Just Another Word for 'You'

Tokimeki Memorial Girl's Side First Love

Himuro Reiichi x Heroine

By Gabihime at gmail dot com

Part Four: I Will Boldly Light that Lamp, and We Shall Walk Together

Ultimately, Himuro reflected, the bath had been a good idea. Although he had been dubious (horrified? compelled? horrified and compelled?) about her proposal at the outset, now that the terrible gauntlet of pink ribboned bathing suit, lavender shampoo, and too much dizzyingly interesting skin had been run, he found himself relaxing in the warm water, despite the day's many and varied events. Midori had been right. A long, quiet bath was just what he needed. It was calming his discordant nerves. Perhaps it was the shampoo with the lavender oil, or simply the fact that she had been so honest and straightforward with her care. No matter his opinions concerning them, it was difficult to mistake Midori's intentions toward him, and yet despite the great temptation of the situation, she had not done anything to him that he could really qualify as inappropriate. She really was behaving herself, as she had promised, and doing her best to take care of him without any strings attached.

Of course, there was another possibility. It was possible that he had already skidded so far down the slope of restraint that he could no longer properly judge what was appropriate or inappropriate anymore.

In that case -

He didn't really want to dwell on it. If that was the case, then he was already like a race horse with a broken leg. His life as he had known it was over, and there could be only one solution.

Still feeling moody and sullen despite the pleasing temperature of the water and the pleasing (utterly inappropriate) memory of pale, gentle hands, Himuro sank into the water and brooded, blowing bubbles like a sea dragon, or a particularly petulant child.

On the other side of the wall, Midori sat on the hard rubber bath stool and tried very hard to read the manga she had brought. Instead she found herself listening to the patient sound of the water lapping against the walls of the furo as Himuro shifted around. Now that she was no longer industriously occupied with lathering, washing, and rinsing, she found herself with a number of new experiences to dwell on with flushed cheeks and a skipping heart.

As terrifying as it had been so far, perhaps the most terrifying part was how easy it had all been.

I could just let myself fall into this, she realized, her eyes shut so tightly her ears roared. I could let myself fall into this now, and never go back. I could give up anything just to stay this way, just to make this time last. I could give up music.

This was the strange and terrifying realization, the one she wanted to instinctively repulse, to deny automatically, reflexively, like gagging on something she just couldn't swallow.

But even as her stomach trembled, her heart had finally understood it. Music was her life, her soul, her reason for being, but she now had a sober awareness that she would give it up, the piano, the flute, even the violin, if it meant that she might stay with Himuro here, in this place, doing only the simple things she had done this evening.

It was not something she had ever thought of before: that she might be willing to give up one to have the other.

Oh, of course she had spent no little time spinning elaborate air castles involving Himuro and herself, in which he composed touching love songs that he dedicated to her, or proposed marriage in a whirlwind of cherry blossoms after having confessed his ardent and long-time affections. She had even imagined a magical and delightful life straight out of the pages of one of her high school manga in which they secretly married and then continued to attend school together, ostensibly as teacher and student, but really as hilariously charming husband and wife. In this scenario she always packed his lunch in the morning and said "Welcome home, darling!" in the evening, and he gave her lots of detention and was always shoving her up against walls and covering her mouth so their clandestine secret would not be discovered by the high school authorities at large.

But she had never really weighed the two things against one another: Himuro and her music. She had never really considered them as separate entities. One of the ways she loved Himuro was through her music. He was her teacher and her music coach, and she loved him because he was both of those things. But in the future, it was possible that he might be neither. Once she was no longer in the care of Habataki Gakuen, would she no longer be in the care of Himuro Reiichi? She had simply taken it for granted that he would always be with her on the path of music. They both loved music so much, had made it a central element of their lives, that it had seemed only natural to her. But what was natural to her, was not necessarily natural to him. She had spent much of her life abroad, learning under music masters in France and Italy, while he had spent his life entirely in Japan, embracing music in his own way, spending his time caring for his students and playing jazz piano in a club on the weekends. If music pulled her in one direction, and her sensei pulled her in another, how would she even begin to decide which to follow?

If she had been asked to think about the situation logically, to weigh all the pros and cons and then make a careful, deliberate decision, she would have simply ended up sobbing noisily until someone soothed her and covered the upsetting choice with a blanket so she wouldn't have to look at it. Given that set of expectations, she would have never been able to make any choice at all, would have simply sat there, crying inconsolably until someone had made the choice for her.

But now she had the answer to the question, with slow, quiet, dreadful certainty. She had not carefully considered anything, nor tabulated any data. She did not even have to think about it.

She could not give up Himuro Reiichi. She would not. It was already a thing that had become impossible.

She would no longer follow her music if it led her one step away from him.

One step becomes two, she thought, and two become a dozen, and then I look back and the gulf between us has become unbridgeable, not because I've stopped loving you, but because we've become different people. Midori thought of Kobayashi Hidemi and this time it was without animosity, just a sad certainty. If I ever leave him, even once, there will be no coming back. There'll be nothing left to come back to.

She thought of Beethoven and Therese Malfatti and her heart trembled. It would pull out her insides to lose him.

It wasn't anything elaborate or embroidered. This time it wasn't a magnificent ladder of perhapses, a dream of fairies and sugar-spun cloud castles where her sensei patted her head (or her bottom) then swept her off in a billowy gown trimmed with feathers and pearls to an altar in a cathedral with stained glass windows showing scenes of steadfast love rewarded. This time it was bare and naked and honest, and it was also embarrassing, because she found that she had fewer scruples than she had previously imagined. She didn't really want a ring, a party, or even any vows. She just wanted him to let her be close. Regardless of the circumstances. Regardless of the cost.

If he asked me to stay by his side, I'd stay by his side, Midori thought this out slowly, finding a new understanding of the words her heart had accepted so glibly before. Now. Tomorrow. The day after that. No matter who disapproved. No matter how difficult it was. Not because of any guarantee, but because I don't have any other way to be.

She looked hard at the volume of manga in her lap and thought about great difficulties overcome with love and courage.

Life is very difficult, she thought helplessly.

"Yumeno," came Himuro's voice unexpectedly from the other side of the wall, "Sing something. Hum something."

It was a short, self-evident command. Her heart smiled, eased from its troubles by his quiet request.

"What shall I sing, sensei?" she asked obediently. She was not a grand dame of the opera, but she would do her very best to be pleasing.

