First and foremost I'd like to express my heartfelt thanks to Radda for being my friend and brother... errr... sister in arms and obsessions, for backing me up, for her endless tolerance and patience, for her contagious enthusiasm and, the last but not least, for her suggestion to translate my story (initially Russian) into English and doing it. The following translation has been done mostly by her.
Then we would like to thank Little Racoon consort for reading and checking it.
Finally, our thanks and gratitude go to wombat - our very attentive English-speaking beta and also a wonderful writer and translator from Japanese.
"Enough! Stop this nonsense!"
Her face was bright red – easily bright enough to match her own tracksuit.
In fact, it was even brighter.
He watched her with the usual poker face, as if he'd simply asked what time it was instead of confessing his love for her. The most likely reason was that he'd already lost count of how many times he'd told her this: "I love you, Kumiko". That's right, "Kumiko" – he'd left off calling her by her family name the same day he'd left school. The same day he'd said "I love you" for the very first time. Her reaction back then was just like the one now: crimson bug-eyed face and – oh yeah… – indignation.
"You wish," he retorted.
"Stop making fun of me!" She was outraged. "You've just taken some silly notion into your head and…"
It was such a familiar scenario that Shin was already irritated, though every time he'd promised himself to tune out "nonsense" as well as "silly notion". If he managed not to snap, he'd break out of her stupid game and, who knows, maybe turn this already repetitive conversation in an entirely different direction than the usual childish bickering: "This isn't silly – yes it is – you are a silly one – moron".
Shin mentally gritted his teeth, but his voice was even when he said, "Could you be kind enough to watch your tongue while talking about my feelings?" and poured himself some more tea. "I'm a human being, after all. I'm getting hurt, you know."
Well done. Have a cookie.
The ball is in her court now. What's next?
Kumiko closed her mouth, feeling a pang of guilt.
She took a quick sip of her tea, hoping that the topic was closed now. Hardly – judging by Shin's eyes, it was just the beginning. With a sigh, she put the cup back on the table, rested her chin on her hands and eloquently looked him in the eye.
"Listen, Shin… Really, let's discuss this situation from an adult point of view…"
"Should I call Kyou-san?" he interrupted scoffingly.
"Huh… Kyou-san? Why would we need Kyou-san? Damn, you're doing it again!"
Better keep your jokes to yourself now or it will end up with another quarrel.
Kumiko knitted her brows – the unmistakable sign of an intense brainstorm. Shin wanted to laugh, though he had a strong feeling that soon there wouldn't be a lot of reasons to smile. "We are both grown-ups and we both understand that your so-called 'love' is just a typical teenage crush".
The corner of his right eye flinched but Shin kept silent – after spending years with Yankumi he had mastered the art of patience. Meanwhile, she had another sip of tea and felt a sudden surge of inspiration:
"Every teenager – twitch – needs a, hmm… a certain ideal, a certain, I dare say, idol."
"Some people fall in love with pop stars, some with actors or actresses, and this is completely normal. This, if I may say so, cultivates and elaborates their emotions. In general."
Shin had a strong feeling that another minute of this and his face would get a cramp from the intense force he was applying.
"And sometimes it can be an older peer, a mentor, like in your case." Her face heated up slightly again. "Of course, as your teacher, I am extremely flattered to become, er…an idol," she giggled sheepishly, "for such a decent and smart young man, but it's time you overcame your childish infatuation and moved forw..."
That's it. Shin had definitely overestimated his patience as well as capabilities.
"What the hell!?" He brought his hand down with such a hard smack that his cup clanked in fear. Kumiko, startled, stopped in mid-sentence and froze with her mouth agape. Shin rarely raised his voice but when he did, things never ended up well.
"What the hell are you talking about?! What an idol, my ass! I'm telling you that I love you, don't you get it? Not as an idol but as a woman, though you probably aren't even familiar with such a word!"
She glowered, offended.
"What do you mean, a crush, for crying out loud – crushes don't last for four years!"
"That's because you put some nonsense into your head and held onto it instead of…"
"Silence!" he barked and Kumiko cringed, instantly forgetting that she actually could shut him up with one well-aimed punch. Shin was just too much like her grandfather now. Kuroda Ryuichiro really didn't like to raise his voice but when he did… Involuntarily, Kumiko squeezed her eyes shut.
