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Of Cherry Blossoms and Old, New Acquaintances

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Despite his calm demeanor Masamune couldn't contain his excitement at coming back home. After a year of incessant but fulfilling work overseas he was glad to be able to come back to his daughter.

So much had happened since he learned that he was a father. At first he wouldn't believe it but there was she, the spitting image of Yoko-san, missing her mom and wanting to know the man her mother loved. He couldn't take it, his old girlfriend had left him making him think that it was over, while all the time he spent thinking about her, she raised their daughter alone. He decided from then on that he would do the same. It was then Masamune realized he had no idea what he was doing. How does one parent? His world was suddenly upside down but he had to make some sense of if for the sake of his daughter. It was rough but they found a way to make it work. Even now, as he approached a cherry blossom tree near his daughter school in Shizuoka which made him think about how grateful he was to her and her mother. Their belief in him was his strength.

Masamune stopped looking at the scene in front of him, taking a mental picture.

"Koharu-chan."

"Masamune-kun!" The grade schooler ran towards him, smiling happily.

The young father stared at his daughter lovingly, thinking of how much she's grown.

"Welcome back." She smiled at him.

"I'm home." He smiled back.

Koharu took her father's hand. "Come on everyone is waiting!"

"Huh?" He frowned confused as he let himself be leaded by his daughter.

"We're having a welcome home party! I asked grandma if I could and she said yes. Even the guys from your old job are waiting. Come on, hurry!"

"Eh?" The poor man was still confused but pleased to know his friends were happy to welcome him back.

On the way home father and daughter exchanged stories about their year apart. They had been writing each other regularly and Masamune called whenever he had time and it wasn't to late at night for his little girl. Even so they retold each other those stories happily while they made their way back. Since they wanted to spend some father-daughter time before going to the party, Masamune suggested they would stop for some snacks at the convenience store. After that they sat down on a nearby bench, eating their snacks quietly.

"The uniform suits you, you look so mature. Ahh, where is my little baby?" Masamune complained making the grade schooler giggle.

"I'm still here!"
---
The party was fun. Like Koharu had said everyone was there: his parents and Masamune's best friend Taka. Koharu's old daycare teacher, Katagiri-san and his old co-workers (Minus his boss. He probably was taking care of his own kids.) Even the guy that was hired right before he left, Sato, was there too. He seemed nice, it reminded Masamune of himself when he started. His old co-workers told him how he should expect competition from him.

"Masamune, you have to be careful of this guy." Kimura said pointing at Sato." He's a klutz but he takes great pictures, I hate him already! " he smiled proudly despite his comment.

"Kimura-san!" Masamune and Sato reprimanded the man in unison.

Koharu saw the scene unfold quietly beside her grandparents as his dad got to have some fun with his friends. The truth was that she wanted her father all by herself now that he was finally back but it made her happy to see him like this. As the evening went by they all pegged Masamune for stories of the big apple and his work with Kenmochi-sensei. By the time everyone left Masamune was exhausted.

He and Koharu helped her grandmother cleaning up before preparing for bed.

"Bath's free Masamune-kun. I'm going to sleep." Announced the grade schooler coming out of the bathroom.

"Okay, thanks. And thank you Koharu-chan, I had fun tonight." He smiled and she smiled back. "I'm really glad."

"Goodnight Koharu-chan."

Masamune dragged his feet tiredly to take a bath then went to bed right after.
---
"Masamune-kun, Good Morning!" The high pitch voice woke him with a start. He had missed waking up to his daughter's voice. She stared at him beside the bed, an amused smile on her face. It seemed his little girl had a mischievous side to her after all.

"Why you, come here!" This sent the girl running and giggling while her dad chased her around the house.

"Koharu-chan, Ninomiya-kun is here already." Koharu's grandmother entered the room accompanied by a boy wearing the same uniform as Masamune's daughter although he looked like he might as well be still in day care.

"Ah, is this your dad?" For a boy his age he looked really indifferent.

"Is he an NEET? Why is he still in pajamas?"

Masamune stared at the boy, startled by his frankness until he heard Koharu scolding the boy.

"Nino-chan is wrong! Masamune-kun is a great photographer! He just came back from America."

The grade schooler scowled mumbling something no one in the room could make out.

