Dialogue in [brackets] takes place in English.
All other dialogue takes place in Japanese.
"It's true. I haven't seen the sun in years," Mai insisted, drawing the curtains closed and tumbling heavily onto his bed before pushing herself upright again. The mattress shook violently under her fall, and the page he was turning creased slightly under his hand as the sudden motion disrupted him. He looked up from his book to shoot her a glance of irritation.
"London has more average daylight hours than Tokyo does. And you haven't been back for a week yet," Naru pointed out.
"It doesn't count as 'daylight' if there are clouds covering the sky," she informed him. "I don't know why I let you abduct me back here and cut my summer break short."
"I asked you if you wanted to come."
"That doesn't count as asking," she scoffed. "'Luella won't stop bothering me about you. I've booked a ticket already. I haven't seen you in a while.' Your words. You knew I couldn't say no."
"It was still a choice," he murmured without a trace of guilt. "I merely stacked the options in my favor."
She scowled at him. "If I had known, I would never have tried to convince you to develop people skills."
He finally slipped the blue ribbon back into the folds of the book and put it down on the nightstand as he turned to face her. "I did tell you that you would regret it if I were to surpass you at your own game," he said, a light smile playing on his lips. With the sunlight blocked out by the curtains, the dimness of the room and the dust motes dancing effervescently around him made him seem just a little bit like a character right out of a fairy tale—the fae who cursed Sleeping Beauty, maybe, or Snow White's wicked stepmother.
"You haven't yet," she informed him. "It only counts if you can do something with your so-called people skills other than drive me insane. Like properly greet my partner exchange student when I introduce him to you, for one."
Naru raised an eyebrow in feigned surprise. "Was that what it was? I was under the impression you'd acquired a new pet dog."
"Naru!" She elbowed him viciously. "Stop comparing people to animals. It's not nice."
"I didn't intend to be," he said dryly.
She let out a woeful sigh. "I bet it's you," she accused. "Your negativity is what's attracting all these clouds. You're like a black hole, sucking in bad weather."
"That's absurd. Climate patterns in Western Europe have hardly changed since I began living here."
"I think, instead of ghosts, you should start conducting investigations into your own personality," she continued, as if he hadn't even spoken. "Maybe you'll find out that you're secretly the origin of dark matter. 'Naru's ego' ought to be one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and its nickname would be, 'The most swollen thing since Bou-san's toe infection.'"
"Don't compare me to a fungal outbreak," he said irritably.
"But you're fine with being compared to a black hole?"
Her lips twisted indignantly. "See? That's exactly what I'm talking about."
"Do you even remember what you were talking about?" He asked with a light snort. "Considering your memory span."
"Of course I do!"
"Really?" He leaned across the short distance between them, and his fingertips tickled her ear as he swept back a lock of hair and landed a kiss on her cheek, soft at first, trailing slowly, almost lazily, to her lips before biting her lower lip playfully. "So, what was it?" He murmured, pulling back slightly.
"That," she repeated breathlessly, "is exactly what I'm talking about. Arrogant, no-good, egotistical…"
He shrugged indifferently.
"… head full of hot air, self-centered…"
He merely sighed as she swung her legs onto the bed and propped her back against his shoulder, tilting her head up as she continued to mutter insults at him. "… picky, fussy, can't take a hint…"
Her eyes were nearly closed by now as she sang the string of complaints like a lullaby. Suddenly, the support behind her disappeared, though, and she was startled out of her soliloquy when her head hit the soft mattress. She frowned at him when she saw that he'd moved his shoulder away without any warning and now bent over her slightly.
"There's nothing keeping you here if you dislike it so much," he reminded her.
"There is. My two-year study abroad program for my language degree."
He raised an eyebrow.
"You're fishing for compliments," she accused.
"… And you," she relented with a grumble. "But only because you're insufferable," she added. And then, "Don't take that as a compliment."
It was too late, though. She could see it in the way he picked his book back up as if he'd completed some sort of important task, looking all too pleased with himself. Of course she might just be reading too much into it, as he always insisted, but she trusted her instincts if nothing else.
"Naru," she complained, draping her arms around his neck as she leaned onto him from behind, "You can't make me come here and then spend all day sitting in your room. It's boring."
"I'm working. You could be, too."
"It's summer." She fiddled with the collar of his shirt to bug him until he caught her fingers and refused to let go. She gave her hand a tug, but it accomplished nothing. "Anyways, since I'm here to study English, the best way for me to work is to go out, isn't it?"
"There's nothing stopping you from doing that."
She gave her hand another tug just to make her point, but he simply pretended not to notice.
"Fine," she told him. "Instead of visiting you tomorrow, I'll go 'work.'"
