Intermezzo

By: TYSON GRANGER

It had always been a mystery to me how fate could take hold of a man and a woman and bind them. A red string that traversed time and space, distance and doubt, land and seas to link their hearts in a love, eternal…those were the metaphors which used to describe her. Was it fate that led me up the stairs to my middle school rooftop to the site of a girl wearing strawberry panties, the site which set my heart ablaze? If so, was it also the design of fate which cut the string which tied me to her, that innocent beauty whose name and heart I did not know then, but know now as clearly as my own? Possibly…probably...I could never understand why things happened, and maybe that's why it took me so long to discover fate's design.

I was always an indecisive fool; a jester whose shortcomings left cuts fresh on the hearts of many. No matter how I looked at it, I knew that I had been thrust into love far too early and often, starting with the day I confessed to her. No, not the girl with the strawberry panties, but the woman with whom I truly fell in love. That day as I hung pathetically from the pull-up bar just outside of our middle school and called out at the top of my lungs the practiced confession I had been urged to deliver by my good friend Komiyama, I hadn't a clue what I was doing. I was merely winging it; doing whatever felt right at the time. The fact that she said yes I can only attribute to fate as well, though to this day I can still only barely understand why she said it.

But yes is what she said, though I don't remember specifically the words she used to say it, and with that my world was sent into a three-year rollercoaster ride of confusion, heartbreak, disappointment, and eventually, true and honest love. Many women confessed to me in that time, though I can't fathom why. And they were memorable confessions too, like Satsuki's embrace in the hotel of our first movie-making tour. To this day Sotomura wonders why I didn't accept her then…maybe he's right to wonder. Satsuki was a wonderful, exciting, and lovable young girl with so much to give that I barely knew what to do with it all. To think of the kiss we shared in the fall of my third year at Izumizaka still makes my heart pound, but in the end it became no more than a fond memory. Fate works in mysterious ways.

Kozue Mukai's confession was far more spontaneous, but the deliciously innocent manner in which she proclaimed her love in the middle of our lunch period and then dashed away hopelessly immediately afterwards is an image burned permanently into my memories. A scene like that would have been perfect in one of our high school movies, and perhaps I might still use that imagery in a film one day. I am well on my way to becoming a director, after all, even if I've yet to create my first major production. Nevertheless, Kozue was unfortunate enough to have met me during my senior year at Izumizaka, in a prep school after-hours that left us too little time to come to know each other. Had we been introduced sooner things might have been different, but by the time we had…my heart had already been surreptitiously stolen from the pit of my chest.

However the confession that made my heart pound the hardest was that of the girl in the strawberry panties; a dream girl who turned out to be the friend I had always needed. Toujou Aya had captivated me with her beauty and her kindness in entirely different manners during our last year of middle school, and all through high school the two of us worked side-by-side towards our dreams. She wished to be a writer, her talent far beyond what was necessary to be successful a successful novelist, and I wished to be a director, using her scripts and her novel as my inspiration. We were an inseparable pair whose dreams and futures were tied together as closely as I could have imagined. And I loved her for that, for sharing with me my dreams and being the one closest to my heart for all my time at Izumizaka High.

How strange it must have been then, to those laughing deities in the sky above, when she spoke to the door between us one fine evening following our last Cultural Festival and confessed her love to me. It was the moment I had been dreaming of all through high school…dreaming of and dreading, unsure of where we stood or if such a thing was too good to be true. And I denied her…rejected her completely, without hesitation, and all in her name and our love. Had Toujou come to me that same summer, before I fully understood the contents of my heart, I would have gone with her and never looked back. There's no doubt that we would have loved one another and been happy…but there was something even more precious to me than that certain future…something I never in my life dreamed possible. And that something, wonderful something, was…

"N-Nishino?" my voice sounded, hesitant in all its depth. Since I had seen her last I had grown quite a bit, and all my nineteen years reflected in the scared, loving, and mature tone that echoed through the receiver of her old cell phone…the same phone which I had stolen back in middle school when I lost her number, and the same phone which had interrupted our tender moment in the nurses' office of that same middle school on the eve of her 17th birthday. I had cursed the fates many times, remembering what we missed when she answered that phone then. Now, all I wanted was for her to answer.