"Whatever you want. Whatever you like. Just sing something. I've been thinking too much."

She laughed then, because weren't they a pair? Himuro couldn't have anticipated the reason for her laugh, would not have guessed the difficult truths Midori had been wrestling with, even as he wrestled with his own, but simply accepted her laugh for what it was: an expression of pleasure (it was also an expression of relief, which they were both looking for).

Although her mind was filled with sheaves and sheaves of the great masterpieces of music, many of which had choral accompaniments, the only thing Midori could think of to sing was this:

"La bella lavanderina che lava i fazzoletti per i poveretti della città. Fai un salto, fanne un altro, fai la giravolta, falla un'altra volta, guarda in su, guarda in giù~ dai un bacio a chi vuoi tu."

The song was so simple and childish, and Midori sang it so earnestly that the difficult mood was broken, and they both laughed.

"That sounds like a nursery rhyme," Himuro observed.

"It is," Midori admitted pleasantly. "Now it's your turn. You sing one."

Midori expected him to protest, because singing nursery rhymes was something Himuro Reiichi certainly did not do, certainly not to an inquisitive student while stark naked and terribly sober. But whether it was due to his recent head injury or not, he did not protest, and she was soon leaning forward to hear him sing the rhyme he chose. His voice was warm and gentle and it all seemed strangely natural to listen to him thrum out the repeating sounds, as if they always sat together in the warm bath trading nursery songs with one another.

"Mama, I'll lend her my umbrella. Won't you please use this umbrella. Pitchi, pitchi chap, chap ran, ran ran," he sang simply, and the song ran along with him, and at the end she clapped.

Instead of responding to this affectionate praise, he simply commanded, "Next."

She obliged, this time choosing a French rhyme she had learned when she was a small girl, and they went on trading nursery rhymes and nonsense songs with one another until his skin puckered and they were both tired from laughing.

When he was finally done soaking and while the afterglow of their companionable laughter was still warm in the air, she helped him out of the furo and back out to the rubber stool in the main part of the bathroom, and proceeded to patiently and gently dry his hair, his back, and his shoulders. Although she was willing enough to be as thorough with his drying as she had with his washing, he insisted firmly that she had done enough and that he could finish very well by himself, seated safely on the stool.

After extracting a promise that he would call for her before attempting to stand, and moving his bathrobe into arm's reach, she reluctantly left him alone in the bathroom to get himself dressed again, although she sensibly left the door partially open so that she might hear if he called for her.

As she emerged from the bathroom she was greeted by musical piping from the kitchen again, and after snagging her apron from her bag, made haste to make sure that their dinner was finished appropriately.

By the time Himuro called for her assistance, she had already pulled down the low dining table that folded into the wall and set it carefully and pleasingly with the simple meal she had prepared. Satomi had brought her an extra bowl, plate, and Midori's own chopsticks from home, and with these extra pieces she managed to stretch out Himuro's woeful stock of tableware so that all of the food could be brought to the table appropriately.

Her heart trembled a little as she went to fetch him back to dinner, because she was nervous that he might not like what she had made. It was all very simple fare, because she recalled how nauseous he had been earlier, and did not want to upset his stomach with rich food. She had also striven to put dishes on the table that were healthful and would help kick start his healing process.

If he had any objections to the meal he made no sign, simply allowed himself to be led to the table and seated. Midori had been unable to find any seating cushions, and Himuro briefly indicated that there were none, so they both sat on their feet on the hardwood, and Midori felt as if she might have been at a tea ceremony, as Himuro very carefully ate the morsels she had placed in front of him in grave, mannerly silence.

Because she did not want to seem uncouth, she ate in silence too, trying her best to match his formal mood so as not to offend him.

Then she realized how silly it all was. They were sitting together, alone in his apartment, wearing bathrobes at dinner. They were not in attendance on the emperor.

She let out a noise that was somewhere between a sigh and a laugh and he looked up at her sharply, as if demanding an explanation.

"Himurochi, I told you, I'm not other people," she reminded him playfully.

In response, he pressed his lips into a thin line and seemed to tense up for several seconds before his shoulders slumped and he looked away.

"Reiichi," he said, his voice so soft that she almost didn't hear, because he had turned his face away from her.

She moved to get to her feet and go to his side, because she was very worried that he was feeling ill again, possibly from the effort of trying to eat his dinner. Besides, she couldn't make sense at all of what he meant, repeating his own name to himself.

He thrust his uninjured hand out across the table, palm flat and fingers spread, to stay her motion, and turned back to face her, although it appeared to be very difficult for him. He kept his eyes on the table, on the food that she had so carefully arranged for his dinner.

"Reiichi," he repeated, a little louder, and a faint tinge of color crept into his cheeks as he struggled to continue. "We're alone, so it's all right if you call me 'Reiichi.'"

The moment he managed to force his meaning out into the air between them, Yumeno Midori's personal time halted entirely.

The earth revolved slowly, and her heart beat.

And then she was struggling to get her own thoughts and wishes out, shy, excited, and utterly overwhelmed by her feelings for him.

"Midori," she stuttered, then shook her head, the color rising prettily to her own cheeks. "Midori," she repeated, trying to get her intentions out. "Will you call me Midori? When we're alone, whenever you like, will you please?"

This request seemed to catch him entirely off guard, although it seemed to her to be a natural progression. He set his lips in a thin line again.

"No," he said flatly, his eyes narrowed.

"But why?" Midori asked, flabbergasted. "It's exactly the same thing! Anyway, we're all alone, so no one will hear you but me. You don't have to say it all the time if you don't want to. Just sometimes. Sometimes, sensei, all right? Just sometimes?" she was wheedling hard now, her hands clasped tightly in her lap as she leaned forward, a knot of anticipation.

"No," he repeated, a little more firmly, the thin line of his lips turning down slightly. "I won't. That is that and this is this and they are unrelated."

Midori threw her hands up into the air in frustration and asked a petulant but rhetorical question. "Sensei, why are you so horrible all the time?"

"I would like to remind you that you are the one who persisted in calling me 'Reiichi' in the first place," he answered her crossly, his mouth still turned down into the sort of frown that would have chilled the heart of many a girl.

"Well, I won't call you 'Reiichi,' if you won't call me 'Midori,'" she retorted defiantly.

In response, the crossed his arms over his chest and turned his face away from her and was silent. He was still frowning - or was he? Was he?

