Chocolates & Balloons

Part V: Final


I wasted the whole day.

When I say "wasted", I mean wasted. Not like "drunk" wasted, just… being totally and completely lame "wasted". I walked around, I bought myself some lunch, I had a couple of sodas, I bought some gummy worms, and I walked around some more… I didn't buy anything to take home, of course, not that he (Jiya) wouldn't know I hadn't gone to school.

Kaoru would probably call my house. "Where's Misao? Why didn't she come to school today? Is she sick, should I come over and help out?"

Not that she wasn't considerate but I don't want Kaoru anywhere near my house when I'm sick or otherwise. Her cooking can kill, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Not to say that I'm a chef or anything but… I can cook when I'm really, really hungry.

Yeah.

So, anyway, I went back home about the end of school time, I changed into my school uniform, I sneaked into the house and crept into my room. Then I changed again and went back downstairs. No one seemed to know anything was amiss. I called out that I was leaving and quickly dashed away. None of them stopped me.

Now I just had to intercept Kaoru… Oh! I needed a freaking cell phone! It briefly occurred to me that she could be with geek-bait because it was White Day and she would call me later in the evening. Yet as I scurried about the city looking for her, I found I was clueless as to where the girl could be.

I ended up sitting in the café that Shinomori used to work in. No one was more surprised than I was when Megumi sat down across from me. Oddly enough the first thing on my mind was something totally unrelated to her presence.

"Do you have a cell phone?" I asked.

She blinked and nodded.

"Could I borrow it a sec?" I asked. I never was one for being indirect.

She agreed and I was… well… thrilled. I called Kaoru's house, she wasn't there, I called my house, and she wasn't there either. I slid the phone back with a scowl. Now, don't get confused... Megumi and I knew one another but not really well so I figured she wanted something by coming so directly over to me. We weren't exactly friends but I didn't think we were rivals or enemies or anything and then… like a light bulb, I recalled the Sano incident.

"So I hear the rooster broke your wrist," she started.

"Huh? Oh, well, not really. He threw something at me and I tried to dodge and fell, actually I really wish I hadn't." I frowned. "Why, he say he did?"

"No." She sipped her coffee as she stared at me.

"What do you want?" I didn't want to sit here with her, I had to stop Kaoru from telling my… Ah! The freaking school would call my house, wouldn't they?

"I would like to know why Makimachi-san was absent from class today…"

That Takamoto was bad news… bad. I shot to my feet but Megumi stopped me cold. "Did you kiss Sano?"

I felt like a cold wind suddenly blew over my whole body. "No, but he kissed me though. You should tell him not to do that, I don't think the general public would appreciate it, I didn't."

She looked up at me and she was glaring. "Do you like him?"

"No," I answered immediately. "I like someone else. Sano likes you, remember? What happened, you two break up or something?"

"We weren't going out," she stiffly reminded me.

I shrugged. I rather thought they were and it was obvious, even if they weren't 'going out', that they were very clearly hung up over one another. "Whatever. Just leave me out of it. I don't need the hassle and I had a lot more fun when I could just say whatever I wanted and now I feel all awkward about stuff. He's not supposed to do that. It's just… imposing or something."

"So you don't like him then?" she asked me. She had ceased glaring at me and was now staring at the empty seat in front of her. I was still standing at the end of the table very prepared to leave.

"No. I mean, I do like him but I don't want him kissing me. I don't like him like that."

Megumi nodded, looking preoccupied and I hesitated. "Have you seen Kaoru?" I asked.

It was a total long shot. They knew each other too, everyone knew everyone. Maybe not very well, but… wait; they did know each other, didn't they? I thought…it didn't matter.

"No, I haven't seen her," Megumi answered sedately.

I turned and quickly left. I ran actually. I ended up running almost all the way home.


"I only spent the entire afternoon looking for you! Were you with geek-bait?"

"Stop calling him that, would you, Misao? I don't call Shinomori names."

I laughed. "I'd like to see his face when he overhears that," I shot back.

"That doesn't explain where you were on Friday," Kaoru huffed. "You didn't show up in class, Takamoto asked me like 4 times where you were like I knew or something."

"Sorry, I know I should've come. Ah, well, until next year. How is geek-bait anyway?"

I didn't really care and she didn't really care that I didn't care, she just took the topic and ran with it. I didn't hear a word. We entered the classroom and she went on until he appeared with Sano. I glowered and rolled my eyes.

Lame holiday.

Lame school.

Lame boys in lame school.

"Makimachi, you were notably absent Friday, why is that?" I looked up to see Takamoto glaring at me. I glanced over at Kaoru as though to say "see, I told you so, there's the evil little glare," but she wasn't paying attention.

I thought fast.

"I was sick."

Lame excuse, I know.

"Were you? You've made a fine recovery I see."

"I'm better," I answered. "Although, now that you mention it, Takamoto-sensei…" I started toward his desk. "I am feeling a bit dizzy, what do you think I should do?"

"I think you should return to your seat," he advised.