"Jun…pei…kun?" the sweetness of her voice echoed through my mind, smooth and melodious as I remembered her. My heart skipped a beat as I thought back to the day I asked her out for the second time and the sing-song tone with which she had said my name as we parted ways. I remembered the kisses we shared on the park bench less than an hour earlier, and the faint taste of strawberry short cake on the tip of her tongue. It was just the right combination of tart and bittersweet, perfectly symbolic of the love we shared. The love…we shared. "Junpei-kun…is that you?"

"Yeah…it's me," I admitted faintly, a little embarrassed to be the one that broke our strained agreement not to speak to one another once she had left Japan to study abroad, but too spurned on by the hopeful edge to that soft voice I loved to deny her. An audible gasp came through the receiver on my end as I called her from a pay phone in the terminal where I stood, and I wondered idly whether it was a good sign or a bad one. I prayed it was good and feigned a chuckle, the phone shaking meekly in my calloused hand. "It's…been a long time…how are you?" A pathetic question, but all I could manage as I felt a bead of sweat crawl down my back in anticipation of her response. It took a little longer than expected.

"I'm tired, Junpei-kun," she admitted wearily, feeling her forced smile through the phone even as she spoke. My calling had shocked her, obviously, and she was struggling for a reason why. I didn't have a good one, really…well, maybe it was only good by me. And she called herself greedy. "Hey, listen…" she started nervously, unsure how to word her question. I could hear the softness of her ragged breath and felt my hair stand on end, remembering the feel of that warmth against my skin as we lay together on her bed, lights dimmed and waiting for her parents to fall asleep so I could sneak out of her home. That was the day we nearly… "Why did you call me?"

I felt my heart in my throat as I listened to the one question that had been unavoidable since I picked up and dialed…the one question that even I couldn't rightly answer. Doing this was potentially betraying the fragile agreement we had made to part ways and not look back until we had both accomplished our dreams, but there I stood in the airport in Paris with my bag in-hand, the world behind me on my path to her. Could I really tell her that I crossed oceans just to see her smile? "I…I…" I stuttered, miserable in my inability to speak clearly. Everyone in Izumizaka always told me how much I had matured, but now I felt like a child with his hand in the cookie jar.

"Junpei-kun…" her voice called out again, her voice wavering a little as she tested to see if I was still listening. When I made a small noise of affirmation, she was able to speak again, "where are you right now? I hear voices…" Oh god, I could hear the confusion plainly in her tone. Her soft voice cried of repressed hope and fear, uncertainty…and love. She was mysterious even at times like these, but uncertain as I was, simply hearing her voice again gave me the strength to speak.

"The airport…" I told her suddenly, pausing before I dropped the time bomb I'd been holding since I made the decision no more than a week earlier, "in Paris. I'm in Paris." I held my breath as I let the words fly, heart sinking deep into my chest as I waited for her response. We had sworn never to look back...to see one another when we had become better people…but I didn't need this distance to tell me that I loved Nishino. I only needed…Nishino. The silence that followed was deafening, and a few seconds seemed longer than a life age as I listened only to the steady rhythm of her breath and the thunderous pounding of my own beating heart. And then she spoke, hopefully…quietly, and I could breathe again.

"Tell me which one and I'll come get you," she told me quickly, almost as if she was afraid to say any more. There were heavier questions hanging overhead and we were both incredibly aware of that fact, and yet she had given me an easy way out…how traditionally Nishino. Thankful for the life-saver, I gave her the necessary information and she hurriedly wrote it all down, not wanting me to wait any longer than I had to in the bustling hub of French transport. "Junpei-kun…" she spoke softly when I heard her pen drop suddenly, signaling the end of our conversation, "…I'll see you soon, then."

"Nishino…I…" the soft click of her cell phone told me I was too late, leaving me with thirty minutes to wait until I would have the chance to speak those precious words again. It had begun to slip out naturally, my heart thrusting the words past my lips before my mind could remember our circumstance, and perhaps it was best this way. I had no way of knowing the contents of Nishino's heart or mind since she had come to France just over a year ago, and getting so emotional before I even saw her would most likely have been an erroneous misstep. Were the fates on my side again, I wondered? Or were the stars aligned against me, this time? Ookusa had always told me that I was obscenely lucky…I never said it, but I knew he was right.