He's pouting, she realized with a start, I bet he doesn't even have any idea that he's pouting to get his way. She sighed inwardly.

"Reiichi," she began gently, "Reiichi, I'm sorry I was cross with you. I don't really think you're horrible," she apologized, and then thought absently, Except sometimes. "I like you the way you are, and I don't want you to be different. I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable."

Slowly, he turned back to look at her, and there was still some color in his cheeks.

"It's all right," he began formally, and then he shook his head briefly, as if clearing it. "I'm sorry, Yumeno," he began awkwardly. "I - "

He didn't seem to know how to continue, so she simply smiled at him gently and shook her head, and he fell silent.

I shouldn't ask him for things he's not ready to give, she chided herself. He's already so good to me.

"Did you get enough to eat?" she asked him hopefully, an attempt to gracefully change the subject.

Himuro nodded once.

"Yes," he said, "Thank you for preparing dinner. It was all very good. I'm not used to eating so well," he confessed.

"I was happy to make the food," Midori answered earnestly, "Because it was for you."

His cheeks colored again faintly and he turned his head to look at the wall as he cleared his throat awkwardly.

"Besides," she continued cheerfully, politely disregarding his obvious embarrassment, "Food always tastes better when you share it with someone."

"I suppose," he said, after a long moment. "It does."

After dinner had been finished, it was all Midori could do to convince Himuro that he ought not put on a fresh suit, shirt, and tie. He would not suffer to sit around the rest of the evening in his bathrobe, as Midori sincerely wished he would, and after some mild argument, it was finally resolved that he would change - with her dutifully offered assistance - into some pyjamas, and thus pass the remainder of the evening in relative comfort.

Midori was relieved when he finally agreed to this suggestion, as she had had to lay into him hard before he acquiesced. She had gravely reminded him that pointless additional changes of clothing kept him on his feet longer and therefore led to a greater chance of a compounded injury, in addition to causing extra work for her. Weighed down heavily by a guilty conscience, Himuro submitted to being assisted into his pyjamas, although he again refused her help with his trousers, instead seating himself on the bed and banishing her to the outside of the half open bedroom door while he wriggled into them.

His pyjamas, like much of the rest of his house, were grey. Midori would have been thrilled to discover that on regular evenings, when he did not have to tangle repeatedly with his eager and helpful pet student, he generally only wore pyjama bottoms, going about in his robe until it was time to turn in, when he slept entirely without a shirt. However, given how his own thoughts had wandered both during the bath and afterward, Himuro felt the need to cocoon himself in as many layers of clothing as possible, although whether it was to preserve her chastity or his own he could not have said.

He had wanted to dress himself in a clean suit and tie because this provided at least the comforting illusion of order, of appropriateness, of propriety. Framing their relationship in the idiom of school gave him something he felt that he could accept, something he thought he understood. Here in his own home, away from the eyes of others, he had a difficult time maintaining the imaginary boundaries he had set for himself.

He had no idea why he had prompted her to call him by his given name, to lose the honorifics he was always insisting on like a charm to keep away ghosts in the night. As if she needed prompting. But he had prompted her just the same, like a child poking a snake with a stick to see if it is dead, and he had found his position in relation to her becoming rapidly unstable as a result: because of what she demanded, because of what she expected, because of what she obviously wanted.

What was it that he wanted?

He had no idea.

...He had some idea.

He absolutely would not think about it.

He found himself constantly thinking about it.

We're alone, so it's all right if you call me 'Reiichi.'

He had stopped thinking of her as if she were a student. That convenient fiction had become too fragile for him to maintain, even with his denial engines running at maximum propulsion.

He was grasping for something to hold onto, anything familiar, something to lash himself to, like a man wandering aimlessly in a whiteout blizzard.

Every step likely led him into greater mortal peril, no matter the direction he chose, and the only other option was to do nothing at all, to remain motionless, and inevitably freeze to death.

He was trying his utmost to maintain a grip on his life, such as it was. Therefore he absolutely could not possibly wander around his house in a bathrobe and pyjama trousers, could not corner her in the kitchen as she cleaned up after making their dinner, could not lean close to her and suggest in a low voice that she ought to call him what he wanted her to call him.

He would not think about it.

He would not think about any of it.

Midori had helped him button every single button of his seldom used pyjama shirt. He had made sure every single button was done up, and firmly, as if the buttons were holy seals to keep his uncertain desires in check, or an aegis from heaven to protect him from her gentle, curious eyes.

At last, he was as ready as could be expected, and called for her to come back into the room with him. He could not avoid her any more than he could avoid himself.

And that was it.


That was the word that kept assaulting his brain.


That was what he could not think about.

Midori was smiling her same, patient smile when she came to assist him to his feet. Honestly, her behavior toward him had not substantively changed. She was the same Midori now as she had been yesterday. What had broken in the course of the terrible fall had been his frame of reference. He had lost his ability to classify the two of them as members of different social castes, as separate and unrelated individuals brought together only by the circumstance of school, who only interacted with one another as teacher and student.

Before the word 'student' had stood out like a warning written in blood, dividing the two of them, allowing him to focus, allowing him to classify her, allowing him to understand who she was to him. Like his refusal to call her by her given name, it had stood as an anchor of his world, as a pillar that held up the sky.

Now he had lost that word 'student,' had lost the ability to classify her, and was unsure what word to use in its place.

No, not unsure. He was terrified of the next word he might seek to define her with.

They were nearly back to the sofa when he suddenly blurted out, "You shouldn't call me 'Reiichi' any longer. You should call me 'Himuro-sensei.'"

He could not look at her then, his cheeks hot from shame and his mind reeling in frustration, so instead he looked away so he would not see her hurt, looked at anything, at the wall, at the closed and blinded window, at the still weight of the silent piano.

And then he felt a small, cool hand on his forehead, and looked down startled to find her standing right in front of him, close enough to seize and carry off, standing up on her tip toes, straining to feel his temperature. She looked troubled, but not apparently by what he had said.

"Reiichi," she began seriously, "Are you feeling all right? You're acting a little strangely. Does your head hurt?"

Although she had been in his personal space countless times during the course of the day, Himuro found that this was one time that he absolutely could not handle her closeness, and made to put both his hands on his shoulders to push her away, attempting to backpedal rapidly as he did.

