Legal shenanigans here: School Rumble and it's characters are certainly not my intellectual property and I am certainly no here to make a profit off this piece of work.
He stands, back resting against a support pillar, scanning the length and breadth of the crowd shuffling around him. His eyes bounce quickly from face to face, never waiting long on a particular set of features before moving on. If one were able to listen in to his thought processes they would hear something along these lines:
Asian, no. Asian, no. Asian, no. Ooh, nice legs. Caucasian... but a girl, no. Asian, no. Caucasian guy, but no.
His stomach grumbles as he checks his watch, noting that it's only been two minutes since he last did so. A vein starts throbbing slowly on his forehead as he realises it's been an hour since he first reached this spot covering the largest gate of the train station. He rolls his head back against the pillar, rolls his eyes as far back as he can, adjusts his sunglasses against the slip and snaps his head back into place.
Harima Kenji is grumpy, hungry and more than a little frustrated.
He goes back to scanning the crowd, for all the help it will do. He figures, probably rightly, that he's not going to be the one who finds, but the one who is found. After all, when you're taller than six foot, you tend to stand out in the crowd.
Asian, no. Oooh, nice legs. Asian, no. Asian, no. Blonde caucasian girl, no. Asian, no.
Harima groans as he pushes his palm into his face and mashes it about lazily, pulling it down as he steps away from the pillar, intent on getting food.
"Hello," a voice calls from near his elbow, "You wouldn't happen to be Harima Kenji would you?"
The voice is melodious, with a certain tinkle to it that borders on the edge of his familiarity. Regardless, he figures, it's certainly not the harsh tones of who he was expecting to meet – and the voice is speaking in Japanese, not the English he was expecting.
Harima halts his motion and turns his gaze down to his left elbow. Blonde hair streaks down off a well defined face attached to a body that is partially hidden by the corner of the pillar. A pair of tasteful spectacles frame the amber eyes that look back into his with a hint of mischief.
Caucasian girl, no.
He breaks eye contact, looking down for a couple of seconds.
Ooh, nice legs.
And brings his face back up again, cracking into a grin.
"It sure is me Ojou, what brings you here?"
"I'm in the country for business and supposed to be meeting Suou somewhere around here," the Sawachika heiress begins as she shifts out entirely from behind the pillar, "she's letting me crash at her place."
Eri pulls up completely from behind her side of the the pillar and lounges against the wall in the same spot Harima occupied barely ten seconds previously. He shrugs, squares himself up and learns into the wall next to her, giving the appearance that both people are old friends who catch up all the time, despite how far from the truth that really was.
Seven years since high school graduation and this is the first time they've seen each other since then, but a passer-by wouldn't be able to tell that.
"But then," Eri continues on, "my phone ran out of charge on the train from the airport, so I used my notebook to grab her number from my email and was looking for a pay phone when I saw you."
Harima chuckled and dug through the pockets of his jeans, fishing past a set of keys before latching onto his phone. He thrusts his spare hand in front of Eri.
"Gimme her number."
Eri looked up at him, mirth flowing into her face and into her voice. "And what if I want to call her?"
"Too bad. My phone, my rules," he shoots straight back at her deadpan, taking the piece of paper offered and deliberately ignoring the tongue poked out of her mouth.
He takes a few moments to program the number into his phone. It's kind of odd, he reflects, as his fingers dance over the keypad. The only person he's really stayed in touch with after school was Karen Ichijou – first through Imadori, then when he went bad and broke her heart, Harima ended up coincidentally doing security gigs at livehouses where her band used to play. One night she had a bit too much after coming off stage and stole his phone out from under him, sucked the profile information onto hers and finally swept away to the dance floor with a kiss on his forehead and some drabble about calling her for a good time.
He remembered getting a chuckle out of that one – how was he supposed to call her when she was the one with his phone number – but she called and apologised the next day and even now they catch up once a month or so. More than the rest of his old friends in any case, most of whom had either accidentally or deliberately lost contact details when changing phone, shifted town or for varying other reasons.