Cars passed the lot just outside the airport carelessly as I took my first clear breath of the rich French atmosphere, a ten-minute trek from the phones to the exit only a minor prelude to what this foreign land had to offer. Since stepping off the plane I had only understood faintly what a few foreigners had been saying on my way to the exit of the airport, and as the constant flow of travelers in and out with their unique dialects continued to stream past, I began to feel out of place. The decision to make this trip had been sudden, a week all the preparation time I had before I stepped aboard the plane and into this uncertain future, and for the first time I began to regret coming to France. But it wasn't the language that bothered me…it was the thought of Nishino's reaction.

Haste had driven her from the phone and not ten minutes into my stay in Paris I found myself relying on her for transportation. As I came to rest on a small bench outside the complex, I could feel the beating of my heart still quite rapid inside my chest, and I wondered idly what I would say to her when she arrived. Wasn't this exactly why we had decided not to see one another? Her love had been my crutch, my strength throughout high school, and without her I would have to stand on my own and chase my dream. But life without Nishino…I…I didn't even want to imagine that. The past year had been one of the most rewarding and terrifying times in my life. Working construction and beginning work on my first project had been incredibly exciting, but when the lights went down and the moon shone in her evanescent glow, my thoughts always turned to her.

Time flew by on that lonesome bench as my mind filled with those same memories of her. Nishino's feeding me her Valentine's chocolates, made with all her love…Nishino blushing prettily as my fingers clasped the top button of her pajamas…Nishino's kiss, her warmth, her smile. More than anything, I remembered her confession, and the moment that I knew I loved her more than any other. The strained look on her face as she hung on the verge of tears pledging all her love to me in a sloppy pull-up, asking me to let her be my girlfriend once more in the same way I had confessed to her two and a half years prior to that day. I was so happy then…so happy. A crimson hue crept slowly into the pale skin of my cheeks as I remembered her, and I wondered if somewhere, she was thinking of the same things as I.

A black car pulled up to the bench and the sidewalk as I was caught inside a daydream, the open and shut of a door faintly sounding in the distance as my chin rested exhaustedly in the palms of my hand. Footsteps echoed as they came closer, ever-closer to where I rested and only when she spoke did I realize that the wait had ended.

"Junpei-kun?" a familiar voice asked quietly, the only familiar voice in all of France. My eyes shot wide as realization dawned, and I saw before me pale skin trailing up to a blue sundress not unlike the one she wore during our second film club movie. Calloused hands slid down to my side and rested on the bench as I raised my eyes at last to meet hers…and in-blue I saw the memories we shared, and my heart felt prone to burst. "You've grown quite a bit, haven't you?" she asked quietly, a marked hesitation still evident to me. I was struck by a sense of déjà vu that set me on fire, memories of her freshly dancing across my mind, and without thinking I stood from the bench and slid my arms around the thin waist of Tsukasa Nishino to pull her tightly to my chest.

"Tsu-tsukasa-chan," I whispered fondly into her ear, remembering how she loved to hear her name in my voice and feeling my chest rise and fall naturally in time with hers. I had wanted to say more to her than just that, but the moment passed as I heard her sigh and felt her sink, my embrace tightening around her lithe form like a drowning man in water. With heightened senses I could feel her own heart pound, hear her breath leaving her in ragged gasps, and then as her hands slid up the small of my back and drew me into her, I could feel my parched soul quenched by a year's worth of her own feelings. It was with great hesitation that I drew back from her and looked her in eye again, a small but silly smile curling my lips as she turned away from me with cheeks tinted pink. She had always been so cute…

"L-let's hurry and go home, Junpei-kun," she told me quickly, taking my bag from my hand before I could react and placing it carefully into the trunk of her car. I stood and watched her for a moment, a little curious as to what came next since I hadn't really devised a plan for us. Would I go straight to find a hotel? Would she want to go somewhere first? Or would she…? I stopped that thought before it came to me, daring not to think she would be so hospitable when I had just called her out of the blue. I didn't even know if she was upset with me for coming, even as we sank into the leather seats of the car and made our way silently from the airport.

The streets were lined with people of all sorts as we began to move towards one of the many exchanges that would take us to our unknown destination, but my mind was clearly elsewhere as we made the drive. Out of the corner of my eye I watched her as she drove, gaze focused on the pavement with an undeniable blush resting like an airbrushed accent on her cheeks. She was still so beautiful…but the air about the car was anything but comfortable. I could hardly decide where to begin, and remembered rather bluntly how pathetic I was at conversation. Maybe Nishino had remembered too…and that was why she hadn't spoken. Or maybe that was why she did, eventually, break the silence.