But Midori, who had been keenly watching him for signs of trouble, felt him move unsteadily and threw her arms tightly around his middle, staggering as she tried to keep them both upright, planting her feet as she fought against his weight and the dizziness that had suddenly overcome him. In one long, confused second she knew that he would fall, so she pushed off with her planted feet and twisted herself underneath him, hoping to protect his head.

Their fall was a moment of supreme confusion for both of them, a tangle of limbs and bodies. For Midori there seemed to be too much of Himuro, long legs and long arms, and his labored breath against her neck and his hair against her cheek like spider's silk. For him, there was impossibly too much of her, too much skin, too much warmth, too much give and softness. He had tried to brace himself up with his one uninjured arm as they had both collided with the hardwood floor, but his strength had deserted him and his arm had folded like a breaking matchstick. The only thing that had saved him from going face first into the floor was the fact that he had landed entirely on her.

Still dizzy and confused, Himuro tried to push himself up ineffectually, but his mind swam as he struggled to sit up, and he collapsed against her again with a weak thump, and groaned reflexively as his sprained wrist was pinned under him.

He struggled briefly, and managed to get it out from underneath him, but before he could make a second attempt to move he found himself arrested by her arms, which she had wrapped around him again, trying her best to hold him still.

"Reiichi, please," he could hear the frantic urgency in her voice. She was pleading with him. For his own sake, she was pleading that he be still. "Please be still. You'll hurt yourself. Just relax. The dizziness will pass. Be still. Please."

He was terrified of her closeness, of her patience, of her acceptance, and he wanted to push away from her, to shove her out the door and then lock it behind her. He was terrified he was losing what he had left of himself, dizzy, weak, and exhausted from fighting. In that moment, he was so afraid of himself, of the future, that he might have shouted anything, might have told her anything, no matter how hurtful, no matter how untrue, so long as it meant she would leave him alone.

But he could hear the fear in her voice, could hear it plainly, even if he couldn't see it in her face from where he lay on top of her, his nose against the bottom of her earlobe, could feel her voice tremble with it in the warmth of her throat pressed against his cheek. It was fear for him, not fear of him.

He lay very still, and as she had said, the dizziness and the indescribable fear passed. He was left as silent and solemn as a ghost.

When she thought he was ready, Midori helped him sit up, moving with him until he sat on his heels and she was confident he could maintain this posture. She crouched next to him on her knees, and looked up into his face, troubled.

"Reiichi," she began uncertainly, her brows knit together, "How do you feel?"

He said nothing at first, then at last shrugged and answered tiredly, "I don't know."

Despite his best attempts, he had somehow not managed to injure himself. His wrist had hurt when he pinned it, but it seemed no worse for the wear.

Midori frowned and tried another question. "What's my name?"

Himuro sighed as he answered, "Yumeno Midori. Please close your robe."

Midori glanced down at herself and found that her bathrobe had become disheveled in their scuffle, and now hung mostly open. She was still wearing her bathing suit underneath so it wasn't as if she was indecent but - she tugged her robe closed and tied it again, her cheeks flushed, since Himuro, apparently exhausted by this latest encounter, had not pointedly looked away this time, and had remained watching her, his face expressionless, as she situated herself.

"Did you hit your head this time?" she asked worriedly.

"No," he said. "I didn't." He paused and thought about it before correcting himself. "I didn't hit it on the floor, if that's what you mean."

Midori's flush deepened as she thought about the implications of his frank, dry statement.

"Reiichi," she said very honestly, leaning forward to cover one of his hands with her own. "I'm worried about your brain."

At this he let out a snort which might have been a laugh. His expression didn't change, so it was hard for her to tell. He said nothing at first, only calmly took off his glasses and cleaned them carefully on the hem of his shirt.

At last he said, "Help me onto the sofa. I want to sit for a little while."

So she did.

Midori watched Himuro closely for some minutes after his fall, but after having gained a seat on the sofa he seemed relatively docile. He was thinking about something again. She could tell he was thinking about something again, but whatever it was he was thinking about, he was unwilling to share it with her. He sat very still and he thought.

He answered her clearly and immediately when she asked him questions, but did not attempt to engage her in further conversation. He wished to be alone with his thoughts, apparently, and she was willing to accept his wishes. After ascertaining that he didn't require anything further, she left him alone in the living room while she tidied up the kitchen and put away the food from their small meal.

When she returned to the living room, she found that he was still pensive, although a little more communicative.

She carried her overnight bag to the sofa and sat it on the ground near him, so she could look up and see his face as she rummaged through it. She unzipped it and then paused, thinking seriously before she spoke.

"Do you really not want me to call you 'Reiichi?'" she asked quietly. He had obviously been upset earlier, although she couldn't say why. She had been calling him Reiichi for months already, for so long that it had become a comfortable thing to say, like a secret shared between the two of them.

He said nothing at first, and she feared that when he did speak it would be crisp and dismissive. She did not fear that he would be cruel to her. She feared that he would shut her out. Having him close his heart to her would be a pain much worse than the sharpest reproof.

She wanted to say to him, Give me detention for as long as you want, for the rest of my life. I don't care. Just let me stay close to you.

But she did not say this, no matter how much she wanted to, because she knew what he was turning over his head was already difficult enough.

After some time, he affixed her with a steady, serious look and said, "Use your own judgement."

Midori was so relieved that she had to quickly rub the back of her hands across her eyes as she struggled not to sniffle. To cover her obvious emotion, she said cheerfully, "Well then, I'll just have to keep doing my best!" Then she began to rummage around in her bag in earnest, something to busy herself as her heart fluttered madly. "I guess I ought to go ahead and change for bed myself," she continued pleasantly.

She had to dig to the bottom of the bag, but at last she dragged out her pajamas, and as the gauzy, black diaphanous cloud fluttered in the air between the two of them, Midori was mortified.

"What was Satomi-chan thinking?" she yelped, waving around what there was of the gauzy nightie like she was a drum major and it was her flag. "I told her to pack my regular pajamas. I can't wear this tonight!"

Himuro, who had finally begun to relax after his harrowing encounter with the hollow of Midori's throat, agreed that she could absolutely under no circumstances wear that lingerie while sleeping on his sofa, and was about to say as much when a wrapped plastic packet fell out of the nightie that Midori was still flailing around and landed like an undetonated grenade on the floor in front of them. They both stared at it.

