the books in the Shiraki's bookstore. It was an enjoyable errand, losing himself in the stacks, and the shop itself was something of a sanctuary, particularly during lulls in the business day. He treasured moments when he could get away from the Honke entirely, and even now, it doesn't strike him as odd that Kana never accompanied him. She enjoyed reading and books, but not quite in the same way. But when he looks back on those afternoons now, he tries to find some hint, some clue that Mayuko had felt something for him, even then; still, he finds nothing. And something about that makes him respect her even more.
In the two years after Kana left, he'd often thought of going to the bookstore and losing himself in the stacks. The urge, the desire, to get lost was stronger than ever, but he stayed away; he couldn't bear to have contact with anyone that close to Kana, who was aware of what had happened, of what he'd had to do. He knew she wouldn't have forgiven him for what he'd done to Kana -- why should she? Mayuko's recrimination would have stung him deeply, so he stayed away.
Mayuko cannot stand thinking of the day on the bridge. Humiliation wells up and she berates herself for her conduct. She hates that she behaved that way, and even now she cannot explain it -- she can't put into words the sharp, keen ache she felt in her breast when she realized how incredibly, untouchably sad Hatori was. Never before had someone's happiness -- or lack thereof -- meant so much to her; never before had someone else's happiness or sadness affected her so completely. But when she thinks of Hatori, someone who had held such a beautiful, perfect thing in his hand before having no choice but to watch it leave, someone who deserves that kind of contentment like he does, that pain gets sharper and sharper until she can't bear it anymore.
She wants him to be free, released from the pain of the past, but she does not flatter herself to think that she can soothe whatever it is that makes him look so melancholy at times. In fact, she's almost certain she can't. She sees nothing special in herself, no reason for her to believe he can find happiness with someone like her -- not when he had Kana. She knows she is nothing like her kind, gentle friend -- Mayuko is too loud, too brash, too short-tempered, too much herself, and she believes that Hatori deserves someone kinder, sweeter, better than herself. But she is weak, and cannot tell him this, so she will simply enjoy his company for as long as she can.
Mayuko admires Hatori's serenity; it reaches out to her, like a soothing hand calming a spooked horse. When he talks to her, she feels something that's been wound tight inside of her for so long, begin to loosen and relax. The first time he ever touched her -- the light brush of his fingers against the inside of her wrist -- it was as if her entire soul quieted and settled for one perfect moment before electricity tingled its way up her arm and she began stammering like a schoolgirl, her face hot with color. He has touched her since then, and her reaction is always the same. She's starting to suspect he does it on purpose.
She is quite certain she will never get used to Hatori's kisses. They are warm and slow, reminding her of humid midsummer nights. He still holds her hands when they kiss, even long after she ever discovered the reason behind such a precaution in the first place. She doesn't mind; she quite likes the way his fingers tighten around her hands as his lips work against hers. It helps to remind her that she's not lost in a very convincing fantasy.
Hatori finds himself thinking quite a bit about that summer afternoon, with its clear sky and sparkling water, contrasting so sharply with Mayuko's tears. He's still a bit stunned -- not that she'd cried (although the outburst had surprised him), but that she was shedding tears for him, in his place. He recalls the young child crying inside the Honke, and he remembers envying the small boy, just a bit, for being free enough to cry when something troubled him, no matter how trivial. He doesn't envy Mayuko, but he does catch himself ruminating on that day, on her tears, and on the fact that she felt free enough to shed them.
He is not fool enough to attempt to compare Kana to Mayuko. They are different people with different temperaments and different personalities. He refuses even to contemplate such a ridiculous notion. If Kana was his Spring, Mayuko is his Summer, and both women are as different as the seasons themselves. He finds that he enjoys the blazing sun in her smile and the pounding rains in her tears. Her energy, her sharp -- bordering on acerbic -- wit, her exuberance (which often shows itself as impatience) all differentiate her from Kana. He basks in the heat she radiates, which doesn't provide a slow, springtime thaw; instead, it's as if the ice around him cracks suddenly, almost violently, letting in warmth whether he's ready or not. It's startling and sometimes unsettling, and yet he cannot deny it is also therapeutic.
When he is alone with Mayuko, Hatori cannot help but notice that she's a different person from what she shows the world. In those moments of solitude, he catches glimpses of calm lurking behind the storm and, oddly, he finds himself wanting to coax that out of her. Unfortunately, no matter how careful Hatori is with his touches, he finds the reactions they elicit to be enjoyable, and perhaps slightly amusing; he's grown rather fond of the way Mayuko blushes, all of which makes it somewhat difficult to stop.
He's still not completely sure how it happened, but the first time Hatori kissed Mayuko exists quite clearly in his mind, all the way down to the way her perfume mingled with the cigarette smoke rising lazily from the nearby ashtray. He remembers the subtle taste of sake that had twined through (and, in all reality, was probably at least partly responsible for) the kiss. He remembers how smooth her skin was under his palms as he kept her hands in her lap -- he can even recall the way her pulse in her wrists thundered under his fingertips. That moment, above all others, is the one he has chosen to remember if ever the day should come when she is forced to forget.
On the day she cuts her hair short, he's surprised, but only for a moment. Slowly he gives her one of his rare, precious smiles -- which still fall like a single drop of rain, even after all this time -- and runs his fingers through the shorn locks. It's an almost symbolic gesture, cutting away the dead length, allowing herself to move past the things that have transpired before, and she can tell by his eyes that he knows what it means: a new beginning, for the both of them.
It's a shock when she comes to him that day, her hair loose around her face, the shorter ends kicking up here and there. In fact, there's a fleeting moment when he's not sure it's Mayuko at all. But then he sees her uncertain, hopeful smile and it's as if something long-missing simply clicks into place as he reaches up and touches the wind-blown strands, smoothing them back into order. It's odd -- his fingers want to keep running through the length that's simply not there anymore. It's not that he misses it, only that it was there for so long that now its absence is strange. The same could be said for other things as well.