HANAMICHI

Kyoko was always at odds with the fact that she still remained youthful after over fifteen years. Not many people would be able to portray a seventeen-year-old for that long. Then again, these were very unique circumstances. Especially when everyone's ages seemed to fluctuate wildly, depending on the story they happened to be in at the time. It was a most peculiar feeling when she would be shoved back in to the body of her teenaged self; like putting on an old coat you forgot about but rediscovered many years later and found that, while it was clearly out of fashion, it still fit. The transition was much easier when she was younger, of course, as she still felt in sync with the person she had once been. Now that she was officially in her thirties, as her friends liked to remind her, it was more like walking through a distant memory.

Today was a rare occasion for her as it's not often that she would have a considerable amount of time to herself, much less an entire day. As the main character, she was the most in demand. It made sense, particularly because her official story had not yet finished. Many people were anxious to see her own personal development and that of the not-quite-blossoming relationship between 'Ren' and herself. She chuckled quietly and looked over at the man sitting on the chaise lounge across the room, curled up in a ray of sunlight like a cat and absorbed in a book with his unruly blond hair tumbling over his eyes.

It was a strange little prison that was built for them. While they all could go anywhere in the world they pleased, once a new story emerged, or an updated chapter, they were instantly whisked away to the new setting and shoved into their assigned role. As a result, most of them lived fairly close to each other and spent extended stays elsewhere when their schedules provided the occasional holiday. It was helpful to have others around when many of the non-traditional scenarios would leave Kyoko in a temporary state of confusion afterwards. While she would be conscious of the events as they occurred, it was as if she was looking on as a spectator through her own eyes; somewhat similar to when she becomes a character while acting, but more immersive.

One time, she came back to herself to find that she was wrapped in an amorous embrace with Kijima Hidehito and his mouth was on her neck where a couple of sharpened eyeteeth had broken the skin not five minutes prior—it was gone by then, of course, as it was only for the story. They immediately untangled themselves from each other and backed away with mumbled excuses of being needed elsewhere. The two of them were friends outside of everything, but they silently agreed to never speak of that particular incident again.

The front door to her apartment abruptly slammed open and her Kanae stormed in, her short, black hair bouncing wildly behind her.

"Is everything alright?" Kyoko asked, concerned.

She grumbled loudly, but the only words Kyoko could make out were "never again," "goddamned playboy," "strangle" and "death wish."

Kuon raised a curious eyebrow over his book and looked at woman as she attempted to console her irritated friend who had flopped down angrily on the cream and grey sofa in the living room. She shot him an exasperated, pleading look in response. Understanding immediately what it meant, he made a hasty retreat to her kitchen. Apparently drinking was on the menu this afternoon.

"Who was it this time?" Kyoko asked gently.

"Take a wild guess," the other woman snarled, clearly still upset.

Uesugi Hiou pursued Kanae with a persistence the moment he came of age—and once puberty graced him with a generous helping of height and looks. Utterly convinced that the two of them were 'meant to be,' he managed to wear her down to the point that they eventually dated during their free time between stories. Unfortunately, things turned sour for the couple when Hiou began to catch the eyes of the other women that would show up from time to time. Realizing that there really were more fish in the sea, he promptly left Kanae and went off to sample the rest of the female population. Kanae seemed to expect this and moved on. Well, for the most part, anyway. Kyoko took a vow of silence on the amount of ice cream consumed over several morose nights after it happened.

"He's still carrying on with that?" Kyoko said, almost surprised but not entirely.

"Every time, Kyoko," her friend ground out. "Every time we have a scene, he feels he has to make some colorful comment or innuendo-laden reference about our past together afterwards. I'm sick and tired of it!"

Kuon reappeared and wordlessly slipped a glass into Kanae's hand filled with ice and an amber liquid. Taking only the briefest glance at it, she raised it to her lips and took a generous sip. She sighed long and loud and raised her glass in thanks to the man who returned to his perch across the room. He nodded back at her before picking up his book.

"At least you actually like the person they keep pairing you up with," she groused, continuing to nurse the drink in her hand.

"For the most part," Kyoko said airily, shooting a playful wink at Kuon who pointedly ignored her.

"Yea, whatever," Kanae rolled her eyes.

The two women chatted back and forth about the most recent story in which they were involved. Choruses of groans and 'I knows' could be heard throughout. Once her drink was finished, Kanae looked at her watch and, with a start, realizing how much time had elapsed. Placing her glass on the small walnut table beside her, she stood and gathered her things to leave.

"Got another hot date tonight?" Kyoko waggled her eyebrows suggestively.

The woman nodded, "Reino's taking me to an open-air play."

"Will wonders never cease…"

"After all of the ridiculous scenarios we've been placed in, we of all people, should appreciate the disconnect between who the writers think we should be and who we really are," Kanae lectured, then gave a wistful smile. "Besides, it's kinda cute to see him go from generic plot device villain to a man who listens to classical music, feeds ducks at the park and visits the farmers' market."

"I never pegged you as being into gap moe, Kanae," Kuon quipped from behind his book.

She stuck her tongue out at him in retaliation, "Well, if Momose-san could date Sho for all those years, then anything's possible, yea?"

Kyoko let out a snort of laughter at this, "You're going to be late, Moko."

"Yea, yea, have a good evening you… whatever you two are," she said with a tone of mock-frustration. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

"That doesn't remove many options," Kuon sang back at her and Kyoko giggled.

The door closed behind her and Kyoko walked back to the living room to collect the empty glass from the side table. Once she finished rinsing it placed it on the rack to dry, she left the kitchen and sat gently next to Kuon. He seemed to not notice the intrusion but she could tell he was faking it.

"So," he cleared his throat, "is it true?"

"Is what true?"

"That you like me?" he said teasingly.

She punched him lightly on the shoulder at that comment. Kuon tried to feign looking injured but fell backwards laughing instead.

"Is it just 'like' or is it 'like-like?'" he said between guffaws.

"Kuon, we have known each other for over a decade," Kyoko pouted. "Don't you think this bit is getting old by now?"

"Not until we officially do something about it," Kuon reminded.

"We already agreed to wait until our story was over," she sighed.

"I know," he said reassuringly with a light shrug. "It's still fun to tease you about it."

"Same here," she gave him a wry smile. "Are you staying here tonight or going back to your place?"

"I dunno, it's pretty far away…" he dramatically slumped his body against hers and she grunted under the sudden weight.

'Far away' was, quite literally, across the hall from her own apartment. Despite spending the majority of their time together, they still maintained separate residences. It confused and frustrated their peers to no end, but brought them a great deal of amusement. When they were reunited through their story all those years ago, everyone declared they were a match made in heaven. However, they weren't so sure about that, especially seeing as how Kyoko never had the chance to date anyone else.

Kuon did not think it fair to stake his claim, superficial as it was, without her ever experiencing a relationship outside of theirs. Therefore, they tried their best to stay within the realm of friendship while seeing other people. As the years went by, they found themselves toeing the line between friends and lovers. It was uncomfortable at first, but they realized just how much they preferred each other's company over that of almost everyone else. By the time ten years had passed, they had straddled the line completely and, oftentimes, appeared to be playing a bizarre game of freestyle skip rope with it, much to everyone's chagrin.

However, those closest to them understood the position they took. They had been paired up so many times and in so many different ways; dating, married, divorced, paramours, you name it. Starting a relationship felt too contrived, like they never had a choice in the first place, so they grasped for what few choices they did have. As such, they decided they would not be officially together until their story reached a conclusion. Then, and only then, could they be lovers on their own terms. In the meantime, they made themselves as comfortable as possible; settling in for the long wait while not denying themselves the closeness they craved from each other.

"Actually, I found this recipe for lasagna that I wanted to try out," Kuon admitted. "Would you care to partake in the experiment?"

"Do you even have to ask?" Kyoko replied eagerly.

They vacated Kyoko's apartment shortly after that, not bothering to lock any doors. The entire top floor of the complex belonged solely to them and only friends and family had unrestricted access. While Kuon got to work in his kitchen, Kyoko kept herself busy tidying up his apartment here and there before sitting down to watch a movie. He joined her when he had lulls between preparation and cooking.

It was late evening by the time his masterpiece was completed. They sat at the dining table, a bottle of red wine shared between them, and devoured the entire pan of lasagna while talking the night away. Kyoko volunteered to wash the dishes since Kuon was the chef. Once the kitchen was spotless and the dishes were stored, they sat lazily together on the couch with their arms draped around each other.

"I should probably go home," Kyoko's tone was noncommittal and she yawned. "I have to slap some girl in the face for getting too close to you in tomorrow's story."

"Well, I wouldn't want your slapping hand to be overly fatigued."

"Your concern is touching," she deadpanned.

Kyoko heaved herself up from the couch and started to walk towards the door with Kuon following behind her. When she turned to wish him goodnight, he pulled her close for a kiss. It was not an unusual occurrence, but they did not exactly make it too much of a habit. They stayed like that for a minute or so; each additional second their lips moved against each other generated an agonizingly sweet tension. Nothing was in their heads in that moment except gentle static. They parted and smiled softly at each other.

"Are you sure you want to go home?" Kuon asked innocently.

"We both know I'll never make it after that."

He chuckled and lifted her into his arms, "Good, let's go write a story of our own, shall we?"

- THE END -

From Wikipedia: A Hanamichi is an extra stage section used in Japanese kabuki theater. Generally it is used for characters' entrances and exits, though it can also be used for asides or scenes taking place apart from the main action.


BECAUSE THEY'RE MEANT FOR EACH OTHER IN EVERY WORLD: Help, I'm buried under all the meta! I got this idea after seeing a similar concept in another fandom and my brain wouldn't stop creating a version for SB. So, I broke down and typed it out. Not gonna lie, this one made me smile while I wrote it; mainly because the thought of Reino in a farmers' market made me giggle. Hopefully it does the same for you when you read.

Also, I have not read every fic written for this fandom but tried to make vague references to scenarios I made up in my head. So, any similarities to actual stories is entirely coincidental and not meant to single anyone out.

In other news, I'm in the process of creating a new multi-chapter story, but it's taking a long time to get off the ground. In any case, I'll see you all again soon!

AUTHOR OUT!