"What exactly did Satomi-chan think I came over here to do?" Midori shrieked, and then commenced a string of embarrassed and incoherent apologies to Himuro.

As he looked at her, still flapping the gauzy nightie around and sobbing out hysterical, deranged apologies, Himuro could not help but be struck by the utter ridiculousness of their hilariously tragic situation. This was the selfsame girl he had thrown himself down a flight of stairs for, who had cried for him and cared for him to the best of her abilities, who thought of his own comfort and happiness before her own. This was the girl he had been leaning on for so long that it had ceased being unfamiliar and nerve-wracking, although he could not say when he had last leaned on anyone, even for a moment. And although he was familiar with all of her best qualities, he was also well aware of her limitations. She often teased him in a maddeningly distracting way, but this level of premeditation was entirely beyond her abilities. They were most obviously the victims of a setup, and as he imagined Midori's grave sister packing the bag deliberately and carefully, checking its contents out on a little list, he began to laugh. He was not a man who laughed openly in front of others. As a boy, he had practiced remaining straight-faced in front of a mirror for hours at a time, and now as an adult, the most he ever showed in public was the light upturn of one side of his mouth: a careful, guarded smile. He did not laugh in front of other people. But as Yumeno Midori had reminded him this evening, she wasn't really other people, and this was something his heart could not deny. When the world went a little mad around them, he found that he could laugh in front of her, whether they were trading nursery rhymes in the bath, or experiencing the fallout of intense matchmaking.

Midori had not expected Himuro to laugh, had certainly not expected him to laugh so long, with one hand across the bridge of his nose, pushing his glasses up and rubbing his eyes, as if he had discovered that they were the victims of the god who reveled in schadenfreude. His reaction was so unexpected that it caused Midori to stop shrieking and flailing. She looked at him, then looked down at the discreet little wrapper, and finally at the fluttery babydoll in her hands and at last began to laugh herself. Himuro's laugh was warm and comfortable, and it dispelled her earlier fears. She relaxed against it as they laughed together, two alone and content, the paired recipients of the best intentions gone awfully wrong.

They both laughed until their wild, uncertain emotions had been spent. As Midori caught her breath panting, she flopped over on her side on the floor, "But it still doesn't solve the problem of my pajamas. There isn't anything else in there I can wear to sleep in, except my underwear. I'm sure Satomi-chan arranged it that way on purpose."

"She certainly doesn't neglect details," Himuro agreed, leaning back against the couch. "Well, you cannot sleep in your," here he cleared his throat a little unnaturally, and turned his face away from her, "underwear. You will catch cold," he said. He did not need her sleeping in her underwear on his sofa any more than he needed her wearing that negligee.

"I've got to wear something," she protested, drawing idle circles on the floor with a finger. "I'll definitely catch cold if I just sleep naked."

Himuro coughed for several minutes in response to this simple statement, and only recovered when Midori returned from the kitchen with a glass of water for him. She patted him on the back as he accepted it, and asked several times if he was feeling nauseous again. Midori felt a little bad for baiting him, but he had given her such a scare earlier, she thought he could do with a little teasing. Himuro denied any feeling of nausea, and after taking a long drink of water, at last arrived at a solution.

"I've still got the gym clothes I wore in high school," he said. "They're clean and pressed and put away. You can wear those to sleep in."

He was worried she might have some other, more alarming counter suggestion, but she accepted his proposal with a pleasant smile and simply asked where she might find the gym clothes.

He directed her into the bedroom, and named a certain cabinet drawer by number, and she nodded and then set off.

Himuro was left alone staring at the black negligee trimmed with lace and ribbons, and that other thing, which he would not think about, which he would not think about at all. The ease that had mellowed his heart during his long bout of laughter was slipping away and he was developing another headache, so he used the glass of water that she had brought him to take a couple of pills and then closed his eyes to wait for her return as a (hopefully) less dangerous creature.

Contrary to his hopes, when she at last appeared again, fresh from the bath, rosy and cheerful, she might have been a Habataki pinup, although she was not coquettish at all. She was lost in the shirt that was too long for her, and she had rolled the sweats up several times so that her ankles could peep out of the bottoms. The overall effect was charming, and somehow more interesting than even the lingerie had been. In truth, this was when she was at her most attractive: simple, artless, honest, and incredibly difficult to ignore.

She is wearing my clothes, he realized belatedly as he blankly stared at her. Why did I think it would be a good idea to let her wear my clothes?

It was another thing that once seen, could never be forgotten: her slim figure shifting playfully inside gym clothes with his name emblazoned across the back. Absurdly he felt like he was back in high school himself, and had smuggled a girl into his room, and that at any moment they might be discovered by the authorities.

He thought he ought to tell her to keep her voice down, lest they be overheard. But then, that was silly, because he was a grown man and this was his own home, and who was going to hear them?

And this was the most terrifying thought of all.

He sighed inwardly. It was going to be a very long night.

"Sensei, you were really tall even when you were in high school," Midori observed, tugging at the drawstring around her waist. "I had to pull and pull to get the waist of the bottoms tight enough so that they wouldn't just fall off."

Iron resolve saved him from another coughing fit, and he managed, "I trust that you were successful?"

"Of course," she laughed, bending down to fold the fluttery chemise back into her bag. After a moment of reflection regarding the wrapped packet on the floor, she shrugged and then put it back in her bag as well.

With the incriminating evidence removed, Himuro found he could relax at least a little, although he still found her overwhelmingly distracting.

"Mama bought that nightdress for me last year at Christmas time," Midori volunteered cheerfully. "She says that a lady ought to always have beautiful things."

Well, that answered the question of when and how Midori had come into possession of lingerie. Her family reminded him woefully of his own, sometimes.

Although the hour was not particularly late, Himuro directed Midori to a particularly drawer in his bedroom, where she retrieved one blanket and one pillow with which to make herself a bed on the sofa. It was not as if he were forcing his Spartan existence on her. She might have taken a hundred blankets from the drawer and had as many pillows as she liked and he would not have begrudged her.

She took only one pillow and only one blanket from the drawer because that was all there was, folded neatly and crisply, but seeming lonely and forgotten. When she asked about the state of his linens drawer he confirmed what she suspected. He had only one set of bed linens for his bed, and once a week he washed them. When they wore out, he replaced them with an identical set.

It was very much like his sad, neglected kitchen.

She refrained from sharing her opinion on the state of his life, only resolved to show him how much nicer things might be, with a little extra care.