"I can't believe…Junpei-kun is here," she spoke kindly, her voice hushed in a strange sort of mixture between reverence and disbelief. Even though her eyes were troubled, I blushed a little in return as I turned to her slightly, unable to perfectly meet her sideways gaze. I couldn't explain to her honestly why I had come, nor could I do anything to assuage her fears about the situation. I was guilty, really. This was different than what we had expected, and yet it didn't seem entirely unwelcome. It was just…sudden, and perhaps a little unnerving. Still, there was another reason I had come to France…more of a cover, really…but enough to justify the trip. Anxious to ease the tension, I scratched the back of my head and let it slip.

"It was…sort of sudden," I insisted weakly, a strange little smile on my lips as I continued on, "but I decided that since I'm filming my first project in many different locations around the world, that I wanted to see where Nishino lives." Even as the words passed my lips I could feel how lame they were, and as Nishino forced a small smile and chanced a quick glance over towards the passenger's seat I guessed in an instant that she wasn't buying it. A small chuckle escaped me as I turned to her, unsure what to do next. "I'm sorry...I must be such a bother to Nishino, just randomly calling and showing up like this. I know that this isn't what we…"

"I'm really happy," she admitted softly, that angelic smile of hers shining radiantly from where Nishino sat in the driver's side of the car. Her blue eyes shimmered, rimmed with tears that would never be shed, and I wondered if I had said something to make her cry. In my mind I struggled to think of something cool to say in return, but she continued on and I was left to listen. "I just…can't believe that Junpei-kun is really here," the blond explained, blushing a little more as she did. And then, true to form, she stuck her tongue out lightly and giggled a little in spite of herself. "Sorry, I guess that's a little cliché, huh?"

"Yeah," I chuckled lightly, relieved that the tension was dying down, even if only a little bit. The sun dipped slowly in the west as it signaled the end of the day, the street lights of Paris, France and the headlights of Nishino's small car guiding us along our united paths. As we crept further along the trail, however, I began to wonder just how much longer our paths would be joined. I hadn't made reservations before leaving, thinking that it would be simple enough to find lodging once I had touched down in Paris. Yet, in the back of my mind I knew what I was expecting…what I had foolishly hoped from the moment that I heard her voice on the other end of the phone...but it was a request I couldn't hope to make on my own. Smiling a little nervously, I glanced out the window and spoke up once again. "N-Nishino?" I interjected into the silence, speaking again once her head rose slightly in recognition of my voice, "I…do you know any…decent hotels? It's pretty stupid…but I forgot to book one before I left."

I winced as I realized I had just fibbed a little, but at least I had said something. It was no use driving around if there was no destination, after all, so once my question had been asked I glanced out of the corner of my eye and was a little surprised to find a slightly disturbed expression on the beautiful lips of Tsukasa Nishino. My heart skipped a beat as I realized that even like that I found her adorable, but in an instant I felt it sink as I hoped I hadn't said something to upset her.

"Junpei-kun…" her soft voice broke the awkward pause, and I turned and made a small noise to let her know I was listening. And I was, quite intently, in fact. She peered out of the corner of her eye and took note of the curious and perhaps hopeful expression I bore, and spoke a little more playfully than before. "You could just ask, you know..." she teased slightly, though her deepening blush spoke a little less confidently about her decision than her words, "The place I live…that is, there's no one…living with me. And i-if it's Junpei-kun…then I guess it's all right." My eyes widened a little at the small smile that crept onto her lips after that, perhaps a little forced in lieu of her own frayed nerves. And somehow, she seemed a bit more tired than I would have liked. With that in mind, my response was clear.

"Then…Nishino Tsukasa-chan…" I hesitated slightly, feeling a little self-conscious in spite of myself, "may I…for as long as I'm here…will you let me be your personal Junpei-kun?" The wind passed through the cracked window on the passenger's side of the car, filling my left ear with the constant hum of the passing road, each bit of asphalt bringing us closer and closer to our unspoken destination. I had never even asked directly if I could stay with her, nor did I know whether or not she lived in a place particularly capable of housing a guest. I was acting on instinct…intoxicated by her presence and my own pent up longing…but unlike before, I was acting, because I wanted to see her. And at my words, Nishino smiled brilliantly.

