A/N: I used aspects of the anime and manga.
Disclaimer: Bartender belongs entirely to Kenji Nagatomo.
Menu of the Heart
As my heels clicked on the slick streets of Ginza, I paid close attention to the speed of my stride. I also hoped that my resolve would be enough for Eden Hall to grant me entrance.
All throughout tonight's meeting I silently prayed that we would end just before the bars in the district would close. If I made it to Eden Hall in time, then I was certain I could find what it is I was looking for.
I was always drawn towards him and his gift of helping people. I'm convinced Sasakura Ryuu is something close to being clairvoyant. Is he a genius because of his mixing skills or the manner in which he serves his customers? Perhaps the answer will reveal why I'm so deeply in love with him.
I hope you aren't mad at me, Ryuu, for bothering you so much. The reason why I kept asking you for favours back then is because I wanted to see more of you. Another "Glass of the Gods". I kept returning to Lapin so that maybe I could be one of those patrons whose lives were changed by your cocktail. I don't believe I've tasted that glass yet, but I know you can make me happy.
My visit to Eden Hall tonight is to test your abilities as a bartender. I want to see if you're able to see through my soul as clearly as you can see through other customers'. To be honest, every time a woman other than me has sat behind your counter, I wanted you treat me differently from them. Pay me more attention. Show that we spent time together on your days off.
What I need the most right now is to experience that revelation people get when they have a sip of your cocktail. I need my spirit cleansed and a new purpose in life. I want to know how Grandpa felt when he drank the Old Pal you made him. It was so strange to see Grandpa sitting in the limo, no longer carrying the burden of those memories. To remember Grandma and the Master with a look on his face that told me he was closing that chapter in his life forever. He told me the night before he died that you were good at reading people, but only when they want to be helped. Maybe a drink isn't really what I need tonight.
My fingers stroked the heavy wooden door of Eden Hall. I've always enjoyed drinking here as a regular customer. But why hasn't this place granted me the happiness it's granted others? Inheriting the hotels from Grandpa mean nothing if he isn't here with me. As for Ryuu, the nightlife of a bartender makes it difficult to see the "Glass of the Gods" on a regular basis. I came to Eden Hall so that I could find what I was searching for. Tonight, I needed to see Ryuu more than anything else in the world.
"Iraishaimase," he said as he polished a glass behind the counter. He looked up and seemed mildly surprised that I had walked into the bar. Relieved that the bar was empty, I took a seat at the middle of the counter.
"What would you like to drink?"
My heart pounded furiously in my chest. I was scared that Ryuu was able to hear it from where he was standing. Hesitant and insecure, I told him the truth.
"I'm not sure."
"Well, then. I'm sure I can think of something you'll enjoy."
I stared at the counter while I criticized myself for coming to Eden Hall. How foolish of me to think that a bar would deliver a miracle. Would coming here bring me to terms with Grandpa's death and allow me to move on? Could Ryuu's drink give me the confidence I need to live my life as CEO of Kurushima Company?
"Please enjoy your mizuwari."
"A water-mix? This is what you came up with?"
Impatient, I grabbed the highball and gulped down one-third of it.
"Is it not to your liking?"
I didn't answer because it was delicious. I became lost in the thought of how diluted whiskey could become such a fragrant cocktail. The flavour was refreshing, mild and had a touch of sweetness. Excitement flooded my veins as I began to remember our first meeting. Wasn't this the first step in Ryuu's legendary cocktail? He made a mizuwari the first time he left me speechless. I desperately hoped that it would do the same.
This time, my silence was for the wrong reason. How unfair.
"No matter how precious the memories...we can never return to them," I muttered.
"That may be so, but it's not a reason to avoid the future you might be able to have."
Taking a deep breath, I downed the rest of the drink. My heart was sinking in despair. The cocktail hadn't done anything I wanted it to do. It didn't give me the strength to forget and carry on with my life.
Suddenly feeling arrogant enough to chastise a young bartender, I use a sharp tone at Ryuu. "Pretty words won't be enough to make me happy. Spirits just get you drunk enough to forget your problems. There's no way your cocktail can do all of that! I've had enough of this."
Immediately, I bit my lip and lowered my head so that Ryuu wouldn't be able to see the hot pool of tears that blurred my vision. Feeling ashamed and vulnerable was a terrible situation to be in, but not apologizing would have been one of the biggest mistakes of my life.
"Ryuu, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean that. I guess I'm just angry because…maybe a drink really isn't what I need tonight."
"No, it's not."
When I tilted my head up to look at him, I found myself drowning in his dark amber eyes, which were filled with such intensity and concentration. Too absorbed in self-pity, I hadn't realized that whatever distance between us behind the counter had diminished.
"A drink's not what you need tonight," he repeated in his silken voice.
Ryuu closed the gap between us and leaned his face into mine. Our lips met, sending a current through my body.
I had suddenly lost all sense of time. What mattered the most at that moment was his hand gently cupping my chin, angling my face so that it aligned perfectly with his own. He parted his lips to deepen the kiss. A familiar sensation blossomed in my stomach while his hand found its way to the back of my neck. His hand grasped my hair almost possessively and I wanted him to take me completely. But Ryuu made the sudden decision to release me, leaving me feeling unsatisfied, breathless and unsure of what to do next.
Blood rushed to my face and I prayed to the gods that it wasn't beet red. He stood motionless behind the counter, contemplating my reaction. I noticed that he wore a faint smile, seemingly satisfied with what he saw. I can only imagine that he saw the desire hazing over my eyes. I began to pray even harder.
What Ryuu should have been able to gauge out of my reaction is that I needed him to heal me tonight. I had slowly begun to realize it throughout the course of the evening. Yearning for trivial things like the "Glass of the Gods" or some sort of magical cocktail were distractions that my stubborn personality had created in order to avoid the raw truth. I was in love with Sasakura Ryuu. Although our schedules clashed on a regular basis, it was enough to spend time like this. Going home together after work would provide enough stability I needed to face tomorrow. This is the life I had slowly begun to accept, because he would be there always.
"Let's go home. You must be tired," I told him softly.
"It's been a while since we've gone to bed together."
My face must have turned a violent shade of red because Ryuu sheepishly began to correct himself.
"You know that's not what I meant! It's just that you're never home, or well, I'm never home and –"
"You're right. The bed has been feeling cold lately," I commented slyly.
He gave me his usual charming smile. Then we started to make our way to the apartment we've been sharing for about a year. Just as quickly as they came, the feelings of inadequacy and grief disappeared. A dark feeling at the pit of my stomach, which I interpreted as fear, reminded me that I can slip into depression over and over again. Suddenly at another loss, I quickly turned to look at Ryuu. He grasped my hand firmly in his and gave me a reassuring smile. We continued to walk along Ginza. My heels clicked on the pavement, synchronizing our strides that were purposeful and in perfect unison.