"That's enough you two, you're going to be late for school now." Interjected Koharu’s grandma. "Off you go." She lead them outside and sent them off.

Grandma Tsukamoto came back to find Masamune in the same spot scratching his head. The old woman hid an amused smile behind her hand.

"That kid is..."

"Koharu-chan's friend, yes." She finished for him seriously.

"But..."

She could hide her smile no longer. "Be careful now, girls are tricky when it comes to their father not liking her friends. Especially if they're boys..." The old lady wasn't one to tease but the expression on Masamune's face was worth it. Leaving him to his own devices she left to do her housework for the day.

Masamune shook his head, deciding not to think of what Koharu's grandma said and prepared to go out. The truth about his comeback to his native country was because Kenmochi-sensei had sent him to do some work for him since he knew by then how much Masamune missed his little girl. He had to work at a kids fashion magazine for the spring special.

After taking a bath and changing clothes, Masamune headed for the train station. He got on the train to Tokyo, the commute was going to be long but at least for today he just had a briefing and a chance to get to meet who he'll be working with. He was excited to be able to work back in his country again and in what he hoped would be a fun project. He arrived an hour later to his destination and hurried to the studio his new boss arranged for them to meet.
Upon arrival Masamune quickly tried to make way to the meeting when he felt himself being shoved forward, almost making him fall.

"I am so sorry!" He heard the apology as a hand was extended towards him for help. "I'm in a hurry but I should be more careful! Ah, Masamune-san!"

Masamune straightened himself and looked at the person talking to him, his eyes widening in recognition. "Sato-kun, right? Fancy meeting you here." He chirped. "Are you by any chance here for a job with R magazine?"

Sato looked at him amused. "How did you know?"

"A hunch." He tried to remain serious but breaks into a smile soon after. "Nah, I'm just headed that way myself. If I'm not wrong it means we'll be working together from now on."

Sato's expression lit up and Masamune felt a little sad and creepy that he could not capture the moment with his camera.

"If that's the case, please take care of me." He bowed and Masamune mimicked him.

The meeting didn't take long and as Masamune predicted, he and Sato were to be working together on this project indeed. Sato would be his assistant this time but he knew some of his work thanks to his ex co-workers (especially Kimura), flaunting the young photographer's work when he thought of quitting photography for good a year ago. Their styles were very different at first glance but Masamune was sure they could complement each other very well.

"You were spot on, Masamune-san." His new assistant chuckled.

They decided to have lunch together and since Masamune had plans of visiting his old workplace so he could greet Hayashi, who was not at his welcome party, they also made their way back to the office. His first impression of Sato from when he was about to leave Japan was that he seemed a cheerful and social man. He seemed to be able to get on everybody's good side. Now that he actually had the chance to talk to him, Masamune found himself inexplicably excited about this new project. Unlike him, Sato was a bit clumsy and quick witted. A rare but interesting combination, thought Masamune as they exchanged ideas for the project.

"So, how was it to work overseas?"

"It was really hard! I mean it was fun but other than sensei, I didn't know anyone and the language! Those first few months were terrible! But it was amazing too, don't get me wrong. Thanks to sensei I could do lots of different jobs which I really never thought I would do."

"That sounds great!"

"Yes, and he almost let that opportunity pass by." The young pair of photographers were startled by Masamune’s old boss who was walking towards them. "Good thing that kid of his has better sense than him. Not that I could talk too much."

"Ah, Hayashi-san, nice to see you again."

"I gather you'll be working with our Sato-kun. Please take care of him."

"Please take care of me too."Masamune bowed to Hayashi and Sato who did the same.

Masamune chatted some more with both men until he excused himself and left. He had promised his daughter he would wait for her at school so they could have their own party. He hurried back to the train station hoping he would make it back in time.

An hour or more later Masamune found himself at the same spot he met his daughter the day before, waiting for her. He didn't wait long but he did not expect his daughter's friend, Ninomiya would tag along too. He guessed the least he could do was to get to know the boy.
---

"I don't like him." Masamune complained to Sato the next day who laughed heartily at the young father.

"Of course you don't. Do you remember ever being liked by your girlfriend's father?"

"Girlfriend?! She's too young!" The expression on Masamune's face made the young assistant laugh even more.

"And she always will be, don't worry. Wait until she's older, it'll only get worse." Sato smiled knowingly.

"And how do you know that?"

