First off, I'm so so sorry for how long this took. I completely forgot I hadn't finished this fic off, so thank you H.Y.D3292 for the reminder! Secondly, thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed this fic. I've got a lot more lovely reviews than my writing actually deserves XD So yep, last part, I hope you enjoy!
DISCLAIMER: I don't own Hana Yori Dango.
It had been Akira's advice, really, that had resulted in them being where they were. His first instinct, on receiving confirmation that Yuki really was willing to give him an afternoon of her time, had been to take Yuki somewhere that all the women he had 'dated' before had liked: an expensive restaurant where a single course cost more than most people made in a week. However, Akira had looked genuinely appalled when he picked up the phone to make the reservation.
"You really think Yuki's going to feel comfortable in a place like that?" He asked, as Soujiroh's finger hovered above the dialling pad.
"I want to show her I'm serious."
"So taking her to somewhere you've gone with countless of your flings, that's going to show her, is it?"
Akira had a point, he had to admit.
"Where should I take her, then?"
"Yuki's much more innocent and childlike than the women you're used to," Akira said thoughtfully, "So take her somewhere where kids go to have fun."
"A play park?"
Akira eyed him scathingly.
"I was thinking more like a zoo, or an amusement park."
So here he was, standing in front of a life-sized cut-out zebra denoting the entrance. Soujiroh's decision to meet Yuki here had been based solely on the fact that the zoo seemed the lesser of the two evils that Akira had suggested. After a scarring experience with Tsukasa's old fiancée, Shigeru, in which he and Akira were dragged along and forced repeatedly onto some of the most terrifying, stomach-curdling rollercoasters this side of the Pacific, an amusement park was definitely off the cards.
Checking his watch again, he wondered absently what he would do if Yuki decided to not show up. It wasn't like her to be late, as his watch was now informing him that she was. In fact, usually, she was the one left hanging around for him. If he'd been waiting for anyone else, he would probably have given up, stormed off, and sent them a text with a few choice swear words, but he couldn't do that to Yuki. She was doing him something of a favour for even agreeing to this meeting.
Finally, a girl, who looked considerably older than the disconcerting number of school-age children milling around, appeared, wearing a white sun dress, her long hair spilling free around her shoulders. She'd look slightly angelic, if not for a faint glistening of sweat on her features, her cheeks a startling red, and as she got closer, Soujiroh could hear she was severely out of breathe.
"Yuki-chan." He greeted her, as soon as she was in hearing distance.
"I-I'm sorry, Nishikado-san." She said, dipping an apologetic bow, "The bus… broke down… had to run."
Yuki, no matter how apparently angry with him, and however much burning hatred she may claim to feel, she was still the same deep down. He didn't believe for a moment she was over him. If she was, why would she have made an effort to get here on time?
"I was worried that we'd be too late to watch the sea lions feeding." She broke through his thoughts, her eyes glancing anxiously down at her watch.
"Oh." Was all he could say in response, as Yuki led the way to the ticket booth, which, luckily, didn't have a long queue.
Two hours later, and the pair of them had both heroically succeeded in avoiding the main issue. Neither of them had once spoken about what had happened at the cinema, or why they were here on this daytrip now. They were both acting as if Soujiroh had just casually invited Yuki out for the day because he fancied looking as some pandas munching through a heap of bamboo.
"Oh, wow, look, that monkey's got a baby!" Yuki said excitedly, pointing to a particularly bored looking creature with a second bundle of fur clutched to its chest. "Apparently it's only a few weeks old." She informed him, reading off of the laminated information sheet on the stand in front of the enclosure.
"Right." Soujiroh wasn't even feigning enthusiasm anymore. It was nice to see Yuki looking a great deal happier than she had on their last meeting, but really, if he had had even the slightest interest in baby monkeys, he would have bought his own private zoo, rather than coming out to this place, with stressed-out parents and screaming kids making it difficult to have anything even resembling a conversation.
Yuki turned slowly away from her newfound primate friends, her eyes finding his hesitantly. It was strange, all the fire seemed to have gone out of her. He didn't sense anger radiating towards him anymore, something closer to… fear? Maybe she thought he was going to just turn around and announce that this had all been a big joke, a bet he'd made with Akira, and of course he wouldn't really date a girl like her. Ha ha ha. He'd really had her going for a moment there.
"Yuki-chan… you do know that I'm serious, right?" He asked.
"I… I think we should get something to drink." She suggested, averting her gaze away from his eyes, and down to his Italian branded shoes. She went to move past him, towards the café they'd passed on the way in, but he caught her arm, and pulled her back in front of him. She was staring down at his hand, like it was burning her bare skin. He hastily took it away, letting it fall limply down at his side, suddenly aware that such actions as that were reminiscent of the cinema lobby confrontation, and he definitely wasn't looking for another one of those.
"Talk to me." He said imploringly, wishing she'd just look at him properly for a moment.
"A-about what, Nishikado-san?" She asked, "I don't have anything to say."
"Then I'll talk." He said decisively, "All I want to know is, do you still want me?"
She seemed taken aback at the blunt question.
"It's not… it's not that simple, Nishikado-san." She said meekly.
"I'm not asking you to show your working, Yuki-chan, I just want the answer. Yes or no?"
It was clear that he was pushing too hard. A look of pain passed across her face as she tried to weigh up her options for what an appropriate response would be. He'd successfully done it again. Hurting Yuki came too easily to him.
"Forget it." He said, trying to keep any frustration out of his voice. "Go sit on that bench over there." He said, pointed to a wooden structure that looked like it had seen better days. "I'll go and buy drinks."
Watching Yuki intently suck at a strawberry milkshake, as if it was something that took up all her concentration, Soujiroh tried to find a way to broach the subject again. Yuki had given him this one chance, this one day to prove that he was serious, that he was someone who could be trusted, that he was someone worth choosing over her steady, reliable boyfriend. Why was he wasting it because of… nerves? It was an unfamiliar concept to him.
"When did you first realise that you wanted to be with me?" Immediately the words were out of his mouth, he wondered why he'd asked them. It was hardly relevant, was it? That was in the past. A long, long way in the past now.
"Shouldn't I be asking you that?"
He hadn't been expecting a response that sounded so much like a snipe. He might have been lost for words, if that had been a state he ever found himself in.
"I realised the day you weren't by my side anymore."
"I didn't think I'd ever been by your side. Girls seem to come and go so frequently from your side, I don't think I could ever be fast enough to squeeze in in time."
Soujiroh wasn't sure whether this newfound frostiness was worse or better than the initial awkward hesitance. In any case, it wasn't the response he wanted. He wanted her to believe him. He wanted to make her trust him. But he didn't know how to do that. How do you prove something to someone when all your previous behaviour has only shown the contrary?
"Those girls were never by my side. They might have been physically AT my side, for a little while, but that doesn't mean anything."
Yuki turned to look at him for the first time since he had handed her the milkshake.
"So where's my place?" She asked.
"Your place… it's not so simple."
"That's not a real answer, remember?" She smiled slightly, as if she was joking, but her eyes were completely serious on him.
"I… I don't know what this," He indicated to the space between the two of them with the hand that wasn't holding a foul tasting instant coffee. "What this between us is exactly. That's why it's not simple. All I know is that when I don't have it anymore… I don't like it."
"I don't… I don't know what you want me to say, Nishikado-san."
"Just say 'I want to be with you', that's all there is to it." He shot her a smile that he hoped was smooth, not reflecting the irritatingly erratic pace his heart seemed to have picked up.
She laughed, turning her head away from him, and it sounded more like she wanted to cry.
"I can't do that… I don't… you're too hard to trust, Nishikado-san." She breathed slowly, and Soujiroh felt it was his turn to respond, until she carried on, "I'm not like you. I'm not a risktaker. I don't like living life not knowing."
"You think I'll still see other women behind your back?" He summarised for her. She nodded. He couldn't blame her.
"I'm done with them. You're the only one I'm interested in now."
"Maybe now I'm the only one… but in a month's time? In two? Six months from now? Even you can't deny you're restless, Nishikado-san, you change your mind like the seasons."
"Then the only way you're going to find out that I'm completely sincere is if you give me a chance."
Suddenly, breaking the moment slightly, as well as ruining the effect of his last statement, Yuki's phone beeped.
"Just a second." She turned away from him to take the irritating contraption out of her pocket and check the message that was adorning the screen. This was a first. Whenever Yuki's phone had gone off in his presence before, she'd impatiently turned it off, whilst apologizing profusely to him.
"Ah, I've got to go." She announced, standing up from the bench and dropping her almost empty milkshake into the bin located right beside it. "My mother needs help with grocery shopping. My grandma's coming to stay, so she needs to get a lot in, and it's heavy-"
"You promised me all of today." Soujiroh said, realising how weak his voice sounded. Almost begging. Had he really been reduced to this?
"I'm sorry." She inclined her head slightly, "But we've talked. I don't think there's much left to say."
She paused for a heartbeat, the only sign that the matter-of-fact way she was delivering these words wasn't actually how she was feeling.
His mind seemed to have frozen. There was no way this was happening. He'd played the scene, how it would be, where they'd talk, and Yuki would remember how much she wanted him, how much she loved him, and they would become a real couple, for the first time in Soujiroh's life.
This was how it should have been. Yet right now, it looked like he was actually being rejected. She couldn't trust him, and wasn't willing to give him a chance. How… how dare she actually do this to him? Never in Soujiroh's life had he been told 'no'. It was a word foreign to his own ears. And coming from Yuki like this, it was like a swear word. As if she'd spat on him and pushed him in the gutter.
"You can't do this." He said, standing up, and towering over her at his full height. "I won't let you do this."
"I'm sorry, Nishikado-san." She said, hesitantly, as if she thought he could blow at any moment. And she was right.
"I mean it, Yuki-chan." He said, trying to not yell, despite the anger that was bubbling up inside of him, "You say goodbye now, you go now, and that'll be it. I won't see you again. I'll refuse to have anything to do with you."
Yuki's face looked taut and tortured, she looked close to tears. He didn't feel guilty. He needed her to have an emotional outburst. It was the only way this stupid barrier, this emotional coldness she'd built up, would break down, and she'd admit she needed him too.
"I h-have to go, Nishikado-san. My mother needs me." She turned away from him then, and he guessed that the tears building in her eyes had overflowed, "I'm sorry."
As she walked away from him, he wanted to be able to feel the sadness of the situation. The girl he'd put his heart on the line for, the girl he cared for deeply, maybe even loved, was walking right out of his life, despite him asking her not to go. Instead of an emotion as pure as sadness however, he felt rage. He was humiliated. He had put so much into this. For God's sake, he'd even burned the book he stored all his previous women's phone numbers in. Yet it hadn't been enough. Not enough for a simple, poor little girl to trust him.
One. Two. Three. Four. Or was it five? He couldn't really remember. He was practiced enough that he didn't easily get drunk anymore, but however much he'd had, it was enough that his mind felt pleasantly numb.
"Sir," The barkeeper addressed him cautiously, intuitively telling that he wasn't in a good mood, "I'm afraid the bar is closing now."
Soujiroh looked up from the remaining liquid in his glass. The man in front of him, with the frightened look on his face, seemed slightly fuzzy around the edges. However, this man's fear was ungrounded. Hours after the rejection, the anger had slowly fizzled out of Soujiroh, to be replaced by a feeling akin to being lost in an unknown city. He wasn't going to cause any trouble tonight.
"Fine." He said, downing the last of his drink, and pulling on his leather jacket. Making his way out of the slightly seedy bar and into the street, he didn't have any plan of where to go next.
After telling his driver earlier that he wouldn't be needed for the rest of the night, he hadn't planned ahead to what he would do after he'd drowned his sorrows. He didn't feel like calling Akira, going to a club and getting intoxicated further. He didn't want to see those girls hanging around him, simpering up to him, those girls that were the barrier that stopped Yuki, precious Yuki, from being able to put any faith in him.
With no cabs in sight, he began trudging along the pavement in a direction he hoped might lead him to his home, to his bed, where he could fall unconscious and forget everything that had occurred that day.
As he walked, he noted for the first time what a dank area this was. If he'd known earlier, he wouldn't have asked to be dropped off at a bar here. After all, it could do nothing for his image to be seen in a place like this, him, the son and inheritor of a business worth an almost uncountable amount of yen.
"Yo." The syllable punctuated the silence of late night air. Soujiroh turned to where he thought it had come from, but saw nothing. The streetlights were dim, some flickering pathetically. It was hardly surprising he could barely pick out a human figure until it came much closer. On approach, it became apparent that it wasn't just one person alone, on a night-time stroll, but a group of men, maybe a few years older than Soujiroh himself.
"I spoke to you. Don't you have the manners to respond?" The man, perhaps the leader of the group by the way the others seem to navigate their own movements around him, demanded loudly.
Soujiroh, having no desire to initiate conversation, began walking again in the direction he had been going previously. He hoped they were just drunk, and would give up.
"Hey, we're talking to you!" Another voice called after him. He could hear footsteps behind him, they were following.
Soujiroh may have been a lot of things, but he was not a coward, he wouldn't run away from anybody. He stopped. Turned. And the first punch was thrown.
A knock at her bedroom door, and Yuki turned over in her bed to glance at her digital alarm clock. She'd specifically asked her mother to not bother waking her. She didn't have anything to do that day, and as it was, the longer she spent unconscious and out of reality, the better. She was slightly taken aback to see the numbers on the clock were only at 3:02.
"Yuki-chan?" Her mother called through the door, then proceeding to open it slightly. Even through Yuki's sleep blurred eyes, she could see she was distressed.
"There's a man at the door. He says he's a friend of yours, but…" She was visibly trembling. She'd always had something of a nervous disposition, "He's covered in cuts and he looks like he's been… drinking." She said the word as if it were something taboo.
"Hm?" Yuki was trying to piece together what her mother was saying, climbing reluctantly out of the warmth of her bed. "A man?"
"Shall I call the police?"
Yuki shook her head, moving past her mother, and going to the front door, running through all the men she knew in her head at the same time. She couldn't think of a single one of them who would want to come and see her in the middle of the night.
The front door was closed when she reached the entrance-way. Her mother must have closed it on her 'visitor', images of armed robbery and hostage situations rampaging through her over-active imagination. Yuki opened the door, and immediately stepped back in shock. A dark figure was standing over her, right in the doorway, relying on the doorframe to keep himself upright. She had to blink several times before she was reassured that what she was seeing was real.
"N-Nishikado-san?" She said, although he looked far from the man she had left him as earlier that day. It was exactly as her mother had said. He was beaten, a few wounds were oozing blood still, whilst others just had brown traces of the dried liquid. In several places, he had the beginnings of what were going to be impressively coloured bruises. Even though she was a good few steps back from him, she could smell the alcohol-tinge to his breath and clothes.
"W-what, what happened to you?" She asked. He looked up at her properly for the first time, further highlighting the extent of the damage to his face. One of his eyes was half closed, the lid swollen.
"I got jumped." He explained, "I tried to fight them off… I don't know what happened. There was too many of them, and I just… they took my wallet and everything."
"You were mugged?" She asked, with an intake of breathe. "Have you called the police?"
He shook his head.
"I'm not calling the police. I've got nothing to tell them. I don't even know how many there were in total, let alone precise physical descriptions."
"Then, what are you going to do? Go to the hospital?"
He shook his head again, just as decisively as the time before.
"No. I don't need the hospital. I came here because I hoped you'd invite me in." He attempted a smile, but it obviously hurt, as it turned into a grimace halfway through.
"I really think you should see a doctor." She said hesitantly.
"If you'll let me borrow some cotton pads and bowl of water, I'll wash the cuts myself. They're not deep."
Yuki stood aside slowly, allowing him entrance. She heard a gasp from her mother who had been hanging a safe distance behind, eavesdropping on the conversation between her daughter and the suspicious looking stranger.
"Go to bed." She instructed her mother, flashing her what she hoped was a smile reassuring enough to make her go away. "It's just Nishikado-san. He's a long-time friend."
Her mother looked like she was going to protest, argue against her daughter being left alone with a dangerous looking and slightly drunk man in the dead of night, but as Nishikado-san came further into the house, any such bravery seemed to leave her, and she scurried quickly back to her bedroom.
"Was that me 'meeting the parents'?" He asked, as Yuki shut the door behind them.
"Don't joke, Nishikado-san. She's never going to let this incident go now, you know that? Every dinner party from here on out she's going to recite the story of the dangerous stranger who came to prey on her daughter in the middle of the night."
"Oh." He said, seating himself carefully down on the sofa in the living room without invitation. "Do you think we should make it so she has something to talk about, then?"
Yuki tried to ignore any other implications of this statement as she went through to the kitchen to prepare a bowl of water, anti-septic and cotton wool.
Coming back to where Nishikado-san was seated, he was taking his leather jacket off, and inspecting the damage to his arms as she placed down the equipment on the coffee table in front of him.
"So…" She said, sitting down awkwardly on the armchair opposite him, as he started dabbing at his wounds with one of the balls of cotton. "I didn't expect to be seeing you so soon."
It came out of her mouth sounding more brisk than she had anticipated, but she couldn't help but be pleased that she'd kept all emotion out of it.
"Hm?" He asked, looking at her briefly, as he passed his fingers across his face, searching blindly for more cuts, and flinching every time he found one. "Oh, you mean when I said I wouldn't see you again?" He didn't sound at all apologetic. "I say things when I'm angry, Yuki-chan, that mean nothing. Don't take it to heart."
"It sounded quite final at the-"
"Could you help me with this?" He cut across her, holding out the cotton bud, "Or I'll need a mirror."
She took it from his outstretched hand after a moment's hesitation. Had he really come here just for this? For her to clean up his wounds for him? That kind of treatment had been exactly why she'd forced herself, with Tsukushi's urging, to move on from him. She couldn't be the 'safe base' for him to come crawling back to whenever life screwed him over anymore. As Tsukushi had told her, she was worth more than that, and deserved a man who'd see it.
"Sorry." She said, as he flinched the moment she started dabbing at the largest cut on his forehead.
Nishikado-san remained uncharacteristically silent for several minutes, and Yuki thought he must be falling asleep. She reached behind herself to retrieve a fresh cotton ball, but when she turned back to face him, she was met with the 'click' of Nishikado-san's phone's camera, which he had poised in front of him.
"Nice shot." He complimented himself, looking at the result on the screen.
"W-what are you doing?"
"I wanted a new background for my phone." He said, turning it around to show the resulting photo of her, bare of all make-up, and with a tired and slightly surprised expression on her face.
"Don't…" She protested weakly, "It looks horrible."
"No it doesn't." He smiled at his handiwork, even though it seemed to cause him pain, "Nothing puts easy girls off more than a guy with a photo of his long-term, beautiful girlfriend as his phone's background."
"Nishikado-san…" Yuki began to protest again, in a tone of voice that she hoped wouldn't give away the slight warmth that had passed through her chest at his words.
"Hm?" He looked up from his phone, and then put it back into his pocket.
"You're making things…" She continued to dab gently at his wounds as she tried to come up with an appropriate adjective, "difficult."
"Don't worry. It's intentional. I'm hoping it'll make you agree to be my girlfriend, you see."
He was grinning, an irritating, self-assured smirk that made her want to punch him. Or kiss him. Or maybe both, in quick succession.
"Are you hurt anywhere else?" She sighed, not having an adequate reply to his previous statement.
He shook his limbs experimentally.
"No breakages, I don't think."
"Good." She said, placing her used medical supplies on the coffee table, and turning back to him. His face was noticeably closer to hers than before, she could smell the alcohol on his breathe. Against her will, her heart picked up the pace.
"Well, if you're okay," She willed her voice not to stutter, "Then I'll just be going back to bed."
She made to get up, but was prevented by Nishikado-san catching her wrist and pulling her back down.
"I don't want you to do that, and I don't think you want to, either."
"Don't tell me what I do and don't want."
"Okay, then let me ask you. If you had the choice of staying, and letting me kiss you, or going back to bed and getting a good night's sleep, which would it be?"
"I'm really tired." She said defiantly, refusing to simply bow down to his demands.
"And I'm a really good kisser." He countered.
"Goodnight, Nishikado-san." She tried to get up once again, and this time was pulled down with even more force, falling right down into Nishikado-san's lap. She could feel the force of his breathe on her cheek.
"I think you should thoroughly explore your options before making a final decision."
His lips were on hers before she'd even had a chance to comprehend his words.
Their first kiss wasn't how she'd always imagined it would be. It wasn't strong, demanding, symbolic of him wanting something more. He was careful with her. He was more tentative than she could have imagined of him, scared to push the boundaries. He had released her from his tight grasp as soon as he was assured that she wasn't going to pull away. His newly-free hand took up residence on the small of her back.
When they broke away for air, he was smiling, but without his previous arrogance. She thought she might have returned the smile, but couldn't have said for sure. This whole moment felt slightly surreal. Had Nishikado-san really just kissed her? At that moment, though, she didn't care if it was real or not. She was more concerned about the fact that it had stopped.
"Hey," Nishikado-san said, as she leant in to kiss him again, "I thought you were tired?"
"Maybe I could just sleep here instead." She whispered, as she gave him a butterfly kiss, still marvelling at how his lips felt against hers.
Yuki's mother shuffled her way to the kitchen that morning with thoughts of what to cook for breakfast, what time her favourite morning chat show was on television, and who that drunken young man from last night was, occupying her mind. Yuki would be barraged with questions over breakfast, she'd make sure of it.
She'd only just decided that some miso soup would make a fitting breakfast, when she reached the living room, and stopped stock still in shock. That man, that man from last night, had not left, as she'd assumed. No, in fact, he was at that moment occupying one of the armchairs, sound asleep. If this wasn't enough, he was not alone. Her daughter, her Yuki, was also fast asleep, and as good as draped over him in the chair, her head nestled into the crook of his neck, her arms around his torso.
It took Yuki's mother a few minutes of gawping to collect her bearings, and continue her journey to the kitchen. Oh yes. There would be a lot of questions over the breakfast table.