She sat brooding over small things she might do to make his home life more pleasant over the next hour instead of reading her literature assignment like he supposed she was doing.

At last he surprised her by requesting to be taken to bed. It was still early, but it had been a very long day, and she was not surprised that he was very tired.

She helped him to the bed, dutifully tucked him in, and then brought him a glass of ice water for his bedside table. She was about to kiss him on the forehead when she remembered that he was neither her beloved grandpapa nor her wicked little brother and thought better of it.

If Himuro noticed the meaning of her half-completed movement or thought anything of it, he said nothing.

With the door to the darkened bedroom left open only a sliver, so that she might hear any signs of distress from her resident patient, Midori padded softly down the hallway and retrieved her schoolbag from where she had left it in the corner of the front room. She brought it back to the perfectly organized desk that stood in the hallway flanked by neat, packed shelves, and after hesitating a moment, her hand hovering in the air, she pulled out the well-worn desk chair and sat down in it. There was an adjustable desk lamp clamped to the surface of the desk that provided welcome light and warmth. Sitting there at his desk, she could not help but recognize that his world was without what he considered to be useless ornament. Everything was plain, and simple, and functional. But although it was not cozy, there in the leather chair before the streamlined black desk, she felt suddenly enveloped by his warmth, as if he had come up behind her suddenly and wrapped his arms around her comfortingly.

It was strangely not a feeling that made her heart race, as it might have in other circumstances had he done something so astonishing as wrap his arms around her. Instead she felt safe, and at the same time, privileged. She was always discovering new elements of the character of Himuro Reiichi, the sides of him heart that he did not show to others. Whether he had intended to reveal himself to her or not didn't matter, really. She paid close attention to all the subtleties he showed her, and whenever a new fragment of his hidden self was revealed, she treasured it, just as he treasured the strange, small bits of detritus that she littered on him.

They collected one another like curious naturalists, each struggling to classify the as yet unnamed subject of their life's work.

Midori's mouth curved into a slight, accepting smile, and then she moved to unpack her homework.

She had worked silently for perhaps three hours, swinging her feet idly from time to time as she studied the subjunctive mood in her English grammar book and wrote out patient answers to her history questionnaire, when she decided that her brain was no longer in a spry enough state to be useful in attempting to understand the Krebs cycle. It was time to put her homework away and attempt to relax a little before she went to sleep.

Thoughtfully she looked at the black score book that she had laid out next to her homework. The day had been so long and tiring that she almost thought it would be best not to work on it this evening. Surely no one would blame her. But then, her feelings were in such tight knots that she was almost overwhelmed by them. If she did not work on it tonight, then perhaps some of the best moments would be lost, some of the clearest feelings. That was something she could not really live with, no matter how tired she was. After all, there was not really that much time left until - well, until - until she would show it. She would work all her heart and feelings into it until that time. What better place to work on it than here, sitting at his desk, deep in the soul of his life?

She opened up the score book, got out her pen, and then bent her head in serious contemplation and was soon lost in the tangle of her music.

When she at last looked at her watch after completing a very difficult and yet satisfying measure, she realized that another hour had passed. It was very late by this point, and she was tired, having spent all her energy in eventful and exhausting pursuits.

She was not out of sorts, really, but the day had been an emotional roller coaster, and she was feeling a little emotionally overwrought. She longed to let her feelings out through the physical pleasure of music, either at her sensei's beautifully maintained and stately parlor grand piano, with her beloved long-time companion the garnet-red violin, her lively new schoolmate, the shining and brilliant flute, or her new bosom confidant, the pear wood recorder that Himuro had given her for her birthday, but as she had already put him to bed, she did not want to risk waking him even with soft leggero playing. Besides, she was almost too tired to play. Almost. Still, she ought not, not even very carefully.

Himuro was her responsibility, after all. She was his number one student, his private nurse, and after having done his shopping and undone his tie, discovered his secret treasures, made his dinner, shampooed his hair, and at last tucked him into bed, she was fairly certain she was also his girlfriend.

You're the only one I can stand.

She flushed and found she could no longer look at his carefully organized desk straight on, could not let her eyes come to rest on the score book that she hurriedly closed after blotting it. Shy and embarrassed, she turned her eyes to the ground and studied the dark floor, where the lamp cast a pool of radiance. It all seemed pretty straight-forward when considered in light of all the evidence. She leaned back in the worn leather chair and let herself go limp, arms dangling loosely at her sides.

And to think, she'd been so worried about that Kobayashi woman, the one with the eyes that glittered like a jaguar's and the heart made out of anthracite. How silly she was to worry when this very day he had said to her so needfully, Midori, don't leave.

Falling back into the memory of the day, thinking of how often his arresting, sea colored eyes had been on her so heavily, of how he had leaned on her, how the weight of his body had borne down on her, pressing her against the floor, how he had sung nursery songs with her, and said Reiichi. We're alone, so you can call me Reiichi -

The knock at the door was so abrupt that she jumped at the sound and slid out of the desk chair with a surprised thump, landing ineffectually on her bottom. She scrambled to her feet immediately, as the erratic rapping had continued unabated, and although the idea of receiving a visitor so late at night left her panicked, she could not let whoever was on the other side of the door continue to beat on it until her sensei was knocked out of his prescribed bed rest.

At the door she froze, her heart suddenly sick on the fear that Kobayashi Hidemi might be on the other side of it, with her cat-eye glasses and her sweet, disarming smile, ready to cut out her sensei's heart with a gleaming scalpel and put it away in a pretty box tied with ribbons. If it was that woman, what would she say? What would she do? How could she get rid of her? She obviously meant to torment Himuro and disturb his rest. Would the doorman throw her out if Midori called for him? But if Himuro were roused in the commotion, would he let that woman be thrown out? Why had the doorman let her in in the first place? She had probably flashed some sort of official identification and said that she was his doctor or something similar -

Midori might have stood there for an infinite number of rapid, hysterical heartbeats, hypnotized by the random rhythm of thumps on the door, had not an irate voice shaken her out of her delirium.

"Rei'chi, lemme in," it demanded, and Midori realized with a start that it was not Kobayashi Hidemi on the other side of the door. Leaning close to it and peering out the little hole, she saw the shape of the man the voice had revealed and hastened to unlock and unlatch the door.

