Author's Note: It snowed way too much this year where I live; last year we only had two really big storms, but all the storms this year have closed roads and such. I don't really mind. Time's been going by too quickly, these days, and the snow days gave me a few extra days to kind of... embrace time. Anyways, I remember that when the first snow fell, I was kind of sad that I was by myself. It's the kind of thing that's only fun if you have someone to share it with. It's still pretty, but... you know, it's different.
I'm not sure I like this ending. Feels like it's missing something. But I'll make it up next update (whenever that may be).
Some of these probably deserve to stand alone as one-shots. I'm sure I've said that before, but it's more of a "as much as I love Takari, I refuse to have 100 closely related stories published when I can have them all in one". So, sorry for those who have messaged and will probably continue to message me pointing out that these aren't really drabbles. I know that. I also don't entirely care.
Oh, To Be That Snowflake...
The sky was smeared with shades of gray that hung low over Odaiba district, drawing wondering eyes towards the clouds throughout the day. Takeru, for one, sincerely hoped that it wouldn't rain. The breeze was chilly, and he had to walk again. He'd promised Hikari a day, just the two of them. As the end of the marking period approached, their workload had nearly tripled. They hadn't had any time to do anything but study, and after a while even dutiful Hikari was having a hard time concentrating.
"I need a break," she had said, only the day before. She had pushed her books away from her and run her fingers through her hair, which was longer than he had ever seen her wear it – Mimi's persuasion, probably. It was the first time he had realized how it brushed against her collar bone because he had to stop himself from reaching out and touching it.
"Same. But this is the last of the papers," Takeru had said in a falsely cheerful voice. Hikari smiled a small smile in reply.
"We've still got to study for English," she reminded him, patting the still-unopened grammar book. "The test is Friday, remember?"
How could he forget? "You hardly need to study," he scoffed. She raised her eyebrows. "But I do," he mumbled, sighing loudly. She patted his arm sympathetically.
"I still don't get why you're so good at French, but English…" She shook her head, baffled.
"I've told you," Takeru said defensively, "the grammar structure is different. And I grew up knowing French. English… I make stupid mistakes."
"Well, I'll study with you. Thursday, we'll only speak in English," she promised. "We can even webcam with Mimi. It'll be fun." She spoke in that soothing voice most people would reserve for a temperamental child. Immediately, he felt a little embarrassed for his irritation.
"Alright," he said, conceding. He slumped down in his chair and yawned. It was nearing 9:30, and he still had to get home, shower, and find something to eat before bed. They had ordered pizza, but his stomach was still gurgling hungrily.
"After a break," Hikari said firmly. She closed her books for the night. "Tomorrow, let's go to the park."
Takeru raised his eyebrows. "The old people place?"
She scowled. "Just because there isn't a playground, doesn't mean it's for old people."
"It kind of does," Takeru teased.
"Shut it." She took a sip from her mug of peppermint tea – her sixth mug, which proved she was even more stressed than she was admitting. "We used to hang out under the bridge, remember?"
"True." He took the mug from her hand, and she blinked. It was empty. "That was a while ago though. Want another," he asked, raising the mug a little. Although she looked a bit embarrassed, she nodded, and Takeru got to his feet with a groan of exaggerated effort.
"It was," she agreed wistfully, leaning her elbow on the table and cupping her cheek with her hand. "In Junior High, wasn't it?"
"With Miyako, Daisuke, and Iori." Takeru went into the kitchen, rinsed the mug out of habit, and reached for the kettle. There was just enough water left for a single cup.
"Before Miyako got a second job right after school."
"And Daisuke joined the high school soccer team."
"And he got a job too, remember? Coaching the elementary kids."
"And Iori got a girlfriend."
"Whatever happened with them, anyway," Hikari asked, lowering her hand. "He never did tell us."
"I didn't ask. You know how much he hates prying," Takeru shrugged.
"Yeah." She sighed, and her voice trailed off into silence that, for a few minutes, was interrupted only by the soft clink of the spoon against the side of the mug as Takeru stirred in two sugars and wrung the tea bag.
He had handed her the mug as he took his seat again, although neither made a renewed effort to crack open their books. Hikari tried to hide a yawn behind her mug, but was unsuccessful. There wasn't much about her that Takeru didn't notice.
