December was a cold month in Yokosuka - Ryo could feel the nip in the air even under his jacket, and it had even snowed once already, on the day his father had died.
It had been three days since then, and Ine-san had reluctantly agreed to stop nagging Ryo about resting and taking time to reflect. Ryo had always been a person of calm action, and the strange, disjointed, confusing days following his father's murder had offered time to soothe the emotions it had produced but done nothing to scratch the itch he had to investigate what had happened.
When he finally got out of the house and into Sakuragaoka, he almost wasn't sure where to start. A few questions led him to Dobuita, which was logical enough, considering there weren't too many ways out of Yamanose. After that, he had to ask pretty much everyone he could about a black car - it was vague, but it had potential. Not many cars came down Dobuita's streets, and at such high speed, surely somebody would remember something.
Eventually, asking Tom led him to Nozomi, and Ryo found himself standing in front of Aida Florist, just a little overcome by the heavy perfume of the flowers in the air. Nozomi smiled when she saw him, but it was with a little uncertainty. Ryo wasn't surprised with that reaction. Since his father's murder, it seemed like nobody knew how to act around him.
"Hi, Ryo," she said, quietly.
"Nozomi." Ryo inclined his head, just a little bit. He asked about the car and she answered - apparently it had splashed mud on her and driven so quickly through Dobuita that people had been lucky not to have been run down. Nobody had really been after him, so it wasn't as if Lan Di had been trying to get away... Ryo supposed he was just so self-important that the safety of others didn't matter.
But speculating about the nature of the cold, quiet man wouldn't really get him anywhere.
It wasn't until he came back through later and saw Nozomi selling a bundle of flowers to a customer that he realized she must be freezing. She had her sweater, but... wasn't it cold in that skirt? Even he was starting to think fondly of the kotatsu at home, and something warm to drink. He was in too much of a hurry to stop and ask, though, and when he'd come back through to pursue the next lead about the Three Blades and then about sailors, Nozomi was nowhere to be found.
Several days later, though, she called. When they met in Sakuragaoka park, Ryo wasn't sure how to respond. He was overwhelmed and tired, and although Nozomi wasn't too emotional, he could tell she was upset. He wasn't sure how to respond or what to say. She was moving away? What could he say to that? Nozomi had lived in Canada before, and although it had made her very good at English (there had been a few times in school that Ryo had wanted her to tutor him), he had always gotten the feeling she was happy in Japan...
It seemed like the days moved quickly after that. Christmas came and went, and it was a new year. Nozomi would be leaving soon... and that night in the park, Ryo had promised her he would tell her how he felt, once he figured it out. Instead, it seemed all he was doing was getting her into trouble.
After rescuing her from the gang, he was so angry and set on what he needed to do that he had almost forgotten about it completely, but with Nozomi's arms around his waist as they headed back into the relative safety of Dobuita's streets, Ryo was suddenly reminded. It wasn't the best night to bring it up again, though - Nozomi seemed scared, both of what had happened and what Ryo planned to do next, and Ryo sort of stumbled out an apology and a goodnight mixed together. Before he could get back on Ito-san's bike, though, Nozomi suddenly seized him in another hug.
"I'm worried about you," she confessed. Was she saying that to say it, or as some kind of explanation for the sudden hug? Ryo wasn't sure. It didn't really matter. He slowly put arms around her, returning the squeeze. "Ryo, I..."
"Your mother will be worried about you," he said, suddenly. It wasn't that he meant to cut her off, but...
"Oh..." Nozomi nodded, dropping arms, slowly stepping back. "You're right. Don't worry. I'll explain what happened."
"Okay. Stay safe." Ryo felt awkward and stiff, but he didn't know what else to say. He hesitated for a moment before turning back towards the bike, getting on, and turning the key in the ignition. He needed to get the bike back to Ito-san and get home. Ine-san would be worried.
That night, Ryo lie down to rest, too much going on in his head. He'd agreed to take down Qui-san... could he really do that? His father wouldn't approve of such a thing, but... if it was for justice...
It seemed he'd been doing a lot of unscrupulous things to get to Lan Di. And now Nozomi had gotten involved, and it had been Ryo's fault she'd been put in danger. He wasn't sure how to handle that information.
He needed to keep his promise.