"I have a younger sister. Keeping boys off her was hard work. In the end there is that one fellow you can't shake off. Next thing you know, they're getting married."

"Gee, thanks for the comforting words..." Following Masamune's sarcastic tone, the young assistant smiled charmingly once again making the photographer wonder why his assistant didn't pursue a modeling career instead. "No problem, we're comarades."

The rest of the day went uneventfully, they could finish that day's shoot in time and were currently preparing for the next one.

"How about an outdoor shoot? I've seen your work Masamune-san, you are exceptional when it comes to capturing things at natural."

"Whoa, thank you but I think you're exaggerating." Masamune blushed which made Sato smile.

"I am not. In any case I think this would go great with the magazine's concept."

"I think you're right, we just have to find the right place."

"We have three days, we better start looking."

"Ah, thank goodness you still haven't left." Although they didn't know the girl who approached them by name, they knew she was one of Higashiyama-sensei's assistants. They had seen him arrive earlier when they finished their shoot and decided to plan out the next one. The girl looked anxious at them. "Higashiyama-sensei said he needs help from you two."

Sato and Masamune looked at each other and shrugged. If sensei needed help it wasn't wise to refuse so they followed the assistant back to the studio where the senior photographer was working or rather shouting angrily.

"Why the hell would they send me these? They don't even fit the model!" Apparently the wardrobe department had made a mistake and now they were unable to go on with the shoot. Sato and Masamune followed the girl inside, wondering what they could possibly do to help the situation.

"Sensei," the assistant timidly approached the photographer. "I found them."

Higashiayma-sensei turned around sharply and looked at the trio impatiently. "Why are they not ready yet?" Masamune wanted to ask for what but he found soon enough as he and Sato were dragged by various assistants and practically changed him out of his clothes. He soon found himself wearing an elegant suit like those he only saw on magazines.
That thought made him panic. Higashiyama-sensei surely didn't plan to use them, complete amateurs for his shoot, did he? But he knew he did and had no choice but to let himself be leaded to the make-up artist and practically shoved back to where sensei was already working with Sato.

Masamune was stunned, Sato looked very different in a suit. Even his aura had changed. The young photographer found himself gaping at how elegant the other man looked in front of him. He was shaken out of his musings by Higashiyama-sensei who yelled at him to get besides Sato and started shooting again. The young father didn't feel as comfortable at this side of the lens as his partner seemed to be. He tried to convince himself that he wasn't made for modeling but the truth is he was finding his co-worker's proximity quite unsettling all of the sudden. His heartbeat sped as he tried hard to focus on the task at hand.

"Okay now, grab him by the collar!"

"What?" Masamune asked startled.

"Grab each other by the collar, like you're angry. Come on I don't have all day!"

"Sorry." Sato smiled sheepishly and grabbed the young father by the collar. Masamune wavered for a moment then did the same.

"You hate each other now, come on!" They heared the shout followed by the sound of the camera flickering. The expression on Sato's face hardened until Masamune started wondering if he was actually annoyed. Which he probably was considering how much the senior photographer was shouting at them. In his case was a lot more harder to concentrate since he was so mesmerized by his co-worker's performance. They finally heard Higashiyama-sensei yell that they were done and Sato's expression reverted to his usual one. They thanked sensei for letting them work together and retired to change clothes then headed to the train station.

"Masamune, you are such a natural! It kinda pisses me off actually." The young man laughed slapping the taller man on the shoulder who blushed furiously.

"W-what? No! I was just... You scared me back then, I thought you were really angry."

"I was." He smiled.

"Really? Why?"

"It wasn't me taking photographs of you. I so wanted to be the one behind the lens back there." The seriousness in the young photographer's voice made Masamune blush even more.

"I should go, my daughter will be waiting." He tried to change the subject.

"Ah, yes, Koharu-chan." The young man smiled though Masamune could have sworn he saw a hint of disappointment on it. "She should be... Ah, well, see you tomorrow then. Say hi to Koharu-chan for me, will you?"

"I will, see you tomorrow." Masamune waved at him and entered the train that would get him home.

---

"I'm home." He greeted as he got into grandma Tsukamoto's house to have his daughter come running at him.

"Masamune-kun, welcome back!"

"Hi, Koharu-chan how was school? Did you do your homework yet?"