"After school tomorrow, under the bridge," Takeru reminded her. She blinked, then smiled brightly.
"Alright. We can walk together," she suggested, but he shook his head.
"I have a doctor's appointment, so I'm cutting out of last block early. But I won't be too long, so I'll meet you there," he promised. Although she had looked a little disappointed, she had nodded. That would be the plan.
And that was why, sitting in the doctor's office while his mother discussed payment and insurance cards with the office secretary, Takeru was staring out the window with a faint frown tugging at the corners of his lips.
"Are you feeling alright?"
At first, Takeru didn't think the words were meant for him. Only when he looked around, not having heard a reply, and realized that the only other person in the room was a young mother in her twenty-somethings bouncing a tearful, red-faced little boy on her lap, did he realize that the question was meant for him. He blinked. The woman was watching Takeru, eyes dark with concern.
"What?" He asked stupidly. "Um, yeah. Fine. I was only here for a physical – fit as a fiddle, the doctor said." She smiled faintly, although he wasn't sure if it was out of relief or disbelief. Hikari got the same look in her eyes sometimes.
"I wonder if it'll snow," she mused, following where Takeru's gaze had been directed. "It's a bit early in the season, but the clouds look too pale for rain. Too low for nothing at all."
"I hope not," he admitted, glancing out the window again. "I have to meet someone once I leave here."
"A girlfriend," she guessed curiously. Takeru could feel his cheeks burn.
"A friend. My best friend," he corrected, stammering over the words in his haste to get them out, to clear up the misconception, to drown out the voice in his head that said "I wish" in a voice that sounded disturbingly similar to his own and at the same time strangely unfamiliar.
"I see." She smiled another smile alarmingly reminiscent of Hikari's 'if you say so' look. "Well, then. Hopefully the snow will pass us by and you'll have clear skies."
"Hopefully," he agreed. His cheeks still felt hot when his mother reemerged a few minutes later; although their blush must have died away, for she didn't seem to think he looked feverish like the poor boy that was just called into the office.
"Do you want to go for something to eat," she asked, adjusting her purse on her shoulder. "I was thinking…"
"I told you, Mom, I'm meeting a friend. Didn't I," he added, for he felt a little bad. She blinked, seemingly taken aback.
"Oh. Right. I forgot about that," she admitted, frowning a little. His mother wasn't the sort to 'forget' anything, which meant he had forgotten… which made him feel kind of worse.
"Dinner," he suggested.
"Alright." She looked marginally more cheerful with this arrangement. She hadn't looked very happy since he got his first university introduction letter, telling him everything about the campus and nothing about the education. Although he still had a couple years to go before Uni, she had said she felt old thinking of her youngest baby getting ready for 'the real world'. Dinner, simple meals together, were important to her.
"Awesome." He smiled and got to his feet, picking up his jacket as he did so. "I'll see you later then. Six, right?"
"Are you walking?"
"It's not that far." That was a yes. "I told a friend I'd meet them after school let out. I should make it there just in time to meet them." Hikari. Her. He had no idea why he wasn't telling his mother who, exactly, her son was meeting up with. Who knew what sort of possibilities were running through her mind? But for some reason, he wanted this afternoon to be literally about him and his best friend, no outside forces – including invitations from his mother for Hikari to join them for dinner, or to come to the apartment, anything else that would make this day less than about the two of them catching up without quizzing each other on facts and equations and names of people long dead.
"Alright. Six, Takeru. And for goodness sake, call if you're going to be late," she reminded him, her voice rising in an effort to be heard across the growing distance between them. In reply, all Takeru did was raise a hand overhead and step into the stairwell, vanishing behind the brown-painted metal door as it clanged closed behind him.
He took the stairs three at a time until he nearly lost his balance and toppled forward; even then, he took them at two. It wasn't that he feared he'd be late, for he still had a little bit of time. Final block would only just be getting out, and Hikari still had to make the walk herself. But he felt like moving, and it took all his effort to not enter a jog or a sprint, reminding himself that it was "only Hikari" – although even in his head the words sounded like a lie – and he'd be nothing but bored if he got there too early. But the blast of cold air that smacked him in the face and sent a shiver along his spine did nothing to help his resolve to take his time. If anything, it made him want to run farther, faster, just for the sake of keeping warm.