Finally finishing the data entry, he snaps the phone up to his ear and dials, handing the piece of paper back to Eri.
Huh. Funny what time does to people. She was always Ojou, never Eri.
"Hey Suou, this is Harima."
Eri watches as he pauses and rolls his eyes.
"Yeah, that Harima. How's life?"
Eri notices him tapping his feet as he listens to the answer, his body language relaxed and casual. It kind of reminded her of how he used to behave, only now it doesn't seem so forced. Harima rolls his eyes again as the response drags on. She cracks into a broad smile as he mouths the words 'life story' to her.
"Haha yeah, about that," Harima finally finds a place to interject, "I've found a lost item that belongs to you. It's got blonde fur..."
Harima gives her a once over, his eyes sparking with mischief. A grin splits his face as Eri finds her turn to roll her eyes, while at the same time smiling back good naturedly.
"About one hundred and sixty centimetres tall, B-cup, and I'm guessing about fifty five kilograms. Does this sound like yours?"
Even as he says this, his eyes scan the crowd again and come up negative. When is that damn guy gonna show?
"Yeah thought so. Look, I can't shift at the moment and she looks pretty lost so I'll hang onto her until you get around here. We're at the south gate, you can't really miss us."
"OK, catch you in five minutes then. Later!"
With a practised flip, he shoves the phone back into the fold of his pockets, and yelps in surprise when Eri leans in to steal the sunglasses off his head. Idly she studies them, flipping them over once to check both sides.
"You know Harima," she begins as she slides them back over his ears, "if I didn't know any better I'd say those glasses cost more than the rest of your outfit."
Harima recovers his grin an opens his mouth to make a witty reply, but Eri talks straight over him, drowning the first syllable. He lets it die.
"Who are you waiting for out here anyway? Obviously not me."
"Obviously not indeed, last I heard you were on the other side of the globe," he rumbles out, slightly indignant. "I was supposed to be meeting a Mexican friend of mine – he's passing through Japan for a few days so I offered him a place to crash."
Eri suppresses the urge to come back with a smart mouthed reply and neutrally enquires as to how long he's been waiting.
Harima quickly scans the crowd again, not bothering to check his watch.
"About an hour aaaaand blow me if that isn't him now," he replies. His eyes light up as he strides away from the wall, long legs and powerful strides quickly taking him away from Eri who has to put some skip in her step in order to keep up. Eri quickly spots what she assumes is the target – a young caucasian adult, black hair, brown eyes, closer to her height than Harima's, a heavy duty backpack strapped over his shoulders, looking about the crowd.
To sum this person up in a word – ordinary.
The traveller spots Harima as the tall man barges through the crowd, waving. The two men meet up in the space of seconds, hands waving, eyes shining and handshakes flying. Eri catches up with them as Harima kicks into English.
"Hey man, long time no see! You're looking good as usual," Harima says, a touch of excitement blowing away his frustration as the two begin a short but animated greeting conversation.
His English was an unusual mix of the typical Japanese accent that was imprinted over the five years of middle and high school and was that something American she detected? It certainly wasn't deep south but she couldn't pick it. Regardless, he wasn't stuttering or pausing and never required his friend to repeat words, so she supposed somewhere down the line he became fairly fluent.
At some point Harima remembered that Eri was in tow and introduced then, but his name went in one ear and out the other. Ramon or Rafael or something like that. She was about to ask for clarification but he was already breaking the handshake and chatting to Harima again.
There were a lot of things Eri wasn't used to in this world – and it had been a while since she had been flat out ignored. Once she finished university she had become a freelance financial consultant and in the beginning had landed a few contracts due to her father's reputation. However, once her foot was in that door, she began to carve a fearsome reputation based off her ability, and you didn't get to that level by having people ignore you.
Likewise, when she got time off to be social her well proportioned figure and natural hair colour tended to attract attention. Usually of the wrong kind, but that didn't stop her squeezing a few drinks out of clueless males back in university.