"I've listened to you, so now it's your turn to shut up and hear me out." Shin took a deep breath, counted from one to five to calm down – damn, it wasn't helping at all! – and began. "I love you. Yes, maybe it all started from respecting you as a teacher. You are really an excellent one and I am very glad that you were my homeroom teacher."
She tentatively opened one eye, and then her mouth – to say something along the lines of "Well yeah, this is exactly what I meant" but she was beaten to the punch as he continued: "But even if that's true, it didn't last for long because then I fell in love. With you. You as you are – with all your flaws and quirks – and if you think that this is just a teenage infatuation, then please be so kind to tell me at least one of Shinohara's flaws!"
"Wh… Why Shinohara-sensei all of a sudden?"
"Because you told me once that he had been your first crush that you grew out of like out of diapers, that's why."
"I told you so?.." Kumiko was perplexed. "Just like that? 'Like out of diapers'? Don't remember that."
"No wonder – this was somewhere between the third and fifth bottles, and after the sixth one…"
"Uwah, stop – stop, that's okay. I understand."
"So," persisted Shin, "Shinohara…"
"Shinohara-sensei is…" Kumiko desperately searched her mind for an answer but it blanked out instead, and the more she thought the emptier her head became. "He is… inaccessible?.."
"In... incomprehensible?" she knew herself that she was talking rubbish and her face turned a deeper shade of red. "Okay, you got me here."
"Want me to list your flaws?"
"Don't you even dare!"
"I won," summed up Shin. "And I love you."
She puffed and pouted but kept silent.
Bingo. She finally gave up.
Mentally crossing his fingers, Shin decided to charge forward to see how far he could push his luck.
"Furthermore, the fact that you deny the seriousness of my feelings speaks not about your rationality but your cowardice."
"Wha-a-at?!" Embarrassment gone, her eyes flared up with flames that would terrify even the devil himself.
"You think that I'm just childishly idolizing my former teacher and therefore don't deserve either your attention or reciprocity." Shin also could speak if needed, especially if it was a matter of life and death. Like, for instance, now. "You think that my feelings are so shallow that if you let yourself return them, then when I, as you say, move forward, you'll be back to square one. Like with Shinohara. And because of that," he accusingly pointed his finger at her and Kumiko winced, "you don't want to admit that you love me back. That's why you keep harping that I am nothing but a brat and it's just puppy love, and that's all! You're a selfish coward!"
He couldn't keep his voice even, so by the end he was almost shouting at her again. One look at her face was enough for him to understand what was about to happen and Shin barely managed to stop her fist inches away from his head. The cup, however, wasn't so fortunate and hit the floor, breaking into pieces.
"Wh…what the hell are you talking about?!" Kumiko started getting up, gripping the edge of the table so hard that her knuckles turned white and Shin was honestly afraid that the next moment he'd be smashed with that very piece of furniture.
"Or what – am I wrong?" he asked defiantly, ready to switch from talk to fistfight any second. "Then look me in the eye and say that you don't love me and never will. Say it, Kumiko."
He leaned onto the table - just in case, but the precaution was unnecessary. Kumiko fell into contemplation. Slowly her firm grip loosened, as her deathly aura dissipated and her eyes saddened.
"Shin. You are my best friend…" she said in a beseeching voice.
"…Hell, no," he thought, swallowing the lump in the throat that appeared to be his heart trying to break free, "you won't get away with this."
"Tell me you don't love me, Kumiko…" his voice was soft, almost pleading, and when she didn't answer he hesitantly took her hand. "Say it."
"I can't," she admitted.
In this exact moment, Shin understood the literal meaning of the expression "seeing light at the end of the tunnel". What's more – the light didn't fade when he closed his eyes, feeling that maybe it was just too much.
"I love you, Kumiko." he repeated and pressed her palm to his cheek. Soft - oh, so soft... And gentle. Triumphant drums boomed in his chest. They were probably what outroared the voice of reason, which otherwise might have stopped the next phrase from escaping his lips:
"…and I want you so badly."
Her palm was too close to duck and a moment later, gathering himself up from the floor and rubbing his wounded cheek, Shin darkly thought that the expression "seeing stars" also had a very literal meaning.
"Stop! I mean it!" she hissed. By now, the color of her face wasn't simply red, but the rich color of a boiled lobster as she pushed Shin away. "Pervert!"