He sighed and put his book back down, finally releasing her hand. "So, where did you want to go?"
"You pick. You've lived here longer than I have."
"I've never had an interest in wasting my time like that."
She rolled her eyes. "In other words, you're useless for this." She paused in contemplation. "There was a café near the college that Alex recommended. He offered to show it to me next time. I could ask him where it is."
"How considerate of him," Naru remarked. "Does he respond to 'heel' and 'roll over,' too?"
"That wasn't nice at all," Mai reprimanded. "I don't see why you dislike him so much. He'd be heartbroken. He's a fan of yours, after all."
"Is it a big deal if he's heartbroken?"
"What's that supposed to mean? At least have some compassion, you know."
He exhaled and idly wrapped a lock of her hair around his finger. "So, other than that, where did you want to go?"
She tilted her head as she gave the idea some more thought, then shrugged. "I'm tired after all," she declared. "I'd rather nap." Having said that, she promptly flopped back into the mattress, arranging the covers around her like a nest before burrowing into them.
"I won't wake you for dinner," he warned, but she only stuck her tongue out at him.
"Luella will hold you responsible if you don't."
His sigh of surrender indicated that he was well aware of that problem. "Do you ever do anything other than sleep?"
"It can't be helped. I'm still jet-lagged. By the way, it's somebody's fault that I came here in such a rush in the first place," she reminded him.
He scoffed quietly, but he returned to perusing his book and let the topic rest. As minutes passed, her breathing grew slow and shallow, her shoulders rising and falling to a silent rhythm. Without lifting his eyes from his book, he absently traced the curve of her cheek, wandering down her exposed throat to explore her collarbone. She half-opened one eye lazily to give him a baleful look.
"Stop that," she commanded drowsily. "It tickles."
"Then don't be ticklish," he told her, but he obliged nonetheless and ran his fingers through her hair instead. The scent of her shampoo drifted upwards; it was citrus today. Tearing his attention away from his book for a second, he planted a light kiss on her locks, but she was already fast asleep and didn't so much as stir.
She felt an insistent pressure on her shoulder, and after a few moments, it shook her gently. "Five more minutes," she mumbled, and the pressure disappeared. She should have known better than to believe that he would be that merciful.
Warm breath ghosted against her ear, followed by a low, clear murmur in that siren's voice of his. "You've failed last week's midterm."
She jerked upright so quickly that the room spun around her, and familiar hands caught her shoulders before she could topple the wrong way. "That's impossible," she protested foggily. "I studied…" With a pause, she squinted when recollection of her surroundings began to return to her, and she turned her head to glare accusingly at the young researcher sitting serenely beside her. "That was mean."
"I did wake you," Naru pointed out, sounding as if he expected her to be grateful for that alone.
"You, a certified genius, couldn't think of any better way to do it?" She demanded.
"It would have taken too long. You don't want to be late, do you?"
"… No," she admitted with a sigh, accepting his outstretched hand as he pulled her up impatiently.
With the long summer days, the sun was still high in the sky, and their surroundings were still bathed in the bright wash of daylight as they crossed the few blocks to the station. Naru wouldn't give up his book even on the train ride there, but his fingers played lightly over the top of her hand, and with the familiar motion and the added rocking of the train, she nearly fell asleep again.
He flicked her forehead mercilessly as the train slowed to a halt at one of its suburban stops. "Do you want to be left behind?"
"You wouldn't dare," she told him.
He shrugged indifferently. "I don't have a particular aversion to riding the train to the last stop. You would have to explain why we were late, though."
"I could tell them it was your fault," she threatened.
"You couldn't lie to save your life."
"It wouldn't be a lie," she countered, but he only let out a brief, soft laugh.
She didn't even notice when she began wringing her hands in the folds of her skirt as they approached the last block to his parents' house, but apparently, he did, as his fingers trailed down the length of her forearm to seek out her wrist, tugging on it gently.
"You're still nervous after this long?" He asked, raising an eyebrow.
"It's been a while," she defended. "I'm not sure what to say."
He snorted. "You could recite the contents of your dinner last night, and they'd trip over themselves to fawn over you."
"That's exaggerating," she muttered, but she let him weave his fingers comfortingly through hers and lead her up the few steps to the front door.
The door flew open before they'd so much as reached out for the doorbell, which was saying something considering that it was still ten minutes before the appointed time. Luella appeared at the entryway, all smiles as she wiped her flour-dusted hands on her apron.
"[Oh, how wonderful, you're here!]" She exclaimed, launching a chokehold at a reluctant Naru before turning her deadly constriction on Mai. "[You're just in time. Martin is putting the finishing touches on dinner right now.]"