So finding herself on the backburner was an unusual experience to say the least. Boredom crept into her expression slightly, but there was something relaxing about not having to perform to people's expectations, even if only for a minute or so. As such, she just sat there listening to the two boys talk through the meaningless conversation topics that are brought up between two people who haven't met in a while.
Harima had just burst into laughter over some anecdote presumably involving a mutual friend when Eri spotted a familiar mop of blue hair bouncing through the crowd, angling towards the mismatched trio. Mikoto made eye contact with Eri and waved, prompting Eri to raise a hand in reply. Harima caught the motion and turned to scan the crowd, also spotting Suou, who had finally pushed through the crowd and enveloped Eri in a chest crushing embrace.
"Suou," he starts, switching back into Japanese as the two girls separate "long time no see!"
"You too," comes the reply, "and look at you! You look as though you haven't changed since high school!"
"Well, can't argue with that," says Harima, well aware that he'd done almost all his physical growing before leaving school. "This is Raul by the way," Harima indicates the Mexican, "he's from Mexico and doesn't speak a lick of Japanese, so I hope your English or Spanish is passable," he ends with a chuckle.
Inside Eri's head, gears whirr as she tries to file away the name. Gears catch and crash as she forgets it.
Suou turned to the foreigner and introduced herself in English, who responds in kind. Harima notices Suou eyeing him up and down for a bit longer than would usually be considered polite, but shrugs it off – Suou always had a brash streak in her from what he could remember.
Suou immediately turns back to Harima and Eri. "So looks like there's a lot of catching up to do here. Harima, do you two have any plans?"
When the big man shakes his head in response, she continues.
"Want to go to a pub and grab a few beers to catch up?"
Eri raised an eyebrow at this – their plan was to head back to Suou's place straight away. Having said that, a good general is always ready to alter her plans, so she figured Suou was doing just that. There was a ridiculous amount of luck involved in finding Harima at this place at this point in time, so why not make the most of it?
Eri nodded in approval and Harima turned to translate out the question. The foreigner's eyes lit up and his smile widened at the word beer. Without waiting for Harima to reply, Suou turns and leads off through the crowd. Eri falls in beside her but before she can start up any conversation, Harima pipes up from behind them.
"You know Suou, I didn't pick you much for a drinker."
"I'm a grad student now Harima," she replies, "and people just don't take grad students seriously unless they have an alcohol problem."
"Hu-uh, that's a nuance of academia I hadn't heard of before."
"Yeah, we keep that one secret from the plebs."
The pub fit the image of the Japanese izakaya almost to a tee. The pricing was cheap, the interior was poorly designed and judging by the familiar tone used by the staff, it was apparent Mikoto was a favoured repeat customer.
The four of them were happily ensconced in an out of the way table in the corner, Mikoto and the Mexican sitting across from Harima and her, not by choice. When Mikoto had lead them to the table she offered the first seat to whats-his-name, then effectively shoulder charged through Harima, who was trying to follow his friend in.
From that point on it was fairly obvious what Mikoto was up to, constantly feeding beer into the poor foreigner until he was more than half tipsy, then getting touchy-feely. Eri recognised the game as one she's played a few times before. Firstly there were light shoulder bumps and apologies as she reached for the menu, gradually escalating into provocative poses and probably soon to culminate in – ah, there it is – the hand on a leg and gentle lean in.
"So, how long do you think it's been since Mikoto last got some," she mutters sideways towards Harima, covering the motion of her speech by stripping some meat off a skewer in front of her mouth.
"Not long enough to forget the tricks, but long enough to want to use them," he shoots back from behind a half empty mug of beer. He shrugs. "Six months?"
She returns the shrug and watches him finish off the beer, zoning out for a few seconds before realising his count is actually one behind her own personal tally. Not what she expected from the loud, outspoken, straightforward delinquent she remembered from her high school days. Half out of interest, half out of the desire to not pay attention to Mikoto fall all over her new entertainment, she enquired as to what Harima got up to once out of school.