"Who's a pervert – me?" he panted indignantly and moved closer. "Just what part of me is perverted?"
"Your... hands!" With stiff fingers, she started tucking her t-shirt, from under which she'd just shoved out the aforementioned appendages, back into her pants.
"What's wrong with my hands?.." He caught her arms, accidentally stretching out her t-shirt's neckband along one shoulder. He seized the opportunity to kiss this new spot of bare skin.
"They touched me... uwah... in... completely wrong... Yes!.. Wrong places! Just stop it!" she demanded, trying to sound convincing but failing miserably. "What's wrong with you?!"
"Me?.." His hands were now behind her back and, summoning all his spatial perception skills, Shin tried to unhook her bra through the fabric of her t-shirt. "You really don't get it, do you? We have been together for six months already and haven't... yet... all the way...
The hook gave up finally, Kumiko squeaked, and Shin dived into the next stage of the battle against more of what he considered the unnecessary pieces of her outfit.
"Stop!.. A-ah... I don't like it!.."
"Yeah, that's why you are moaning so loud... From disgust, no doubt." He lifted his brow, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible, but his shaking voice gave him away completely. Even Shin himself believed in his own words.
His hands were shaking too. But so did hers, as she struggled in his embrace.
"I didn't moan... I'm not moaning... I never moan... Ummmm..." Words failed her.
"Shall we check?" suggested Shin, all too willingly pushing her down onto the tatami.
The next couple of minutes proved he was right: she was moaning indeed.
So did he.
"Stop it... Shi-in... " she breathed in a hoarse whisper when he finally gave her a chance to speak.
"Why?.." he asked fervently, parting her thighs with one of his knees, and then the other.
"Somebody... ummm... might come in here... See us..." - gasped Kumiko, realizing that she had lost this game again.
Shin's eyes flamed up.
"That's why we are going to close the door and seal it off with... with… the table!" He backed up his idea with one more kiss which reduced Kumiko's ability to think in half.
Not giving her a single chance to recover and object, he slid the door shut, jammed the tabletop between the wall and the side of the shoji frame, and turned to her. Kumiko sat on the floor, both hands clenching her t-shirt, and looked at him with frightened eyes through her lopsided glasses. Shin pulled his sweater over his head and threw it to the side. Soon it was accompanied by his shirt and her t-shirt in a heap on the floor.
A quarter-hour later, hearing the rhythmical noises from Ojou's room, Kyou-san grunted and poured himself one more shot of sake. Salting it with a tear, he drank to the health of Ojou, Red Lion, and their future offspring.
"Cut it out! You and your strange fixation…" Yankumi brushed him off and propped a pillow under her chin – it was comfier to watch TV that way. "What's wrong now?"
"Wrong? No. It's totally okay but if you think that others are so blind they don't realize what kind of relationship we have, then guess again."
"Aww, give me a break." The commercials ended and Kumiko was ready to dive back into the intricacies of the plot but Shin grabbed the remote from her and pressed the red button.
"Turn it back on! Now!" yelled Kumiko. "It's my favourite part!"
"Not before you agree to marry me."
"Sa-wa-da. Give it back. Or I'll beat it out of you."
She took off her glasses and put them aside.
"You're asking for it!"
The heated struggle ended with a lamp knocked over and a clear win by Shin: after half a year in their close… ahem… very close relationship he had mastered the tactics of how to quickly break her opposition.
"So 'yes' or 'no'?" he asked, pressing her down to the floor.
"Just why are you nagging me?" she wheezed.
"Because I love you, that's why." He landed a solid kiss on one flushed cheek and then, no matter how she twisted and jerked beneath him – one more on the other. "Because technically I'm already your husband anyway, that's why." One more sound 'muah', this time on the nose. "And lastly because you will never get rid of me, so why drag it out?"
His arguments looked really logical and Kumiko tried to find some objections, but couldn't. Maybe because their current position left no room for them.
"But you'll have to marry into my family," she finally flung up at him.
"No problem. Don't fancy my own last name anyway." he shrugged from above, and once again Kumiko realized that she had no escape.
"…No escape," she thought, happily stepping onto the path covered with rose petals. By her side, sniffling loudly and wiping his nose with a big checked handkerchief, Kyou-san, as a substitute father, walked her down the aisle where – in a white suit and red hair – her groom waited with the shadow of a smile on his face.
Her former student.
Her future husband.
The end. :)