"Masuda-san!" she cried out, pitching her voice low so it would not carry down the hall to where Himuro Reiichi slept.

Midori was thankful that while Masuda had knocked on the door a number of times, he had not knocked particularly hard, so her sensei had not stirred despite the commotion. Masuda leaned idly against the door frame and looked down blankly at her.

"It's Reiichi's schoolgirl!" he exclaimed as the connection lit up his brain, and she made frantic hand signals for him to lower his voice, which he immediately imitated in an exaggerated fashion, pitching his voice to a stage whisper as he repeated his observation. "It's Reiichi's schoolgirl. I forgot you'd be here. Or I didn't think you'd really be here. I forget," he offered frankly, one hand behind his head as he scratched it thoughtfully.

"Masuda-san, are you all right?" she asked uncertainly, because she was not entirely sure he was leaning casually up against the door frame any more. He seemed slumped against it.

"I am not all right," he confessed earnestly to Midori, leaning down as if to get a better look at her. "I am unfortunately astonishingly drunk, for which I apologize. It is not something Reiichi's schoolgirl should have to see, but you are just going to have let me in, otherwise I'm going to have to sleep out here in the hallway by this plant." Here he toed the ornamental tree in the urn by the door with his foot.

When Masuda had leaned down to look at her, Midori had been nearly overwhelmed by the smell of whisky. It was reasonable, she reflected, that a bartender would end up smelling of alcohol, but Masuda currently didn't smell as if he mixed it and served it, he smelled as if he were some new and unusual liquor-dwelling sea creature. She looked at him, ineffectually propped up against the wall and sighed.

"Of course I won't make you sleep outside by the plant, Masuda-san," she said, moving to offer him her shoulder which he accepted gratefully. Fortunately, she had become accustomed to having full grown men lean on her due to the day's experiences, and managed to get him to the sofa without much incident. He threw himself back on the sofa tiredly, and she returned to lock and latch the door again.

Without being asked, she went into the kitchen to make a glass of ice water and returned to offer it to Masuda who looked upon her as if she were a goddess descended from heaven for his express benefit.

"Rei'chi doesn't know how good he's got it," confided Masuda quietly as he accepted the glass and drained half of it in one long swallow. "If I had it this good I'd already be wrapped around your little finger so hard you'd never get rid of me." He took another long swallow of water and then sat the glass down on the coffee table. "But then I guess Reiichi is anyway, so I guess that makes sense." He seemed to be thinking about something very seriously for some moments. "Did he really throw himself down the stairs today? Broke his wrist, banged up his hard head, all of that?"

Midori was forced to nod, wringing her hands a little awkwardly and utterly confirming his suspicions. "Yes, he really did throw himself down the stairs. He's got a mild concussion and a sprained wrist."

Masuda shook his head as Midori retreated to the kitchen to refill his water glass. When she returned he was already busy unlacing his shoes, which he kicked off and shoved away from the sofa. He accepted the water and then leaned back against the sofa again, moodily staring at the ice cubes as they clinked inside his glass.

Midori bit her lip a little uncertainly, unsure of what she ought to say to Masuda, who clearly had a lot of things on his mind. Her previous acquaintance with him had been necessarily brief. She knew he was her sensei's schoolmate and good friend, and that her conversations with him had been pleasant, if abbreviated. Himuro had always intervened whenever Masuda became chummy with her, reminding them both that he was simply her homeroom teacher, and that Masuda ought not act inappropriately toward a young girl who ought to be drinking lemonade, wearing white one-piece dresses trimmed in antique lace, and thinking of bunny rabbits hopping around in flower fields.

It was Masuda who broke the silence, sighing. "I don't know if I should happy that you exist, or depressed. You've made my life a lot more complicated. I'm happy because Reiichi is happy, because you make him happy, and he deserves to be happy, but she was as mad as a wild cat when she came in tonight. You should have seen her, or maybe it's really good that you didn't, because she was so drunk at the end of the night that she might have tried to shake you apart. She's not used to not getting her way, you know. I made sure she got home safely after we closed up, and you know she cried on me, then she threw up on me, because that's all I'm good for, right?" he laughed and it was a wry, painful sound, as if he were used to being hurt. "She never drinks like that. I tell you, she was angry, but more than that, she was scared. I hate to see her like that. That's why I'm not sure how to feel about you, schoolgirl. I ought to hate you for hurting her, but instead I end up hating myself, because at least when she's scared and upset she pays attention to me."

He had covered his eyes with one hand, the same way Himuro had done earlier when trying to shield his eyes from the light, although now the only light came from the lamp on the desk and the spillover from the kitchen. His mouth was curved into a strange sort of smile, the kind one smiles when facing down despair. Midori's mind was still spinning from the rambling monologue when he confessed,

"And I didn't mean to come here and tell you all of this. I came here to give Reiichi a piece of my mind, or maybe I didn't. I don't know. I just came to tell him that he shouldn't have done what he did, but he probably doesn't think that, because otherwise he wouldn't have done it. But he's out cold, isn't he?"

She had the presence of mind to answer the question, when it came. "He's sleeping," she corrected. "I have to wake him up in a couple of hours to make sure he's all right. He ought to be all right. It's just for safety's sake. He's had a long day. It's been very hard for him."

"I ought to have fallen for you," Masuda lamented, tipping his water glass back again. "Where were you eleven years ago? Right," he laughed humorlessly, "Probably still in diapers."

"In kindergarten," she corrected sympathetically.

Although she still could not say she had a complete picture of everything Masuda had inadvertently laid gracelessly into her lap, she was beginning to get the shape of things, she thought. In some ways, he seemed like a beaten dog, and this pulled at her heart. He had seemed so calm and mature and carefree when she had met him, in control of himself and of his situation, but now, she saw how helpless he seemed, just as helpless as Himuro had been when she had seen him throwing up uncontrollably. Being a grown man seemed every bit as complicated to her as being a high school girl. They were not men of steel. They were simply men.

"That figures," was all he said, as if he had resigned himself to his fate.

Masuda shrugged out of his jacket and threw it vaguely at the coffee table. It landed on the floor, but he simply shrugged and flopped sideways onto the sofa, his long legs dangling off one end. She knelt to retrieve his jacket, tiptoed quietly into Himuro's bedroom, where she checked to reassure herself that he was still sleeping easily, located a spare hanger in the closet, and then returned to find Masuda apparently already asleep. Midori hung his jacket near the sofa and then took the time to spread the blanket that she had laid out for herself over him. He didn't wake at this, but appeared to have found at least a measure of peace in sleep. She was unwilling to disturb him further, so she tiptoed to her little bag, retrieved her phone and its charger, turned off the light in the kitchen and then went to ponder her options at Himuro's desk.

