The final chapter! Hope you like it!
The moon was beginning to rise as the five Mews tumbled through the café doors, exhausted. "We're back," announced Purin weakly, almost collapsing on the floor. Zakuro and Ichigo caught her by the arms before she fell and helped her to a heart-shaped chair.
"I'd better go change and finish wiping down the tables, or Shirogane will have a fit," mourned Ichigo before heading towards the changing rooms. Minto rolled her eyes. "She's worried about work at this hour? More like, she's worried about what Shirogane thinks."
The rest of the girls smothered their giggles. Ichigo returned shortly, clad in her waitress outfit, as Keiichiro rushed in, eager to confirm their safety.
"Girls! I'm so glad you're back safe and sound. Is Purin alright?" he continued anxiously.
"I'm fine, na no da! Just a little tired!" Purin grinned wearily.
"A gross understatement, I'm sure," Keiichiro smiled at the young girl's undimmed enthusiasm. "Ichigo, how is your elbow feeling?"
"Much better, thanks. I think we Mews have some kind of inhuman healing powers." She frowned a little at the realization of yet another uncanny ability they seemed to possess.
The brunette merely smiled. "That's good to hear. By the way, Ichigo, you dropped your phone earlier." He handed her the light-pink cell phone.
"Oh, thank you, Akasaka-san! I probably would have spent my entire shift tomorrow searching for it!"
Keiichiro shook his head. "You all deserve a day to rest up. Ryou's giving you the day off tomorrow."
Various sounds of approval issued from the girls, but Ichigo looked up quickly. "Where is Shirogane, by the way?"
Keiichiro cleared his throat. "He's still in the basement—a bit worn out as well. He was worried about you all," he added when Ichigo looked unconvinced.
"Well, he could at least have come up here to welcome us back! Would it kill him to show that he cares for once?" She stopped suddenly. They were all looking at her silently. Ichigo blushed. "Wh-what?"
"I think you should go see him, Ichigo-san," the chef urged. Ichigo looked surprised but covered it up quickly.
"Fine, I think I'll go give him a piece of my mind! How dare he ignore us after what we went through..." she grumbled as she made her way towards the basement, still blushing.
The others exchanged glances before Keiichiro broke the silence. "Is anyone hungry? I made a little something for you all, to thank you for your hard work today."
"Foooooood!!!" squealed Purin as she leaped off her chair and raced towards the kitchen. Everyone laughed and followed, albeit more slowly. Zakuro held back to watch the red-haired girl wrench open the basement door and step through. Good luck, Ichigo, she wished silently before joining the others.
Ichigo descended the stairs, trying to fume, but strangely enough forgetting why she was angry. She wondered vaguely what she was planning to say. The girl came to a halt in the middle of the room, several feet away from her boss. Ryou was seated in front of a computer, his back to her. "Shirogane..." she began hesitantly.
He didn't acknowledge her, but she knew he was listening. His hands had stopped their movement over the keyboard.
"Um, about this afternoon…" she continued as a deep blush spread across her cheeks. Wait, where did that come from? Wasn't I going to tell him off for something?
She stopped, confused. "What?"
"I said forget about it. I'm sorry I…about what happened." He stood up stiffly, his back to her, then turned towards the stairs without looking at her. "Just forget it, ok?"
He continued his slow, even pace to the stairway.
"Shirogane! Hey! SHIROGANE!" she shouted, a bit hysterically. Tears were pricking her eyes. He didn't stop.
"Wait!" He continued to ignore her.
He froze, one hand on the banister. She was breathing raggedly, wrestling back her tears. His whole body was quivering. Something about that voice, her voice, uttering his name, overwhelmed him. He was powerless, completely at her mercy. He turned his head slowly to look at her, visibly shaken.
"I don't...want to forget it," she whispered.
He looked at her stubborn, tearful face, astonished. She can't possibly mean…A brief glimmer of hope lit his eyes, before the recollection of a certain awkward phone call caused them to quickly resume their deadened look. No, of course not, Shirogane. You're imagining things. There was no way…she was in love with Aoyama…
Ryou turned his head back to face the staircase, defeated. He didn't bother trying to conceal the bitterness in his voice. "Don't be stupid. We both know you already have that Aoyama for a boyfriend."
"I'm talking to you, Ryou. Leave the other guys out of it," she countered. He recognized the line. Again his heartbeat sped up when she spoke his name. He was helpless.
He turned around and slowly walked back to Ichigo, her eyes locked with his the whole way. As he stopped in front of her, she was suddenly self-conscious and tore her gaze from his, turning her head to the side while her fingers toyed with the ruffled edge of her apron. She felt as if those piercing blue eyes could see right through her. She recalled how expressive they had looked after he had kissed her, and she blushed lightly. Ryou waited patiently for her to speak, his eyes never leaving her face. Ichigo finally gathered up her courage to look up at him.