Koharu pouted. "School was fine but Nino-chan was mean."

"Eh? What happened?"

"He said I couldn't be better than him in Mario, not for a million years. Is not true. I won, come see!" Koharu dragged her dad towards the living room where Koharu's small friend sat in front of the TV sulking. Masamune smiled despite of the situation and turned off the TV.

"That is enough you two, go and do your homework if you haven't yet. Is getting late and Ninomiya-kun should go back home soon."

"Nino-chan is staying the night! Grandma said he could." Koharu's dad swore he saw the kid smirk at him.

"He is? Where is grandma?"

"She's in the kitchen."

---

"Okaa-san, why is Ninomiya-kun staying?"

"Jealous, Masamune-kun?" The old woman smirked. "His mom has a late shift at work and I agreed for him to stay here while his older sister stayed at one of her friend's house. He's just a kid, you know? Come help me set the table."

"I know..." He murmured taking some utensils to set them around the table.

"Ah, this is so funny, I think I'll go call your mom later and tell her." She giggled as she finished bringing the food. "Kids, dinner is ready!"

Both adults could hear some struggling and complaints from the living room but soon after both grade schoolers entered the kitchen: The one complaining was Ninomiya who would rather keep playing video games than eat and Koharu who decided to drag him with her.

"I'm not hungry!" The boy grumbled sitting down at the table.

The old lady smiled, "Since it is Koharu-chan's first time having a friend over, I made hamburger, are you sure you don't want to eat?"

"I'll eat!"

They ate in silence for a while until the boy spoke up.

"Oi, Koharu-chan no papa, why do you work taking pictures? Anybody can do that!"

The question irritated Masamune, even if it wasn't the first time someone said that to him. Despite being constantly stimulated by pictures, some people took his job lightly, thinking that just being able to look through a lens and clicking a button would make a good picture. He'd show this kid for sure.

"Kid, finish your food and I'll show just how easy it is."

"Can I go too?" Koharu asked.

"Of course!"

"Yay~" Koharu cheered but the seven year old boy shrugged and kept eating.

After they were done with their food and homework (grandma Tsukamoto didn't let them go out until it was finished.) Father, daughter and a spunky little boy headed out. Masamune took the kids to the nearby cherry blossom trees. As it was night already the place was a bit dim so Masamune was glad the place had at least some lamp post around because that's all he could count on for lightning.

He explained to the kids some of the things he had to take in account to take a good picture while he took a few. Then the kids took turns to try and practice what they just learnt. Their session didn't last long though because it was getting late and it was cold already. Next Sunday they would accompany the photographer so they could see the process of revealing the pictures.
---
"I think he likes you." Sato commented as they set out the equipment for the day's session.

"He likes me? Sato-san, that doesn't make sense."

"It does. Remember how you used to be to people you liked when you were young?" An amused smile formed on Sato's lips as he saw Masamune's expression change with realization.

"Then he doesn't like Koharu?" The other man could almost hear the hopeful tone in his voice.

"I never said that. I just think he likes you, like looking up to you. If he's friends with Koharu-chan I'm sure he must like her." The young father pouted and his assistant smiled to himself.

"Cute." He whispered.

"What?"

"Ah, nothing. In any case, how about doing the outdoor shoot where you took the kids. You said it was great even if there wasn't enough lightning. Is not like we can't take care of that."

"Wouldn't it be a bother?"

"Leave it to me."

---

It took a while but Sato was able to set things up to have their final shoot at by the cherry blossoms. It all went smoothly and they could wrap up earlier than planned.

"Masamune-kun, good job!" The young father was surprised to see his daughter waiting for him with a bento box, and of course she was accompanied by Ninomiya.

"Good job.." Said the boy unenthusiastic. Masamune looked over at Sato as if saying: "How does he likes me?" to which the other photographer shrugged and giggled.

After cleaning up the equipment and the other workers were gone, the small group sat down under the tree to eat quietly. Well as quiet as they could be with Masamune and Ninomiya quarreling about whether fried chicken or hamburger were the best food ever.

As Koharu was handing Sato a cup of tea she smiled at how he couldn't stop staring at her father.

"You know, my mom said Masamune-kun is a bit slow, I think she was right."

"And I think you're too smart for your age, but point taken." They smiled at each other both wondering how their life would unfold from then on.