"Sure," she answered shyly, and I smiled along with her as my fears were put at ease by her generous acceptance of me.

The rest of the drive home was spent in a relative silence, the starlit sky playing as a backdrop to all our rampant thoughts and dreams. I didn't need to tell her that my mind was full of images of the place she stayed, whether or not it was large or small, holding the same cute decorum of her room back in Izumizaka. Or rather, images of her lying in her apartment, watching me and waiting with bated breath as we came together to assuage a year's worth of loneliness. I had pledged to be "Nishino's Personal Junpei-kun" for as long as I was in Paris, and I would be ready for whatever that meant. I was just so glad to see her again…

When the car at last came to a stop I was surprised to see a rather small apartment building, no more than two stories and five doors down resting before us. There were lights in the distance which signified that this place was located rather close to at least a few shops and stores, meaning that in spite of its delicate appearance it was actually likely to be quite nice. The contrast was not lost upon me as Nishino made her way up the steps outside the building and to the second floor balcony, tracing her path all the way to the door furthest away from the main office. My unsteady heart leaped a little as I thought to myself, 'This is the path that Nishino walks every day,' and I remembered her words the day she came to visit me during editing for the final Cultural Festival. This was truly something I could only do if I had gone with her to France…and I knew without a doubt that I was glad I had come.

"Hurry up and get inside, or you'll catch a cold," the admonishing voice of my host called from the doorway, and I followed quietly into the small place that she called home. It was different from the Japanese style housing that I was used to, but in a way it had its own homey appeal. Upon first glance I saw that the place was unusually clean, at least more so than Nishino's room back home, and that most of the decorations were simple, tasteful, and as golden as her hair. I felt a crimson tint warm my cheeks as an image of her welcoming me home into this place flashed across my mind, and I reminded myself that it might not be what Nishino wanted. Still, the warm feeling in my chest would not disappear, and so as I slipped out of my shoes and into a pair of spare slippers Nishino had laid out, I looked up into the blue eyes of Nishino and allowed myself to be refreshed.

"Are you hungry? I've gotten a lot better at cooking since I came here," she spoke idly, turning her eyes away bashfully as I realized the intensity of my stare. No matter how hard I tried to concentrate on other things, my mind was filled with thoughts of Nishino. Was she…no, I think I knew…that she was feeling the same way. And so as I stepped forward into the small apartment I nodded briefly and allowed her the reprieve of heading into the kitchen and allowing me a chance to take in my surroundings. There were two closed doors and a linoleum floor which divided the kitchen and the living room. A small kotatsu rested in the center of the living room, perhaps a memento of her homeland in this foreign environment, and in the kitchen there was a western style table with chairs, not unlike her home. I smiled, thinking that this place suited her, even as I hesitantly drew closer to where Nishino was already working furiously to prepare something to eat. Even though I didn't say it, though, I wasn't really hungry. At least, not for food…

"I…I was really happy that you answered the phone," I tested the conversation by treading carefully, a small laugh escaping me as I took a seat the table where Nishino had already prepared the silverware. The comment received a much better reaction than expected, however, when she turned and cast a wink over her shoulder before sticking out her pink, little tongue.

"Did you really think I could just ignore a call from Junpei-kun?" she asked rhetorically, before turning her attention back to the stove. Yet, even as her concentration remained solid and she continued mincing the ingredients and placing them in the skillet, I could see the rise and fall of her chest steadily becoming more rapid as her free hand drifted to cover her heart. "I was actually…really happy. Even though I'm like this, I'm always...thinking about Junpei-kun." I could almost feel her blush, even as she kept her back turned, and I rested my cheek in my right palm as I simply watched her, my heart exhausted from the journey here...or rather, the journey home.

"I'm the same," I quickly revealed, not wanting her to feel awkward as she turned to the table and began to dish out the meal she had so skillfully prepared. A soft giggle escaped her as she set the skillet aside and took her seat opposite me, trying not to look embarrassed at my open praise. "But I'm…doing really well, I think. Or at least I'm getting by," I told her as I tested her food, which was even more delicious than expected. I watched curiously as Nishino poked about her food but barely looked at her meal, more interested in watching me than trying out her own handiwork. Well, I can't blame her I guess, since I'd probably get tired of my own cooking if it was all I had to eat for a year. "I…uh…I'm really happy I could see you…like this, Nishino," I stammered a little under her stare, setting down the silverware she had given me as I finished my meal, and as I did I felt a soft finger press lightly against the tip of my nose.