"Are you sure? What if I get really bad and fall out of my chair? I did that once already over the weekend; fell right out of my bed onto the floor and Jiya yelled at me… actually, I had a very bad weekend, sir."

"Makimachi-san, your weekend is of no concern to me, take your seat."

"Okay," I frowned at him. "But don't say I didn't warn you and then accuse me of 'acting up' in class. Jiya got very mad the last time you called him here and then saying how you didn't have anything interesting in your desk drawers at all."

He was going to kill me one day, not literally just… freak out or something. I was expecting it, I was, but he just sort of stood there so I headed back to my chair and flopped into it.

It was a total blur to me.

When the lunch hour came I got up and left the classroom. My classmates pushed their desks together into little groups and ate and chatted as they always did but I didn't feel like eating and I didn't feel like sitting. I felt uneasy about everything.

I didn't see Sano until it was too late to avoid him though.

"Yo, Weasel, just wanted to say sorry and stuff about.. you know, that thing."

I nodded. "Sure. Just don't do it again or I'll have to beat you up and prove you're a limp noodle after all."

His lips quirked.

"Plus, Megumi confronted me about, like I was trying to steal you or something." I rolled my eyes dramatically.

He scratched his head awkwardly and I stopped in a virtually empty hall and looked out the window.

Sano followed along. "Yeah, she told me to stop hanging around her 'cause I was annoying and a slacker and she wasn't interested in men who were poor and useless." He sounded very dejected about it.

"Oh? Is that why you manhandled me in the hallway? Jerk," I muttered. I didn't really mean it and I think he knew that because he sort of grinned and sort of looked sorry.

Then he scoffed at me. "Best kiss you ever got, Weasel, who you trying to kid?"

I scowled. "Idiot. She seemed sorry she may have said that so don't hold it against her, would you?"

He paused.

"Maybe she was just annoyed and spoke without thinking. When she confronted me she seemed upset to think that anything was happening with you and me."

"And you told her what?"

"The truth," I replied simply. "Now go and find her and make an idiot out of yourself and win her back."

He scratched his head again, looking awkward again. "Right…" he sounded skeptical.

"Never know till you try, right?" I asked cheerfully, grinning at him.

I started walking away and he didn't call me back. I didn't have to be back in class until 1, so I wouldn't be.

When class ended, an unfortunate number of hours later, I was tired. Takamoto, however, was thankfully long gone. He taught us twice a day now, once in the morning and in the afternoon. He was substituting for another teacher in math class and that was no picnic.

Kaoru and geek-bait were out the door together so I was in no rush to leave. I found Himura Kenshin was a bit… annoying. He was a nice guy and all but, well, who cares? I didn't want to be hanging around with Kaoru & company.

I dropped my head on the desk and closed my eyes. I couldn't go to club so all I really had to do was go home. I wasn't even on cleaning duty this week, sweet. When the noise quieted I looked up to see two of my classmates were already working. I wouldn't stay and get in the way, or worse, get roped into helping clean the classroom.

I headed for the locker room to change my shoes and leave.

When I got there I found my locker door was being blocked. Or … guarded if that's a better word and not by Sano having taken offense at the earlier "limp noodle" remark, but Shinomori. He had his back to the lockers so I wasn't sure if it was purposeful or by chance, but what was he waiting for?

He was certainly staring right at me.

"Were you really sick?"

He sounded so skeptical? Could I truly be doubted? Did I look like I wasn't innocent? Perhaps my face betrayed my thoughts because he quirked an eyebrow at me.

"Uh… no. I was… um… busy. It was a mental-health day; I was overwhelmed, overworked, and overtaxed. My brain was leaking from my ears, so maybe I was sick."

Sometimes I should just shut up, I knew that, but I didn't really… well, I couldn't stop it. When I get nervous, I chatter and if Shinomori can make anyone anything, its nervous.

He didn't really say anything, okay, he didn't say anything at all, not at first but he did stand straight up, away from my locker. I had the somewhat hopeful thought that maybe he had actually been waiting for me after all.

He moved a few steps away and that's when I noticed two things. One, he was carrying a bag that wasn't his school bag and that I couldn't see through it. The second thing was he was standing next to a trash can. I just sort of looked at him before moving toward my locker to get my shoes. How did I know what he was here for anyway?

Don't assume… I told myself.

I had barely slipped my street shoes on when he spoke up again.

"These things, they were for you."

My heart leapt into my throat and felt like it was trying to bust out. I glanced to where he was standing to see the bag was full of little boxes. A whole bag?

"Uh…"

Okay, don't get the wrong impression. I didn't have a boat load of them, just 5 or 6 but I was flattered and flustered and felt so appreciated, it was a fantastic moment. Until, of course, I was abruptly reminded I was standing in front of Shinomori Aoshi – human rock – as he suddenly took the entire bag and tossed them whole into the trash.

I could've screamed.

I think I did.

My hands were plastered to my reddened cheeks in horror. Threw them away!

"They were from a few of your classmates and a few from boys that aren't in our class, but you can't have them," he stated simply.

"Shinomori! You have serious trash issues! You can't just throw everything away!" I blurted it out without thinking.

