As Professor Yukawa nears the corner of the corridor leading to his lab, he slows down, hearing something strange -- a thump, followed in quick succession by another. He stops at the top of the steps, as the cause of the sound is revealed as Utsumi Kaoru, jumping up in front of Lab Thirteen's door, her arm stretched out and hand grasping at something hung from the lintel. She's unable to grab it. Her hair, which is down today, probably to guard her neck from the bitter cold outside, flies out into a black fan as she comes back down.
She mutters, "Darn it!" She leaps again, her fingertips brushing the bottom of the object, a green and leafy sprig. She's obviously too intent on her goal to notice the way his eyebrows have climbed up his forehead.
She jumps again, and this time she seems determined to grab whatever it is, because she raises her other arm, and tries to add extra thrust to her upward motion by crouching down more. It pays off, as she finally nabs the piece of greenery with both hands.
Yukawa shakes his head, starts down the steps, and asks, "What brings you here today, besides modifying our Christmas decorations?"
Utsumi yelps and swings around, sending her hair flying into her face, where strands get stuck on her open mouth. For a brief tantalizing moment he contemplates brushing that hair off her skin, and settling it back on her shoulders. It's a flash of an impulse. He sets it aside as she shoves her hand behind her back, hiding the telltale green poking out from between her fingers. Odd, that. She pushes her hair out of the way with her other hand, her movements wild with agitation, all the while spearing him with an undeserved glare. She snaps, "Don't startle me!"
He holds her defiant gaze for a long moment, then with the barest of shrugs, he moves the folder he's holding under his arm, reaches in his pocket for keys, and unlocks the door. He says, once it's open, and she's started to follow him, "I didn't realize you harbored ill feelings against the looks of this place."
She stops as he places the folder down on the table, and turns to her. Her expression of pique hasn't abated one bit. "I don't!" she protests.
"Then why -- "
She rolls her eyes and slaps down the offending decoration, right on top of his folder. "Do you mean that you want this hanging above your door? Really?"
He takes a closer look at the sprig, now noting the pale white berries and smooth edges of the oval leaves. Not holly. Mistletoe. A little crushed, now.
"Hmm," he says, putting a finger to his chin as he contemplates the method by and reason for such an unusual, not to mention, inappropriate object being placed above his door. Then, realizing that simple sound could be misconstrued as an affirmative answer to her question, he drops his hand, and says, "No, of course not."
She stares. "You mean, you didn't -- "
"Why would you think -- "
"Ah!" Her mouth hangs open for a second, her eyes to the side in thought. She brings her attention back to him, her eyebrows coming together, questioning. "Your students..."
"Oh...." She draws her lower lip in-between her teeth.
He offers, "It's completely inappropriate."
"Yes," she says. The word comes out soft as a breath. She clears her throat. "I agree. That's why I was..."
"I understand. We should -- "
"I'll just -- "
They reach for the mistletoe at the same time, with the result of their hands colliding. Utsumi snatches her hand back, with a gasp, saying, "Sorry."
He shakes his head, making a negative murmur of sound.
"Sorry," she repeats, looking down at the mistletoe. "I'll just... throw it away."
She doesn't make any move to take it, however. After a long moment, he just picks up the sprig and holds it out to her, waiting. She blinks, looks at him, then at the mistletoe with a stiff movement of her head, and holds out her hand. He says, "Yes, that's a sensible solution," and drops the mistletoe into her palm.
She goes to the trash can and he can hear her grumble, "Stupid Western traditions," and as the lid swings back closed with a creak, a very audible, very disappointed-sounding sigh.
She stands at the canister for a long moment, looking down at it, then lifts her head and turns to him, a bright switched-on smile on her face. She says, "I was going to ask you a few questions, but it looks like you won't have time. I'll just come back later."
He nods, and goes around to the range. "I do have enough time for coffee, if you want to stay."
She shakes her head and starts to move toward the door, saying, "No, I don't think that's a good i -- I mean, it wasn't urgent; I can wait. I'll see you la -- "
He's put the pot on the range as she was chattering, so his back is turned. Even so, he can tell that she stops making her way to the door as he cuts into her ramble by stating, in a preoccupied tone, "Perhaps I'll tell the students to try harder."
A long, long silence, as he turns on the burner, and then, faintly, "Uh. What?"
"It's not as if it's needed, however. Wouldn't you say?"
He turns just in time to catch an indescribable expression pass over her face, a darkness that seems to crumple her, but it vanishes like steam, and then she chuckles, a tentative, awkward sound. When he just looks at her, she bursts out into raucous laughter. He sighs, but she doesn't notice it. It's not hard to miss that her laughter has a hysterical edge. She wipes a tear from her eye, when she's done, and says, "Very funny, Professor. You had me. You're just going to make sure it doesn't happen again, right?"
Her eyes are expectant, but it takes him too long to gather a response, enough for her to prod at him by saying, "Professor?"
"Yes," he answers. "There is, after all, no telling what could happen."
She nods. "It's safer, really." So she has either disregarded the tone of irony or it has proved too subtle for her to catch. There's no point to delaying her departure.
"So, you were going?"
"I've already taken up too much of your time, sorry." She bows her head, her hair slipping down over her shoulders with the movement. He's struck again with the desire to rearrange it; to let his hand linger at her face, on her shoulder, only this time it comes with the knowledge that it would be unwelcome. She straightens up, and right before she turns, that shadow touches her eyes again, only to be replaced when she smiles, and says, "Another time, Professor."
She leaves and he turns back to the range, where he stands in thought for a few seconds, then turns off the burner. The water's hot enough, but he leaves it.
"Yes," he says, even though she's gone, "another time."