"Well, I worked on my manga for a while, supporting myself by running as security for a couple of clubs in Shibuya," he says, snatching some grilled chicken from a plate in front of Eri. It's been two and a half hours since they first made it here, which means he's going to have to make a decision soon about whether to catch the last train back or hit the clubs until morning.
"I kept pitching my ideas but couldn't get anyone interested. Eventually went overseas for two years, working short term contract jobs in order to see other countries," the big man continues. It's clear Suou will be kicking on with Raul if she can get her way, and if he's any judge, she will. He turns to size up Eri, noticing that she's idly twisting one of her long curls as she slowly sips from her half full beer.
"Eventually I sold The Underfiring Gambler and ended up writing manga full time, but I still do contract security work every now and then. It's handy to have a reputation in business sometimes."
He watches Eri nod in reply, suddenly realising his last sentence was a direct quote from Eri's tale an hour ago. He flags down one of the staff, realising he's at that damn point in the night where he has to decide whether to kick on or not. He looks at across the table as Suou energetically yells for two more beers, and then back to Eri who seems slightly zonked out. Jet-lagged maybe? She waves the old waiter's attention to Harima. Well, at this point it's either beer or...
The old man smiles, marks a few notes on their bill and bustles off.
"Water? You pansy," Eri chuckles.
He huffs good naturedly in response and the conversation resumes for another fifteen minutes, at which point Harima starts looking around for his jacket.
"Hey Eri, you good to make it back to Suou's joint by yourself? Looks like she'll be a bit late tonight," Harima says, nodding towards Suou who now is now racing his Mexican friend to the bottom of their beer.
"I... should be alright," she responds, mentally making a note to a) haul a key and directions out of Suou and b) punch aforementioned friend in the face tomorrow morning.
Harima, already standing, rolls his eyes. "Nice try, I bet you don't even know where she lives."
Eri turns to finish off her beer, and mutters something about her poor poker face into the empty mug before setting it down.
"Look, if you're not worried about me jumping you or anything, you can crash on my floor tonight. Only, well, the last train leaves in ten minutes so you've got about thirty seconds to decide."
This was the same Harima who she had spent a night with on the floor of a shrine back in high school, the same Harima who helped give her enough of a backbone to stand against her father's expectations coming out of school, the same Harima whom she felt ridiculously comfortable about simply being herself around.
People may change, but the core of his personality appeared to be the same as it was seven years ago, straightforward and honest, without the annoying contradictory tendency to worry about what his friends thought of him.
And besides, she could simply flatten him if he tried something stupid.
"You do try anything funny and it'll be your bruised arse on the floor," she says, grinning and reaching around to grab her travel cases.
Harima grins in reply and switches to English to call across the table. "You hear that Suou? We're doing a hostage exchange."
Suou grunts and turns unfocussed eyes away from her prey and towards Harima, who continues to look amused.
"Whaa?" She replies in her halting English, something born from the requirement of graduate students to understand enough of the language to pass by.
"You take Raul out tonight, show him the nightlife and make sure he gets a bed somewhere," he says, leaving the obvious unsaid. Suou's eyes light up as she twists her arm further into the arm of tonight's toy. "In return, I'll get Eri to my joint where she can sleep on the floor. Buzz me tomorrow when you're awake and we can trade back."
"Harima," she slurs slightly, "you're a good friend."
"Don't I know it."
With that, Eri finishes rounding up her gear and the two leave, sliding some cash on the table on the way out.
"I must admit, I was expecting your place to be more of a cesspit than it actually is."
"Gee, thanks," Harima replies wryly.
It's a single room studio apartment, typical of someone living solo is the bustling metropolis of Tokyo. The only testament to the messiness she was expecting is a full laundry hamper in the corner. A low circular table adorns the middle of the room, offering views towards a small TV or a double screened computer on the only other desk in the room, depending on which angle the sitter takes.