"Minus ten points for using my family name," she giggled cutely, eyes never leaving me even as she gathered the dishes. "Thank you for the food," she whispered traditionally, before calling back at me once again. "I'm going to wash these first, so please get ready for bed. You must be exhausted from the trip, right?" Nishino asked, though she didn't really need to. The truth was, I was exhausted by the time we landed, and it was only the excitement over seeing Nishino again that kept me going for this long. Nonetheless, I still had a little bit of steam left, and I intended to savor every moment that I had with her like this.

"Thanks for the food," I called out as I stood from the table, making my way around the western furniture to stand behind her as she cleaned, wondering if I really had the nerve to make even such a small move as I had imagined. Her fingers moved in a swift, practiced manner befitting someone who had taken care of herself for over a year, and for a moment I was entranced by how undeniably cute she looked simply doing such a monotonous chore. Inspired by the thought, I leaned forward gently and placed my fingertips on her arms to stop her just a moment, before tilting my head sideways and placing a short kiss on the crimson skin of her cheek. "It really was delicious," I assured her with a smile, before reluctantly letting go and moving towards the bath to wash before bed. It all seemed so familiar to me, being together with her like this. It reminded me of so many things…our past…and I smiled as I reached the first of the two doors.

I glanced back towards the sink and saw her frozen, touching her left hand to her cheek where the feather-light touch of my lips still lingered. I hadn't thought I would have had such an affect on her, but it seemed that maybe she too remembered…rather, her heart remembered. A gentle smile slid across my lips as I watched her look away from the dishes with a crimson tint creeping up the back of her neck, and then turned to enter the bath before I retired for the evening.

It was something like heaven for me when the warmth of Nishino's bath encompassed my body, everything about the last night I had been alone with her in her home before she left for France that was etched into my memories coming back into my head. It really was true…I couldn't help how I always expected things to happen when I was with Nishino. Maybe it was because she had always known what she wanted from me, or that she rarely hesitated when she had decided. Maybe it was because I knew that the way that I felt for her now…was the same way she had felt for me all the time. But no matter the reason, I knew that somewhere beyond the door that separated us Nishino was standing, and the same memories which rolled through my mind like an antique movie reel were also fresh in her mind. Sinking into the bath a little further, I wondered…just how far were the two of us going to take this?

By the time that I stepped out of the bath Nishino had already finished cleaning up from our meal and was waiting quietly on the small sofa in front of her television watching the nighttime news. Standing behind her, I felt a little embarrassed as I remembered what had been playing when our roles were reversed on that night just a little over a year ago. At least she must have been paying a little more attention than I was. So it was that I moved a little closer to the sofa and placed my hand gently on her shoulder and found myself surprised a little when she jumped and glanced back at me with a blush and a smile.

"I…I'm finished with the bath," I told her calmly, expecting her to head into the room I had just occupied without a second thought. After all, the last time we had been together like this she had been incredibly insistent about such a thing. Before she did, however, she stood from the couch and moved next to me, facing the opposite direction and unable to meet my curious, sideways stare.

"Will you…wait…in the bedroom?" she asked quietly, folding her hands over her chest as if to cease the restless beating of her heart. I flinched a little, finding it a little hard to believe that she wanted me to do that, even though I had foolishly expected nothing less. As if sensing my line of thought, her hands flew to her face as she tried desperately to cover the crimson hue of her cheeks. "I mean, there's only one bedroom! So it's not like we have a choice, right?!"

Somehow I could sense her nervousness…the fact that she was just as unsure of what to do with such an unexpected thing as I…and I had to admit that it put me a little at ease to think that I wasn't the only one like that. So empathetically I nodded weakly, a soft-spoken 'yeah' the final word between us as she carried her towel into the bath and closed the door soundly behind her. The audible 'click' of the handle echoed ominously through the living room as I decided that it was best to take her offer quickly, and I made my way through the second of two doors and into the room soundlessly, careful not to disturb the welcome silence we shared from our separate places in Nishino's home.

Her room was about what I expected, though I couldn't say that I didn't find it incredibly endearing. Golden beddings and curtains gave life to the small bedroom, and though there were several assorted items throughout I thought that those were the ones that best accentuated Nishino's taste. The size was a bit less than that of her room back in Izumizaka, so as I took a seat next to the bed I only felt a little uncomfortable physically. But my thoughts were racing, my memories still so incredibly fresh. Had she gained any more confidence since the last time this happened? Could she really…come in just wearing a towel?