With a wary glance at the low-hanging clouds, Takeru stuffed his hands into his coat pockets and set off, taking back roads and letting himself look in shop windows as he passed to absorb the time until his meeting with Hikari. And still he was early, for he didn't see her anywhere around when he reached the park – little more than a long stretch of grass planted in the middle of the bustling city, surrounded by walls of manicured green bushes that guarded the park-goers from the reality of Tokyo in rush hour. A river flowed through the center of the park, although Takeru didn't know if it was natural or manufactured. A bridge, however, had been built over it. It was a bridge of memories, although the graffiti marks of Daisuke's "bad boy" phase and other local kids had been scrubbed away several times.
With a sigh that he wasn't even aware of, he shook his hair out of his eyes and made his way down the bank, leaning back slightly to keep his balance. He didn't fancy a dip in the river at this time of year, although sickness might deter Hikari from suggesting meeting at this place at the start of winter again.
He'd barely leaned his back against the masonry when he heard Hikari's voice, warm and familiar, call out his name. He tilted his head back until he could see her, giggling and waving down to him from on top of the bridge. She leaned over the edge, and he had the bizarre idea that she was going to try and jump. But she only shouted, "I'll be right there," before taking out her camera. She had stopped wearing it around her neck, fearful of stories in the papers about a string of muggers and robberies, but she still carried it in her satchel. He saw the flash go off, although he couldn't imagine what she had taken a picture of on such a gray, dreary day.
"How was class," he asked, grinning as he reached for Hikari's hand to steady her on her descent. She took it gratefully, although she stuck her tongue out at his teasing question.
"Rather boring. Have fun making up the quiz during your lunch hour tomorrow," she replied sweetly, barely missing a beat.
Takeru cringed. "Don't we have a test Friday though," he asked, feeling rather indignant.
She shrugged, depositing her bag against the bridge. "Sensei wanted to make sure we were studying. If you don't feel you did well on the quiz tomorrow, we'll study extra hard."
"Harder than spending the entire day speaking English," he asked. She only smiled.
"Look," she insisted, cleverly changing the subject before he could get in a sour mood. She shoved her camera into his hand, the screen already frozen on the picture she had taken earlier. "Isn't it pretty?"
"Erm," was all he could say, and she frowned.
"Look at the water. Like winter wonderland waiting for the snow," she said with a wistful sigh, leaning against his arm to look at the picture as well, despite the fact that the scene was right in front of them, live.
"Exactly. It's gray," Takeru said, handing her back her camera. She sighed and shook her head regretfully.
"You're getting old, Takeru," she teased, although he caught the undertone in her words that said she wasn't entirely kidding. "You're getting all serious on me."
"Am not. I'm just a spring and summer kinda guy," he said defensively. She patted his arm with a pale pink-gloved hand.
"I think all the seasons are pretty. The cold is cleansing, crisp and clear. There's no smog or anything like the summer time. Clean," she said again, looking at the water. She saw the snow flakes in the reflection first, and looked up to catch one of the first to fell on her nose. She laughed, reaching out her hand to catch another while Takeru watched, arms crossed and head cocked to one side in amusement.
"Come here," she said, laughing. Takeru shook his head, and she pouted good-naturedly before pulling out her camera and taking more pictures – of the snow, of the underside of the bridge, of the ripples in the water, of Takeru standing there, watching it all with a crooked smile on his face.
Maybe he was getting old, he thought as he watched her raise the camera to freeze in time the slowly falling snow flakes. He didn't feel that carefree, childish cheer that came with snowflakes when he was a little kid. But Hikari, on the other hand, looked so like the carefree little girl that she had been when Takeru met her, that he didn't want to join her. To join her would mean to surrender watching, to be unable to capture her in time like her camera did the snow flakes and the flow of the river's water. It was only a flurry; they weren't very thick or very fast, and it was sure to be over within a few minutes. But for those few minutes, Takeru was more than content to count the snow flakes that were lucky enough to hand on her hands, in her hair, on her eyelashes and lips, however unwilling he might have been to admit that was what he was doing.