Harima indicates a corner of the room where she can put her bags, which she does as he drags the circular table to the remaining spare corner and pulls a pair of futons out of the cupboard.
"Mind if I take a shower now?" she asks.
"Go for it. Hot water takes a while to come through," Harima replies, waving her towards a portal presumably leading to the bathroom. The blonde digs through her travel case, eventually coming up with some toiletries and a set of light sleeping clothes before heading towards the shower.
Upon her return she finds two futons set up on the floor, Harima lounging on one in boxers and a singlet, nose in a book. He looks up and back down again.
"Whacha reading," she enquires out of politeness as she stretches herself into the other futon.
"A book on quantum physics – it's research for a new sci-fi idea I've got floating around. Can't really make sense of it though, it's all maths."
"Sounds like fun."
"It really isn't. Am I good to kill the lights?"
Eri nods in reply. "You aren't gonna brush your teeth?"
He grunts by way of reply, using his elbow to indicate a toothbrush and toothpaste near the sink that she didn't notice the first time around.
"Huuuu~uh," Eri manages before the the lights go off.
Despite being several beers down and it pushing one in the morning, sleep just doesn't seem to be happening for Sawachika Eri. For the next hour or so she restlessly tosses and turns, trying to find a position that will allow her to sleep easily. Eventually with a frustrated grunt she kicks off the covers and glares at the ceiling, mentally cursing the world in general.
At which point the other mass of muscle and blanket that composes the other futon rumbles into life.
Eri sighs and scoops a sheet around her as she stands up. Her night vision is good enough to see that Harima is lying on his side with his back away from her. She covers the metre and a half separating their futons and positively plonks herself in a sitting position, resting her lower back against his.
"Oi," the mound of linen rumbles, "Don't make me put your bruised arse on the floor."
Eri responds by half-heartedly driving a fist into where she thinks his shoulder is. The mess of covers grunts.
Eri spends the next few minutes silently staring at nothing, but despite being more relaxed than when on the floor, finds herself no closer to sleep.
"What time does your internal clock say it is?"
"About six in the evening," she replies, "and I slept on the plane."
"Small wonder you can't sleep then," comes Harima's reply. The bundle shifts slightly, and Eri adjusts her position to compensate.
"You know," Eri begins quietly, drawing her feet up into her chest, "I had a ridiculous crush on you in high school."
Under the safety of his covers, Harima rolls his eyes. What brought that on?
"Once I stopped tunnel visioning on Tenma I started to put two and two together. Still thought the answer was five for a while though. I was pretty slow back in the day."
"Hmm," Eri says thoughtfully, "so I guess that means you never saw me as more than a friend then."
"On a good day. You," he pauses before continuing, trying to find the correct words, "really really knew how to push my buttons."
Eri snorts in a very un-ladylike fashion. There were a lot of times she could remember where she had deliberately pushed those buttons for her own entertainment, although his responses had a tendency to annoy her, and more than once their interactions degenerated into shouting matches.
"That's a two way street Harima. You got under my skin on more than one occasion you know."
"Eh, you had it coming," he replies, with a hint of mirth on his tone, and is rewarded with another punch to the shoulder.
"Seriously though, we were children in high school, no matter how much we thought we weren't," he continues, "I like to think I've changed since then."
Eri finds herself half nodding in agreement, but checks the motion. He's wrong.
"I'm not convinced you have Harima," she says, her tone neutral. She stretches her legs out again before continuing, "At your core, you're still the same blunt, honest person I knew you as, although instead of trying hard to be those things, you're wearing them as though they're just part of you now."
She pauses, trying to find some analogy to describe what she's thinking.
"Almost like you've grown into your personality," she finishes lamely, waving her hands aimlessly, even though he can't see the gesture.
The mound of blankets chuckles in response.
"You're waxing philosophical tonight Eri."
"It's two in the morning, I can't sleep and I'm lightly buzzed. Indulge me," the blonde haired girl shoots back immediately, humour lacing her tone.
She waits for a response.
Taking it as an indication that she is indeed being indulged, the Sawachia heiress continues.