The next morning, Ryo moved with a purpose toward Aida Florist, but when he reached the store, he noticed Nozomi wasn't outside. Ryo hesitated before peeking into the store itself. The only person inside was Aida Toki, Nozomi's grandmother.
"Er, hello," Ryo said, slowly.
"You must be looking for Nozomi." The old woman looked him up and down, sizing him up, smiling. "You're that one she talks about... Ryo?"
"Yes." Ryo stood up a little straighter. "Is she feeling okay?"
"She's resting today," the woman said, moving towards a display and beginning to straighten the already perfect-looking flowers inside. "She'll be leaving soon. Only two weeks from today."
"From today..." Ryo looked troubled for a moment. Nozomi hadn't told him the exact day she was leaving...
From Aiwa-san, Ryo found out that Nozomi was leaving early in the morning, and taking a bus from the Dobuita station to an airport. Nozomi had already given him a going-away gift, and Ryo knew he would cherish it in Hong Kong. The least he could do in return would be to keep the promise he'd made to her in Sakuragaoka Park that night in December. Since his father's death, Ryo hadn't made much time for anything but that investigation. He was realizing now that he needed to make this time for Nozomi, before it was too late.
Ryo got up early that morning, dressed, and slipped outside before Ine-san was even awake. The bus to the airport was scheduled before 6 AM, and Ryo didn't even pass any school children as he made his way into Dobuita. As he passed the tobacco store and rounded the corner, Ryo could see that the bus was already there - running a few minutes ahead of schedule? - and Nozomi was having her luggage carried on by the driver. She looked distant, and for a moment Ryo just stood there watching her, as if he wasn't even in the same reality.
Then she looked over, and her eyes widened, startled.
Ryo quickly moved towards her, feeling awkward having stood there so long.
"I didn't expect to see you," she said. The look of surprise on her face had been replaced by a soft smile. "I wasn't going to tell you exactly when I was leaving... I thought it would be too hard."
Ryo felt a little guilty. He didn't mean to make this harder for Nozomi than it already was. The feeling surprised him. It wasn't that he typically didn't care for other people's emotions, but the realization came so quickly and easily that it seemed stronger than normal.
He had to keep his promise, but... would telling Nozomi how he felt make it harder to leave, too?
"I'm glad to see you off," he murmured, finally. "I didn't want you to be alone."
"It's okay." She shook her head, then, remembering something, reached a hand into her pocket and pulled out a small card. "Here... this is where I'll be living in Canada."
Ryo took the card, looking at it. It was an address.
"I know you'll be busy, so it's okay if you can't, but..." Nozomi paused for a moment, turning her eyes down shyly. "If you like, you can write letters to me there."
"I will," Ryo said, almost too quickly.
"Really?" Nozomi smiled, looking back up at him. "I would like that."
"Yeah. I promise." Those words reminded Ryo of another promise, though, and his heart quickened. "Nozomi, I..."
There was a sudden ring, and they both looked up, startled, towards the bus.
"It's time to go," the driver called, and Nozomi gasped, turning around.
"I guess this is goodbye," she said, glancing back to Ryo. Her eyes looked red and watery, and Ryo clenched his jaw.
"Mmm." He nodded. He wanted to say something to make her feel better, but he didn't know what. "Have a safe flight," he added, finally. "I'll write to you, as soon as I can."
"Okay." She nodded, then turned back towards him, hands clasped in front of her. "I'll wait for it, then." She smiled again, a little fainter this time. "And Ryo..."
"Please stay safe."
"I will." He nodded, smiling back. "I have that charm, right? I'll be okay."
Her smile grew suddenly, her cheeks coloring. Was she happy Ryo had mentioned the charm? He wasn't sure.
"Goodbye, Ryo," she said.
Nozomi turned back to the bus, took in a deep breath, and stepped on. The doors closed as she took her seat, and Ryo watched the bus pull from the station and drive down the street, disappearing as the road curved.
It was goodbye, but it didn't feel like the end. Ryo looked back down at the card in his hand, and the corners of his mouth turned up.
He'd be able to keep his promise after all, even if he was taking too long to do it. He would apologize for that, someday. For now, even though Nozomi was going to Canada and Ryo would soon be in Hong Kong, he still felt close to her.