"[Good evening, Mrs. Davis,]" Mai answered with hesitance when she was finally released. "[Thank you for having us on… over,]" she corrected quickly.
"[Nonsense, the pleasure is all ours,]" Luella beamed as she ushered them both in. "[Like I've said, don't be so formal—call me 'Luella.' We're nearly family now, after all, right?]"
She smiled uncertainly at the woman's gesture of compassion, which was a little more affectionate than even she was used to, but Naru quickly cleared his throat. "[Where is Martin?]"
"[He's still working on the last dish. He'll be out in a minute,]" Luella assured him. "[Do come in and sit down, first. Oh, Mai, honey, I haven't see you in ages. You look even more lovely, and your English is superb now—I might have thought you'd lived here all your life.]"
Her ears reddened at the compliment, which she accepted with a stammered thanks as she lowered herself into the seat Luella gestured for her to take.
"[In fact, I'm sure it's good enough that you could live here all your life,]" Luella continued, oddly enthusiastic about the topic. "[We would be able to see you whenever we'd like. Don't you think that would be wonderful?]"
Before she had a chance to respond, Naru interrupted. "[If you give her nothing but compliments, she'll never improve,]" he said dryly.
Luella wrinkled her nose. "[It's fine,]" she dismissed. "[I'm sure you have the market cornered on 'constructive' criticism, Oliver dear.]"
Mai had to suppress a snort at the comment just as Professor Davis walked into the room and joined them with a steaming platter in his hands and set it down on the table.
"[Oh, it's true, though,]" he assured her. "[Your proficiency really is remarkable lately. I can hardly believe you barely knew the language just a few years ago.]"
"[I-It's nothing, really,]" she said, waving her hand in embarrassment. "[Since I've studied here for a year, after all…]"
"[That's true, but you pick things up very quickly,]" Martin remarked with an amiable smile. "[Won't you consider a full-time job as a translator for SPR once you graduate? We've been looking to expand into Asia for some time, but language barriers are one of our biggest obstacles, you know. And you've experience with parapsychology, too.]"
"[Um, thank you… I'll think about it,]" she said, fidgeting with the fabric of her skirt beneath the tablecloth. Then, more quietly, she added, "[Wouldn't that be… nep… um…]"
Naru, sitting beside her, was the only one who heard. "[Nepotism,]" he supplied in a low voice. "And that would only be of significance if you were less competent than any of the other idiots we could possibly hire for the job."
She snuck a glance at him from the corner of her eye and smiled hesitatingly as the conversation flowed around them, oblivious to their exchange. The topic shifted to Martin's graduate students' latest escapades, and then to a particularly rude client of Luella's. It took all of her energy and attention just to keep up with the conversation, and before she knew it, it was already dark outside.
Martin and Luella saw them to the door with a wave and reluctant farewells, and she could barely keep her urge to yawn in check until they closed the door. When she finally did yawn, Naru raised an eyebrow.
"You're ready to sleep again already?" He commented as they ambled down the street toward the station.
"Your parents are tiring," she told him, lacing her fingers with his. "They are the most wonderful people, but tiring." She bit back another yawn. "I wish the ride back wouldn't take so long."
He sighed. "You could stay over for the night."
She looked at him suspiciously. "Are you going to complain about it tomorrow?"
"I won't comment about it tomorrow," he promised with a slight, sardonic smile and the tiniest hint of an emphasis on 'tomorrow' that didn't reassure her at all.
"Fine," she grumbled. "It's still better than the extra half hour trip, I guess."
"Your apartment is unnecessarily far," he informed her in reply.
"It can't be helped considering the rent around here, after all."
"You haven't signed to renew the lease yet." It was a statement, but she couldn't fathom how he knew, since she'd only ever told him the date her lease expired once, months ago.
"I was going to do that next week," she answered with a frown.
"I don't see why you haven't considered simply living with me." He said it so indifferently that she had to replay the words in her head again to fully comprehend what he'd said. Only Naru could make such a thing sound as casual as talking about tomorrow's breakfast.
The station was nearly empty by this hour, but she couldn't stop herself from glancing around in paranoia anyways to see if there might have just happen to be any gossipmongers from her school passing by that moment. "There's nothing 'simple' about that," she told him.
"It's the most efficient option," he deflected easily. "It's a shorter commute to the college, it's close to the station, and there's a spare room."
"Aren't you the one who's going to complain all day if I move in? Have you really thought about it?"
"Unlike you, I don't say things without thinking about them," he pointed out.
"It'll spread rumors if we live together," she argued.
"I'd think university students studying for a degree would have better things to do than fixate on someone else's living arrangements."
"You would think so," she muttered under her breath, "but somehow, they don't." More loudly, she added, "Besides, even if that's normally the case, you're especially conspicuous, you know."