"I think," she begins, trailing off before finding the words she wishes to use and restarting the sentence, "I think you helped me become a real person somehow. By not putting up with my crap and pulling my head out of my arse when needed."
The covers stretched out, momentarily unbalancing Eri. Gravity takes hold on the flailing girl, bringing her back crashing down onto Harima's stomach. The man himself is now lying on his back, heads behind his head. He ignores Eri's grumbles as she pulls herself up somewhat, using his stomach for a pillow as she stares at the ceiling.
"Thanks. But I think your friends helped more than I did," he says, scratching the back of his head. He knew he still wasn't good at accepting genuine praise, and the head scratching was a nervous tic he retained from his delinquent days.
"But they already know I'm grateful for that. I didn't tell you until just now," Eri says, finding her turn to chuckle, "Hey, I'm not killing you like this am I?"
"Good," she responds, bashing her head a few times against his stomach, hard enough to make him grunt.
"Anyone tell you you're a smartarse Eri?"
"Quite a few people actually."
Silence reigns for a few seconds.
"I should thank you too Eri, for looking out for me in high school," Harima rumbles quietly, "but, you know, that was a while ago an I'm more of a here and now person."
Eri slams her head into his gut again, grinning in satisfaction when she hears him grunt.
"Fine fine, thanks O-o-jo-u."
"There, that wasn't so hard now, was it?" She says, stretching her head back. Lying down like this was ridiculously more relaxing than trying to sleep on the futon. Maybe it was the conversation? Eri had to admit, she was thoroughly enjoying their banter, and the take-it-as-it-comes atmosphere that existed between her and Harima tonight was a very welcome change from the uptight starched collar airs of the people she usually had to deal with.
"Hey Eri," Harima says nonchalantly, "I've gotta say, tonight has been one of the more interesting nights I've had in quite a while. You said you're going to be here a month?"
Eri mmph's in the affirmative, having just shut her eyes and unwilling to spend the effort required to fully open her mouth.
"Well," Harima continues, "if you've got no plans for tomorrow, I know a couple of nice places that do a good late breakfast, if you're up for a date."
On that final word, Eri felt her heartbeat accelerate and could feel the blush forming unbidden on her face. Despite the surge in emotion, the she manages to inject an imperialist tone into her reply.
"Date? I hope you're not feeling guilty about your ignorance regarding my feelings back in school!"
Harima opens his mouth and lets out a hearty bark of laughter in response, the deep set humour in his tone and the roiling motions his stomach make with each breath infuriating her, raising her heartbeat even higher.
"Idiot," he rumbles good naturedly, "This isn't about school, this is about me liking you now."
The blush deepens as she contemplates his words – there's little doubt in her mind that he's telling it as he sees it, and it's kind of flattering. She knows she's found this older version of her high school crush interesting to say the least, and she'd be lying to herself if she thought she wasn't more than slightly attracted to him now. Still, no reason to capitulate easily.
"I'll have you know that I don't put out on the first date," she pouts, "You ready for the long haul?"
Again, that infuriating know it all chuckle.
"If I was after that I would have tried what Suou was doing earlier."
At this point in time sleep has almost overcome Harima and he can't help but wonder why on earth Eri seems to have reverted into high school mode in the past few seconds. He opens his mouth to point it out and possibly have a dig at her regarding the sudden surge in immaturity but a melancholic sigh interrupts that thought.
"You know, I'm kind of surprised that you can still make me lose my cool," Eri says, "It's a date then. Who knows," she continues pleasantly "what can happen in a month?"
"Who knows indeed," the young man says, "but it should be fun."
No more is spoken for quite some time. When Eri is certain Harima's rhythmic breathing has deepened to the point of sleep she gently picks herself up and gracefully moves back towards her futon.
"Thanks for tonight," the young lady whispers into the empty room before dropping onto the futon, finally feeling her exhaustion catch up with her.
She scrunches her palm into her face.
"Don't you ever sleep?"