He didn't so much as blink.

"Why can't I have them?" I snapped. "They were mine, weren't they? People finally start taking the candy tributes line seriously only to have my precious tributes tossed away?"

I wasn't outraged but I certainly was upset and not happy, not the least.

He just turned and shuffled through his school bag a moment before producing a box. A gift-wrapped box from Shinomori's bag!

From his own bag!

I could've danced right there.

Wait… it was mine, right?

He handed it over to me and I reached for it.

OH YEAH!

I could've danced!

I might have danced, I'm not sure, but I don't remember him giving me any 'are you out of your mind' looks, so maybe I didn't.

I took the gift and sat down. "Can I open it?"

"Are you involved with Sagara?" his voice was so deep and even and just... heavenly! I wonder if I could tell him I loved his voice without freaking him out?

Ah… right, right, the kiss, he'd seen that little fiasco, hadn't he?

"No."

He nodded succinctly and stood back, his arms crossed looking for all the world as if he just happened to be standing there and I just happened to be sitting there and we didn't know one another at all. I eagerly ripped open my gift.

With the pretty paper crumbled and torn and now resting on the floor at my ankles I lifted the box cover off.

It was… a pair of black gloves. I stared a moment, my eyes tracing the large pink star shapes on the back of each glove. It read "star" on each.

G-gloves?

I reached and pulled one out to find it was silky soft and rubbed it against my cheek. "Ooohh."

I glanced back down to see that something else was peeking out from beneath the gloves. It was a candy box, I could tell already. I pulled the other glove away just to see but there it was.

Gourmet chocolates.

I squealed happily. "Candies… sweet candies…" I sang and then laughed. "But why gloves?" I didn't even realize I said that out loud until he answered.

"You're always running around with nothing on your hands," he answered.

He… noticed my hands?

I smiled. I wanted to leap up and tackle him but I also didn't want to annoy him. I couldn't imagine why he'd gotten me a gift; he couldn't have felt obligated, could he? Then I realized that he probably did and so I didn't leap up and hug him.

"This is from you?"

I thought it was and it seemed to be but… no one likes to be wrong. What if someone asked him to give it to me?

"…. Yes." He stood there a bit tensely, his shoulders square and straight.

"Thank you very much, Shinomori-san, it was really very considerate of you."

It was totally unlike me to say stuff like that. Not to say that I didn't, just… not very often. I was never accused of being over polite.

He tensed even futher immediately. "You don't like it."

"What? Of course I do! I just… I didn't want to… you know… annoy you or anything by acting like my usual idiot self so…

He looked away from me. "I don't want you to accept any of those other things. I only want you to take mine."

My eyes widened. Was there a message in there or was I assuming too much?

"Okay," I answered.

He glanced at me. "Okay?"

"I've been trying to break the habit of assuming things for like weeks now so if you're asking me not to accept other stuff, okay, if you're asking me more than that then you'll have to say so directly."

He paused a moment. "Would you like to go out and have a cup of tea, Makimachi?"

I nodded. "That's a good start. You could've proclaimed your undying love for me, but we can work up to that." I grinned. I could've floated around the world!

Something occurred ot me though before we left the school. "Did you throw away my chocolates?"

He stopped at the front school doors. "What?"

"My Valentine candy, did you throw it away?"

He stared at me. "After all the trouble I went through to hint to that boy so he would tell you?"

What?

What?

WHAT?

He… he… just… Yahiko and… they were… cohorts? Then… why did he tell me…

"I was having a bad day, I apologize. I didn't mean to be short with you."

"You're serious?" I asked. I was struck with disbelief.

"I am," he replied soberly.

"You're sure? This isn't some cruel joke, because that would be mean, Shinomori-san and I don't think I've done anything to deserve something like that."

He stepped forward and my eyes were blurry with tears. I wanted to cry, I was trying not to but… doubt and hurt sort of all meshed together. I was on a rollercoaster of doom.

He leaned down and very gently touched his lips to mine.

The first kiss I'd always wanted with him, tainted by Sano but amazing and precious all the same with Shinomori.

His lips had barely parted from mine when I spoke. "Can I call you Aoshi?"

It was the first time I ever saw him smirk.

It was amazing! Sexy and flirty and…awesome!

"May I call you 'Misao?'"

I nodded. "You can call me anything you want," I answered readily. "Except 'weasel' or 'weasel girl' because I hate those names. So I can call you Aoshi, right?"

"Yes."

"Sweet!" I declared as we stepped out of the school doors.

He didn't touch me as we left. No gushy hand holding or his arm across my waist or anything but I was with him and he was acknowledging me next to him and that was a good place to start.

Much later at the café where we ended up, I was back to thinking of school and our esteemed classmates. "So, come tomorrow I can declare that I own you and if anyone touches you I'll maim, them, right?" I asked.

He just glanced at me silently. I think he was hiding a smirk behind his teacup. But the important thing here is that he didn't say "no."

I grinned.

It was perfect.

Absolutely perfect.


The End.

AN: That was so sweet! I'm glad I wrote this all the way through. Totally worth the little journey.