"I don't like being conspicuous," she said with a frown.
"You do a terrible job of living up to your preferences," he said dryly, then exhaled. "Does this have something to do with why you refuse to mention our relationship to anyone here?"
"Partially," she admitted, looking up to study his expression. "But I was under the impression that you preferred it that way. Was I wrong?"
He shrugged ambiguously. "It might be interesting," he remarked, almost off-handedly.
A slow smile crept across her face, but it quickly melted into hesitation. "But what would I call you? I suppose 'former boss' wouldn't be quite right anymore, but 'boyfriend' just seems… I don't know… not enough…"
"Fiancé," he suggested.
"Maybe, but we're not—" She broke off mid-sentence as realization sunk in, and her eyes widened. "Are you saying…?"
In reply, he took her hand and pressed a cold, thin metal band into her palm and closed her fingers around it. It soon warmed to the temperature of her skin as she looked at him, her mouth still open in shock.
"Are you sure about this?" She finally managed.
"I certainly don't intend to marry anyone else. I was under the impression that you felt the same."
"But… is it too early?"
He shrugged. "Whatever date the wedding might be, I see no reason to delay a verbal agreement."
"Naru!" She had finally recovered from her surprise, and exhilaration glittered in her eyes and clung to her every breath. "That wasn't romantic at all." Despite her words, she threw her arms around him with such force that he nearly fell over and certainly would have if he hadn't seen it coming. Thoroughly trapped in her embrace, he pressed his lips against the skin of her neck, still cool from the night air. The hiss of the arriving train interrupted them, and she hastily extracted her arms as they boarded.
Darkness fed upon the eerie silence of the building as Naru unlocked the apartment door. Mai stuck her head inside first, fumbling along the wall for the light switch. Re-pocketing the key, he walked inside impatiently without waiting for her to succeed, and the lights flickered on a few moments afterward. Despite her yawn and accompanying stretch, she showed no signs of heading for bed and sank into the sofa instead.
"Weren't you going to sleep?" He asked, raising an eyebrow.
"As if I could sleep after that." The simple rose gold band shone faintly on her finger as if it belonged there.
He replaced the book he'd brought onto the shelf before sinking into the seat beside her, teasing apart the loose tangles of her windswept hair. "Do you still think London is the underworld?" He asked dryly, and she let out a snort.
"It's not all bad," she relented. "I do like the morning sky, and the city lights are pretty at night. Martin and Luella are here, too, and, after all, I get to see…"
You. He didn't so much hear the the word as feel it when he pressed his mouth over hers, and she tipped her head up in response. His fingers wandered up the inside of her skirt, pushing up the soft, cool fabric and draping it in lovely folds over moon-white skin. She hummed softly, the vibrations crystal clear against his lips—he didn't think she noticed that particular habit of hers.
"I can't live here… if you plan on doing this… all the time," she murmured disjointedly when she had to pause to breathe. He finally pulled away to get in a comment.
"Of course not. That's a physical impossibility," he said matter-of-factly, and she made an unconvinced noise in her throat. "So you are thinking about living here?"
"Well," she said slowly, "You are right, after all. And it would save the trip to visit you all the time."
"Don't gloat," she told him. "It's unseemly."
He raised an eyebrow. "Perhaps you should look in a mirror before you use that word."
Her lips twisted in a pout. "Whose fault is that?" She demanded as she tried to smooth her skirt back in place self-consciously, but his hand was still there, foiling her efforts. Eventually, she gave up and leaned back into him, nestling her head on his shoulder.
"Next year…" She began, then stopped. He waited. "Next year, when my exchange program ends, you have to go to Japan."
"I'll be busy with research," he told her, a light smile curving his lips. As expected, she frowned.
"You could at least take a week or two off to visit."
"Impossible. I won't have any free time to travel at all."
"What kind of research could you possibly be doing that won't even give you a week off?" She demanded.
"Field investigations," he answered off-handedly. "Based in Tokyo."
She raised her head incredulously. "You're serious?"
"It'll be a lot of work. I might need an assistant," he said casually.
Her fingers sank into his arm with even more vigor. "I should have time…" she said slowly. "I don't have many classes left for my last year. If you ask nicely, of course," she added.
He gave in with a sigh. "Mai, would you like to do it?"
She grinned in response and flung her arms tightly around him, planting a kiss on his cheek. "You already know what I'm going to say."
A/N: I don't... have any excuse... for all this fluff... Maybe my blood glucose levels are too high...
As a side note, the idea of Naru as Snow White's evil stepmother is oddly compelling for some reason. Maybe that's a sign that I should quit while I'm ahead.
Anyways, thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed!