I hope that I haven't scared too many people away with the relative tangentiality of Comic & Party: Special Dojinshi Unit to squelch out my better works.
This fanfic takes place after the anime, and in this case, The Nameless Grace has not happened, nor will it in this story's framework. As much as I'd like to write in my own AU, I felt that would be a little too egotistical and a little too tangly. I want to focus as much as I can on Yuu, and that means not worrying too much about other peoples' relationships. Maybe in the future I'll work within the Nameless Grace AU, but for now, this is after the end of the anime.
For cultural reference, a ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. You can google it if you want to learn more, but I would basically describe them as a place where people go to vacation. A ryokan is traditionally full service; dinner is served by the hosts, they do all the rolling-out of futons and such, etc. I use the term because "traditional Japanese inn" would get tired really fast.
A tsumugi is a type of kimono, less festive and formal and more meant for common around-the-house usage.
Many thanks to all the fans: Cendrillo, Marivel, Di-Gi Nyo, Umidori, and hopefully all the new people who took the time to read this!
On with the show!
Prologue: Hold Back the Rain
December 30th, 200X
Outside of Kobe
"Attention all passengers, attention all passengers. We will be arriving at Kobe Station in approximately five minutes. Please be careful when entering and exiting train cars. Thank you for riding the JR Tokaido Shinkansen line."
A pair of brown eyes flashed open as the speaker on the bullet train announced the station, followed by some passengers shuffling to the overhead compartments for their luggage. Stretching her arms from her brief nap, Yuu Inagawa slid over to the empty aisle seat from her own window seat.
It's been too long... she thought, looking out at the bustling city as the shinkansen entered into a long curve. It was already dark in the wintry night; the cold, clear air showed the sparkling city lights of Osaka fading behind the train and the lights of Kobe approaching.
The scene went dark as the train entered a tunnel, and the train began to decelerate as it approached the underground JR station for the city.
Should I really have left Tokyo? Yuu thought as she smoothed down the pleats of her school uniform skirt and donned her overcoat. It's New Year's... I really should be spending it with all my friends. I haven't been home in a while, but it's just been a busy year so far...
Yuu put the book she had been reading into her school bag and reached up to retrieve her roll-aboard luggage. "Sketchbook, pens, notes, textbooks, underwear, toothbrush..." she said half-aloud, running through her mental checklist. "Sounds like everything..."
"Now arriving, Kobe Station. Once again, now arriving, Kobe Station."
A hiss of brakes and opening doors signaled that the bullet train had indeed arrived, and Yuu piled out with the handful of others getting off the train.
As she queued up to leave, she was distracted by a low giggle. Turning her head to look, she saw a boy and a girl—high school students from their uniforms—sitting very close to each other, smiling from whatever had just been said.
Get a room...
Yuu left the train when the short queue moved out, sighing with mild exasperation as she exited. Almost by reflex, she looked back at the train, seeing the back of the boy's head. From the look and placement of the girl's hands around the back of his neck, they seemed to be kissing.
Well, maybe I'm just a little envious...
She rolled her luggage through the station exit, swiping her prepaid rail pass across the magnetic strip at the turnstiles. Soon enough, she was on the Kobe city rail and on her way to the Seishin-Minami stop, not far from her home.
She idly sketched on the subway, having been lucky enough to find a seat in the crowded rush hour train.
It's so strange to be home after being in Tokyo for so long... she thought, almost staring through her sketchbook as she just let herself draw. Circles, lines, and shapes started to take vague form on the long subway ride back to her family's home, the hot spring ryokan that had been in the Inagawa family for generations.
Her gaze drifted to a purple-haired girl in a familiar-looking school uniform. Instead of the seifuku pattern that Ichidai High, her school in Tokyo, had for their girls' uniform, these had a dark plaid skirt, navy blazer, and stately heraldic patch on the breast. With a tie to match the skirt, the Seishin District High School uniform was something highly sought after as a sophisticated mark of all the schools in Kobe.
I haven't seen one of those in a while, Yuu thought. Not since I wore one, in fact...
Another girl wearing a Seishin uniform quietly crept up behind the purple-haired girl. "Boo!" she exclaimed, scaring her friend.
"Chiaki-chan!" the purple-haired girl said with a shock. "Don't do that!"
"Hee hee..." Chiaki-chan said, grinning. "Sorry, Maeko-chan, I just couldn't resist. Hey, you wanna come over to my house for New Year's?"
"Sure! Is anyone else coming?"
"Yeah, Miki-chan from 1-B, and all the others from our class, of course..."
First-years... Yuu thought as the two girls chatted. They just started there. They'll probably stay there, too, keeping all their old friends... sticking with their families... maybe they like that, though. Maybe they're comfortable with the way things are... staying in Kobe and on familiar turf while they're in high school.
Yuu looked down at her sketchbook. The shapes were slowly taking the form of two people, separated from a kiss by mere centimeters, one of whom had distinctive pigtails...
She slammed her sketchbook shut in a knee-jerk reaction. No, no, no, I was not self-inserting. No way. Not into something so cheeseball...
As her thought trailed off, though, she opened the book again... but then again, it really would be nice...
A few quick streaks of her pencil gave the other figure in her sketch hair, the beginnings of a boys' uniform... a slight tan to his skin, familiar well-kept hair...
Yeah... I didn't think I'd be missing him all that much... despite how I feel...
"Anyone here?" Yuu called out as she closed the front door behind her. The entrance hall of the ryokan was relatively quiet, given that her mother's and younger brother's shoes were lined up in the entranceway.
"Yuu-chan, is that you?" a voice called from around the hallway. "Oh, it's so good to have you home, dear!"
"Hi, mom!" Yuu replied, stepping out of her street shoes and leaving them pointed at the door. She hopped up from the vestibule and into her old blue house slippers, still where she had left them before making the trip to Tokyo.
Sakiko Inagawa, Yuu's mother and the hostess of the onsen, came around the corner, the same old tsumugi and bun for her hair. "Welcome home, Yuu-chan," she said, squeezing her daughter's hand. "Come, come, we've got dinner all ready. Even Shuichi-chan has been waiting."
"Hurry up! I'm hungryyyy!" a pronounced whine came from the kitchen.
"He's as mature as ever," Yuu said with a grin as she followed her mother into the kitchen. Shuichi Inagawa, Yuu's brother, was still wearing his junior high uniform, and he still looked too small for it. Being all of thirteen, he never did look old enough for anything.
"Nice to see you too," she said, getting into her seat next to Shuichi and "accidentally" elbowing him.
"Owwwww!" Shuichi said, rubbing his arm. "Cut it out!" He elbowed her back.
"Now, now, you two, Yuu just got back home," Sakiko interjected, bringing out a tray of pickled Japanese vegetables from the refrigerator and removing the plastic wrap that covered the tray. "Dear, I know that Uncle Hoshiro and Aunt Konoha have fed you well, but I know they can't make Kansai food worth anything. My brother never was much of a chef." She brought out a tray with three steaming bowls of kitsune udon, fresh fried tofu and sliced fish cake floating on top of the thick noodles and rich broth." I would have made okonomiyaki, but..."
"Mom, you don't have to do anything," Yuu said with a smile, reaching for her chopsticks. "I'm just happy to be home.""Yeah, we all are," Shuichi said, rolling his eyes.
"And I'm sure you won't mind if I borrow your Dreamcast while I'm home, Shu-chan," Yuu said, grinning evilly at her brother.
"Ittadakimasu," Yuu said, taking a piece of the tofu up in her chopsticks and taking a bite.
"Mom, is Shuichi out of the hot springs yet?"
"He should be, dear. It's just us for the next few days; we don't have any guests booked."
"Okay." Wrapping a thick white towel around her and leaving her glasses on a hall table, Yuu stepped out of the laundry room and into the womens' showers just outside the hot springs of the ryokan.
Now this I definitely missed... Yuu thought as she pulled the towel aside and hung it on a hook, starting to clean herself off before she got into the hot springs. I can stretch out while I wash off, take all the time in the world... have a nice long soak...
Yuu held out an arm to wash it, stretching it a little as she did so. I could use some more tone in my arms, she thought, looking them over for a moment. All that drawing and writing'll give me carpal tunnel syndrome if I do it too much... and maybe my legs, too...
Hell, why am I worried about my body all of a sudden?
"Shuichi, you'd better be outta there!" Yuu yelled as she was shampooing her hair.
"Yeah, yeah, I'll be right out!"
"You'd damn well better! Peep on me and I'll knock your skull out through your ear!"
"Hey! Why'd I wanna look at you naked, huh?"
"Probably because that's all you'll ever see of another girl," Yuu said teasingly, rinsing the shampoo from her hair.
"Real funny," Shuichi said, his footsteps slapping against the bare rocks of the hot springs.
Yuu didn't even bother to wrap the towel around herself as she stepped carefully into the hot springs, exhaling deeply as she soaked up to mid-chest in the mineral-rich water.
"It really has been too long..." she said to nobody in particular, folding up the towel and leaving it on a rock behind her. Leaning back further, she slid down until her shoulders were under the water. "I really needed this."
It just seems too quiet, though.
The water was heavily steaming, coalescing against the cold night; the steam clouds formed a protective heat barrier around the rocks and vegetation of the onsen. Sighing, Yuu looked up into the cloud, into the night sky. The ryokan was at the edge of the city, fairly unaffected by light pollution, so she had a star-filled sky to look up at.
"It really is pretty..." she said out loud. "Tokyo doesn't have a sky like this, that's for sure..."
To think that this is the first time I've seen the sky in so long...
Something like this after such time... it feels like home, it feels refreshing... I can see the entire sky, and—gah, listen to me...Yuu laughed in spite of herself, stretching her arms behind her head. "This is so nice," she said. "Finally, I can sort things out. It's been a long semester so far."
So many new people, so many new things... Kazuki...
She blushed, self-consciously covering her bare chest under the surface of the water at the thought.
Get a grip. It's just Kazuki. And he doesn't know yet... of course, unless Mizuki already told him... and why would she?
Why am I thinking of Kazuki now?!
"Clear your head!" she said to nobody at all, standing up and stretching her legs, savoring the sudden chill that came from emerging out of the water into the cooler air. "Clear your head. Don't think. Feel."
"Everything all right in there, sweetheart?" her mother's voice called.
"Oh, everything's fine, mom!" she yelled back.
"All right, don't stay in too long."
Yuu sank back down into the water. Feel... the way I feel about him... I know how it is. It's light... it's aching... she placed her hands over her heart, as if trying to hold it in. I know that I want to be more than just his friend... more than just a partner in dojinshi. I know it... I know it because I miss him...
"...because I miss him, huh..."
I'm more than a little worried that I'm thinking about Kazuki when I'm not wearing anything, but... but still...
Am I ready for this? I mean... do I even want a boyfriend? Do I even want to be dating, for starters? Here I am, literally naked before the world, nothing around to disturb me... in my home, under the stars... and when the hell did I get this verbose?
A few minutes' more soak cleared Yuu's head, and she stepped out, grabbing a fresh towel to dry off with.
Cleanly... she thought. I know... I know cleanly and clearly how I feel...
Sighing and thinking as she changed into her normal clothing for the house, she headed into the kitchen to make some tea.
"Did you have a good bath, Yuu-chan?" her mother asked as she washed dishes.
Yuu nodded. "I got some thinking done."
"Don't think too much, dear, you'll burn out. Just relax while you're home."
"I'm as relaxed as I've been since I got to Tokyo right now, Mom," Yuu smiled.
I didn't think that you'd be on my mind like this, Kazuki... I honestly didn't.
Yeah... I should have stayed in Tokyo, but...
Breathing in the steam from her tea as it steeped in a handleless mug, she sat at her old desk, continuing on the sketch from earlier.
"I'll get you for this, Kazuki," she said as she erased some of the rougher parts of the sketch, refining it. "I'll get you for this if it's the last thing I do."
Turning out the light a few hours later, she had left the sketchbook open. A view of her and Kazuki's familiar features, on a train, just centimeters away from a kiss.
To be commenced...