"You see…what I'm trying to tell you is…" she faltered. He said nothing, just watched her, hardly daring to breathe. What am I trying to say? she wondered bewilderedly. That I…liked it? Her stomach danced with butterflies. Could it be true? "I…"
Ryou's every nerve was on-edge, awaiting her next word. But it never came. He could see her struggling for the right words, but he couldn't bear to wait any longer. "Is it possible…you might have some feelings for me?" he asked in a whisper.
Her thoughts swirled. Shirogane? Feelings? A warm, tingling sensation crept over her as her memory brought forth an array of images: Their first meeting. The dance at the ball. The countless times she had barged in his room to find him shirtless. The unexpected kind acts. How he selflessly rescued her from danger time and again. And most recently, his passionate kiss…
Ichigo struggled against her thoughts, but there was no point in denying it. He was right. She felt her turbulent mind settle, beaten.
"I…do. Yes," she breathed, closing her eyes and bowing her head in defeat.
Suddenly her face was pressed against his sturdy chest, his strong arms wrapped securely around her. Her eyes opened in surprise. She could feel his heartbeat through his shirt, feel the warmth of his body…
"You must know that I love you," he whispered. "I've tried and tried to hide it, but I don't have the strength to resist you anymore." He tightened his embrace. "I love you," he murmured, pressing her closer.
He held her for a long moment, stroking her shining red hair, as she sorted out her thoughts. Is this a dream? I'm supposed to be in love with Masaya…then why aren't I freaking out? Maybe…maybe I've had feelings for Shirogane, all along…? Still, I have to explain…
Ryou felt her stir in his arms and saw she was determined to tell him something. He released her and drew back slightly. He had a feeling that he knew what it was about.
He pressed a finger against her lips as she opened them to speak, silencing her. "You don't have to make any decisions right now. I know you must have mixed feelings. I'll wait until your heart can give me an honest reply."
He understood. She gave him a watery smile and leaned her cheek back against his chest, wrapping her arms around him and letting out a contented sigh. He smiled gently, looking down at her. Suddenly Ichigo's head snapped up.
"After how I've treated you…all the nasty things I've said…you really don't hate me?" she asked with a sudden rush of guilt. I know he teased me a lot, but he's never called me the horrible things I've called him…
Ryou considered her words with a small smile. Then he leaned in, slowly, and kissed her softly. This time Ichigo readily accepted, tilting her head up slightly to meet him. It was brief, but very, very sweet.
He looked into her eyes. "Does that answer your question?"
She smiled in response.
He straightened up, but Ichigo's body screamed in protest against the lack of contact, aching for the warmth he had provided. She tried not to show it.
"Now, what do you say we go get something to eat?"
She looked up at him, startled, while a blush crept across her cheeks. "Huh? Y-you mean, a date? But, I thought you said I didn't have to make any decisions right now…"
"Silly Momomiya." He ruffled her hair. "I only meant that we go upstairs and join the others in the kitchen." He turned to head up the stairs.
"Oh," she replied, a little disappointed. Momomiya? Maybe he doesn't want the others to know yet…but after what they saw today, who knows what they're thinking…
Every nerve in his body thrilled at the sound of her speaking his name. He turned around.
"I…probably shouldn't call you that, should I."
He smiled and cupped her chin in his hand, stroking a thumb over her cheek. She closed her eyes and shivered, marveling at the tenderness of his touch.
"Let's keep that our little secret…shall we?" He winked.
"O-okay." she conceded, feeling a little giddy. Looking into those gorgeous turquoise eyes, her feelings bubbled inside her. Ichigo was sure now that she had feelings for Shirogane. Now she just had to deal with her previous feelings about Masaya. I'll save that for later. She shook her head to clear her thoughts and followed Ryou up the stairs.
"So…are we going to act like nothing happened?" she asked curiously.
He smiled mischievously at her. "Unless you want me to announce our relationship when we see the others."
The redhead squeaked involuntarily and blushed once again. "How about…until I make my decision…we pretend everything's the same?"
Ryou smirked and flicked her nose. "Fine by me, Strawberry." He wasn't worried about her decision. Somehow, he knew he had her heart.
"Hey!" she protested, shoving him. "I didn't say you could do that!" He laughed and jogged towards the kitchen. Ichigo ran after him, smiling. They both knew it was all an act. She was in love with him, and he had helped her to realize it. Things were going to be different around the café from now on.
Ichigo followed him to the kitchen door, where she could hear the clatter of silverware on plates and the voices of their friends raised in laughter. He reached down to give her hand a quick squeeze, then let go. "Ready?"
She smiled up at him. "Ready." They entered the bright kitchen, both attempting to hide their new-found joy, while four waitresses and one baker greeted them jovially, and the moon smiled down on the two lovers from its ascent through the heavens outside.
The end! I should mention, however, that I also took the liberty of saying that the Mews heal faster than normal humans. That's just my little addition. Plus, you may notice one of the lines, and one of the description sentences, sound familiar. I don't want to spoil it by telling you which ones they are, but I give full credit to Yoko Kamio and Stephenie Meyer (although the Meyer one isn't an exact copy). Those phrases just fit too perfectly, and I couldn't think of another way to word the feeling I was going for! So yeah. Hope you liked the story! :)