Epilogue: Golden Afternoon

Seiji sat silently in Minako's office staring at the picture hanging on her wall. It was the picture of Iku that Mina called her "masterpiece." On her desk was a picture of all three of them at the onsen, singing their hearts out on stage at the karaoke contest. The rest of the space was filled with random photos, magazines and documents strewn about all the flat surfaces. He wondered how she ever found anything in her mess.

"I'm almost done," she said as she tapped away an email on her laptop. Seiji listened to the steady typing and it soothed him.

"How much do you want for this picture?" he asked, staring at Iku's bright smile that would never be for him.

"It's not for sale," she answered curtly. "Kaze no Miko is my best work and I intend to keep this Iku all to myself."

"Stingy," he accused.

"You bet I am," she retorted. "It's all I have left since I practically gave the real Iku away to that shorty. He better treat her well, or I'll take an embarrassing picture of him and post it everywhere." After a pause, she added, "How long are you going to mope on my couch?"

"Not long at all if you kick me out now," he chuckled in spite of himself. She sighed.

"How about I buy you a drink?" she asked.

"If you drink with me, I'll buy," he smiled.

"You know you were bound to be turned down. You were competing with her prince for heaven's sake," she said, not looking up from her screen.

"I know that," he grinned. "I just wanted to try." Minako shook her head at him and closed her laptop.

"Are you sure you're going to be okay?" she asked. He smiled genuinely at her.

"If you're by my side, I think I will."

Minako blushed and looked away. "Idiot."

-0-0-0-

The golden rays of the sun streamed through the cafe window as Iku watched the passers by on the other side. In the background, L'Arc~en~ciel's "Shine" softly serenaded the patrons in the background. Across from her, Doujo was sipping his chamomile tea contentedly. Though this was their first time they had gone out together in casual clothing not related to work, there was no awkwardness between them. The span of their six plus years of acquaintance seemed to finally catch up with them, and by some miracle both were completely at ease. It was Doujo who broke the silence and drew her attention back to him.

"I'm not usually one for sweets, but these English pastries aren't bad," he observed.

"They purposefully make them that way, so you don't lose the flavor of the tea you're drinking," she answered.

"Oh," he responded thoughtfully, as if she had opened the door to some mystery for him. "It's just like a girl to know all about tea and crumpets."

Iku grinned at him. Such a man would never come to a tea shop on his own. A thousand little thoughts fluttered through her mind as she watched him like butterflies in an open field, full of possibility. When was the last time he had been on a date? What kind of girl did he date before? What did he do in his spare time? What kind of family upbringing did he have? Could he possibly be interested in a girl like her? Was he going to be free for Christmas break?

As he caught her gazing at him he paused. "What's wrong?"

She laughed a little. "Nothing. I'm just glad you agreed to come out with me." As the waitress came to bring their check, she snatched it up before he could. He looked at her questioningly.

"I've got this," she grinned. "Since it was my idea."

"But-" he began, but she cut him off.

"It's my birthday present to you," she insisted. "Since I don't know you well enough to get you anything else. But I do hope..." she blushed and looked down at her reflection in her cup for a moment in the golden colored tea and it gave her courage. This date had been six years in the making, after all. Iku couldn't shake the feeling that it was all predestined, that there were no such thing as coincidences when it came to the two of them, and that it would all work out fine. For the first time, she actually felt like she was making that transition into adulthood.

"What is it?" he asked.

She looked up and smiled a little bashfully at him. "I hope you'll let me get to know you better from this point forward."

It was his turn to look bashful. He coughed a little and cleared his throat, looking away. Finally, he regained his composure and looked at her intently.

"That's my line, Ka-," he began but paused and corrected himself. "That's my line, Iku." Her face grew redder as she heard her name from his lips. The "girly voice" inside of her was having a field day in her head and going into overdrive with giddy delight. She had to force it down with another sip of tea.

"If you're free again on our next day off," he continued, "I was wondering if you'd go out with me again?" Doujo looked at her steadily as he waited for her answer.

"I'd like that," she said and gave him a pure, unpretentious smile. "I'd like that very much...Atsushi-san." Iku felt the honorific "san" was probably forever necessary as this was the man she had idolized since her youth, and a man she now respected and admired among all others. Still the sound of his name on her lips sounded a little foreign.

"I don't think I could ever call you by name at work," she laughed honestly. "It would feel highly inappropriate."

Doujo merely shrugged in response. "I really couldn't care less about things like that anymore. Not when it comes to you. I don't care what they think of me from this point forward." This was the inevitable conclusion he had come to understand about himself in the end. When it came to her, all dignity, composure, appearances and pride when out the window. He had come to accept it. Iku felt flattered by his frankness.

"So what should we do next time?" she asked. He thought for a moment.

"That field of chamomile, in the picture your friend took for her photo journal. Where was that?" he enquired.

"That was a small tea farm outside the Hakone region," she replied.

"I wouldn't mind going to visit there," said Doujo. Ever since he had seen that picture of her, all he wanted to do was visit that place where she had shone so brightly, and this time, he wanted to take hold of her outstretched hand.

Iku's face flushed a new shade of red as she realized she still had two free passes back to the onsen in her purse.

"What's wrong?" he asked, noticing her struggle to hide the the expression on her face.

"Nothing," she said hastily as she brought her cup of chamomile tea to her lips, hiding the broad, mischievous grin behind it.

finis.


Author's note: We're at the end, friends. Thanks to everyone who cared enough to review this, and to everyone who followed me to the end. I've gone through all the "elements" I could think of (wind, earth, water, fire, wood, metal, gold) and I had a good time writing it all. My emotions went up and down with Iku throughout this story, whom I think is adorable but a little crybaby at times. She even kept me up at night wondering how she was going to handle a certain situation. I wanted to convey a stronger and more mature Iku in this fanfic; the Iku that I believe really lies underneath.

The couple ranks among my top favorite "opposites" couples, inclusive of Tamaki and Haruhi, Kei and Hikari, Haruna and Yoh. If ever the LW light novels were published, although I don't know who would care to now that Tokyopop has gone under, I would buy them all! For now, I will be content with my Love & War comics.

I strongly recommend anything from L'arc~en~ciel. "Shine" is actually from the Seirei no Moribito series (of which I also recommend the light novels). The lyrics from the song are really meaningful, from Doujo's POV. I must have listened to it fifty times while writing this chapter. It really takes me back to that chamomile field.

Until next time,

-Kero (7/12/11)