'Baka-Junpei!' I chided myself sharply, knowing it not best to get carried away. Just because my mind was filled with perverted thoughts didn't obligate Nishino to indulge any of them. For now, we were just friends…lovers, maybe. It's not like we were boyfriend and girlfriend, right? 'But you are her personal Junpei-kun…' my mind whispered conspiratorially, 'Nishino's…Junpei-kun.' The soft click of the door shutting broke me from my reverie, and I turned to see her thin frame leaned back against the door and watching me from beneath her shadowed bangs. Even in the relative dark I could almost feel her blush, but as she walked silently over to sit on the edge of her bed, it was only when she spoke that I knew what she was thinking.

"You can…sit up here if you like," Nishino told me now, only a little more confident than she had been before, "no…I want you to sit up here. I know I'm still greedy, but…" I broke her train of thought abruptly as I turned and leaned forward, slipping arms around her waist again as I embraced her backwards onto the soft mattress beneath. Her eyes widened slightly as she fell back in my arms, but I held her tightly, wanting nothing more than to let this moment last forever. Her soft voice pierced the air barely, quietly, as she shifted into the embrace a little more comfortably. "Ju…Junpei-kun…"

"No I…I'm the one who's greedy," I whispered hotly, pulling away to look down intensely into those cerulean eyes I fell in love with, "this isn't what I…what we…? I mean…I'm taking advantage of you, aren't I?" I asked her this quickly, all the doubts I'd felt until now coming out just to ease her mind. I didn't really know what I was saying to her, or maybe I just didn't know why I was saying it then. Nonetheless, my racing mind was cleared by the soft press of her lips against the skin of my cheek. "Ni…Nishino?"

"Do you remember what I told you once…?" she asked quietly, her breath hot against my ear as we held each other closely atop the golden spread atop her mattress. Thinking back briefly, I couldn't immediately recall; then it hit me, and my eyes shot wide as I pulled back and looked at into her eyes, which turned aside quickly as the blood rushed to her cheeks. "I…made a wish the other night…" her voice trailed off shyly as I watched her squirm briefly below me. Nodding faintly, I swallowed the lump that had gathered in my throat and uttered a pathetic 'Hm?'…

"My wish…was that I could see Junpei-kun," Nishino smiled faintly, eyes again rimmed with unshed tears as her fingers pressed lightly against my back and drew me down against her body. Hearing her request, silken voice boon with a hidden passion, my arms became rubber and collapsed under my weight, allowing me to lay beside her…to hold her…and simply be loved by my beloved Nishino. Both our wishes…hers and mine…had been granted by the mysterious hand of fate. And maybe I was only weak, but…I somehow felt myself too poor a soul to resist her will.

"Ni…Nishino," her named caressed my lips in a whisper as I leaned in towards her, grasping tightly the courage to do what I had wanted to do from the moment I saw her. As I drew her against me, my fingers lightly caressed the smooth skin of her shoulders beneath the soft material of her pajamas, and the soft feel of her warm breaths against my lips allowed me to gauge my range whilst my eyes drifted closed. Gasping quietly, I could feel her shift to accommodate me…

"Jun…" Nishino whispered in return, the rest of my name muffled against wanting lips. She gasped softly then, perhaps taken by surprise by the sudden move forward, but not a single interruption loomed to break our long-awaited kiss. And when we broke apart I felt my rapid heart beat even faster and my body sink, pink changing to crimson on my cheeks as I stared into the beautiful blue eyes of my lover.

"I'm so happy…" I told her simply, the words coming out before I even thought about them. If I were a cooler person maybe I would have said something charming or witty…but for someone like me, it was just how I felt. "Just being with Nishino…" I thought aloud, demure in spite of my forward display of affection, "…the one I love…is truly Nishino." And as I said those words I drew her close to me, eyes drifting shut as I bathed in the beauty of this moment in time. Exhaustion crept over me suddenly as I lay in her embrace, and the last thing I heard before my consciousness faded…was the sweetest sound in the entire world.

"This whole time…the one I've loved has always been…Junpei-kun…"

("Reunion of the Fated Lovers", Fin…Next Chapter… Coming Soon!)

(R/R)