Midori had, up until Masuda's unexpected arrival, intended to sleep on the sofa with the blanket and pillow she had laid out for herself. Frankly, barring the bed where her sensei slept, there weren't many other feasible locations. Himuro's apartment was sleek, modern, spacious, but bare. The sofa, the bed, and the desk chair where the only pieces of upholstered furniture in the apartment, and both the sofa and the bed were most decidedly occupied. She looked skeptically down at the desk chair but quickly ascertained that while it was very comfortable to sit in while doing one's homework, she did not think she would be able to sleep in it no matter how she tried to contort herself.

And then there was Masuda. If she did attempt to sleep in the desk chair, then she would be sleeping only a few feet away from a grown man that she didn't know particularly well. Although she had confidence in his strength of character and was not worried about her virtue, she felt that she ought to behave like a lady, and she was fairly certain a lady would select a more secluded place to sleep.

Not only that, but there were bed linens to consider. She had seen Himuro's anemic linen closet, had heard him confirm that he had only one set of linens for his bed, and one spare blanket that he had given to her for use on the couch. He had, it seemed, only what he deemed was necessary, and nothing spare besides. Although this was very precise, and very much in his character, she also thought it seemed rather lonely. It was as if he never expected to welcome guests into his home, or to receive a friend who called distraught, after hours. Now, due to a conflux of adversity, she knew that there were no other spare blankets or pillows to be had. She had given away what had been given to her, so now she must do without.

Well, that was all right. She had given Masuda her blanket because he had looked as if he had needed at least a little comfort. She was the sort of girl who would give away her last comfort if she thought there were another person in need. She was the sort of girl who has such a desire to look after others, that she really needs looking after herself. This element of her personality both captured Himuro and made him wish to throw up his hands in maddened frustration. If he had been awake at that moment, he would have marched over to Masuda, yanked away the offered blanket, and dumped it unceremoniously on Midori's head. If Masuda himself had been awake, he would have gracefully declined the offer of the blanket and traded her some believable yarn as to why he had no need of it. As it was, both men were sleeping soundly, so Midori had to puzzle her own way out of the situation she found herself in.

There were no rugs or mats to speak of in any of the rooms, and all the floors were either hardwood or tile. She had her robe that she could use as a pillow, and thought that Himuro probably would not mind if she used his much larger and longer robe as a blanket. These were the best bed linens she thought she could manage, and had decided to resign herself to them. Anyway, it did give her a reason to curl up in his robe, which she had wanted to do from the first moment she had seen it hanging there in the bathroom.

As for location, she did not think it would be proper for her to sleep in the front room near Masuda, and was not particularly confident in her ability to sleep in either the bathroom or the kitchen. That left only one possible location for her makeshift bed made of bathrobes: her sensei's bedroom.

Her sense of propriety told her that if she had to sleep in the room of a gentleman, then she ought to at least sleep in the room of the one she loved with all her heart. If someone had tried to advise her to the contrary, she would have thought them to have very confused morals. Besides, she knew her sensei, knew all about his rules and codes and laws, knew just how serious and decorous he was. She had mournfully already learned that if there was one man on the planet utterly devoted to protecting her chastity, then it was Himuro Reiichi.

She might as well have been sleeping in a room with a Mother Abbess, or St. Peter of the Pearly Gates himself.

So she quietly gathered her bathrobes and phone and softly padded down the hall to the partially closed bedroom door, slipped inside the room, and then arranged her robes in a far corner of the room, where she might see Himuro if she sat up in her little nest, but not while she was hunkered down. She plugged in her dead phone and waited until it powered on so she could set her first wakeup alarm in two hour's time, so that she could again check on Himuro's health.

Then, feeling very tired and very strange as she listened to his slow, even breathing, she curled up in his robe and tried her best to sleep.

The two hours until the first alarm passed slowly at first, and Midori despaired that she would never get to sleep. The floor was very hard and Himuro's robe provided little more than psychological comfort. But despite all this, she was very tired, and although she could not say when she nodded off to sleep, the next thing she knew her phone was beeping urgently in her ear, and she felt very, very sore, as if every wrinkle and bump of the robe underneath her had been carved into her flesh.

She scrambled to turn off the alarm, lest she disturb Himuro's slumber, but when she finally got it turned off, she realized how silly all of that was, since her whole intention was to wake him up to check on him.

Feeling the soreness in all her bones, she crawled on all fours to the bedside, then with some effort managed to push her aching body up onto it. She was so very tired.

Still. Still still still.

She had a job to do. He was depending on her.

Gently, she took hold of his shoulder and shook him.

"Reiichi," she murmured softly, "Reiichi, wake up."

"Mmm?" he answered her sleepily, only half awake himself.

"Do you feel all right?" she asked blankly, swaying a bit in place as she waited for his answer.

"Yes, I feel fine," he insisted into his pillow, "Now go to sleep."

"Are you sure?" she asked, already nodding again.

"Sure," was his only response, and then he was silent again.

Since he had insisted he was fine, it was probably all right for her to back to sleep. He had told her to go back to sleep after all, and she wanted very much to go back to sleep.

As she sat there on the bed, swaying slightly in the darkness, she thought, This is a very soft bed.

Truthfully, it wasn't particularly soft at all, but as she had just been sleeping on a hardwood floor with no pillow or blanket, Himuro's bed seemed like paradise itself.

I have to go back to my corner, she thought sleepily. I mustn't disturb him.

Filled with a spirit of self-sacrifice and small despair, she crawled back down the bed, but then paused at the foot of it, right before she squirmed back onto the hard ground.

I'll just rest here, she thought. I'll just rest here for a minute before I go back to my little corner, because it's so nice here. I'm sure he won't mind if I just rest a minute. I'm so tired.

And so, sore and exhausted, Yumeno Midori curled up in a little knot at the foot of the bed, and although she only meant to rest for a moment, she was soon fast asleep.

Happy uh - belated - birthday, Himurochi.

Although this will be addressed in the next chapter, please be assured that Masuda has not been out driving Himuro's Maserati drunk XD. Drunk driving is not funny!