Written for Total Anime Fangirl- I hope you enjoy it, I did my best! Everyone: review?
It was a hot day, to begin with. Not the sort of hot that lingered around the edges of your consciousness, vaguely irritating, but rather one that assaulted you smack in the face, practically screaming 'notice me! Hate me! Go inside, flee from me!' It was ridiculous.
If I had to be outside in this, I figured, I could certainly stand to get a bit wet, so I headed down to a nearby park, though my intention wasn't to do much more than dangle my sandaled feet in the water.
Here I was, perched on a boulder in the center of the flowing stream, listening to the muffled shouts from the kids running among the park's trees, and thinking… just thinking. It was pleasant, really, to feel the warm breeze tickle my long brown pigtails, and the cool ripples lap against my ankles. It was so peaceful… so peaceful that I was practically napping at one point, just upright dozing. Sleepy. My head slowly tipped down until it was resting on my shoulders. The sun warmed my closed eyelids, seeming to seep through into my mind, sending waves of relaxation through it. So sleepy….
I yelped as my eyes sprung open, only to be greeted with murky water. I squeezed them back shut and clamped my mouth closed, though that didn't stop the water from flowing up my nose. Retching, I flailed my arms, and managed to break through and reach the air. Coughing violently, I dragged an arm over my sodden face, wiping at the water. What was that? Had I actually fallen asleep on that rock, and tipped over into the creek? Pathetic. Still spitting out water, I made to hurry for the shore, but the toe of my sandal caught in the thick sand, and, next thing I knew, I had stumbled back into a stronger current, which instantly pulled me back underwater.
Water, water everywhere, in my mouth, ears, nose, surrounding me. Since when was the creek this deep? Involuntarily, I began to panic, even with the tranquilly steady gluglug of the flowing water all around me. Get me out of here! I couldn't breathe. Couldn't breathe….
Then there was something, someone, grabbing a handful of my drenched T-shirt, and a good deal of my pigtailed hair along with it, and pulling. I couldn't tell if I was moving up or down, but I went limp, letting this new force drag me out of the water, until I felt a beautiful burst of air against my face, and the rough thud of being dropped on the ground. Eyes still closed, I issued a huge, hacking cough, and water flowed from my mouth. I kept retching and gasping until, finally, when blackness was beginning to swim in front of my eyes, I drew in a huge gasp of oxygen.
Slowly, as my fuzzy senses came into greater focus, I realized that I was flopped face-down on the grassy banks of the creek, my eyes still shut against the muddy water that was no longer there. I cracked them open, lifting my head, and winced at the violent sunlight. My whole body was aching.
Then I remembered.
Someone had pulled me out.
It didn't take me long to find him, as he was sitting right next to me, a sort of faintly amused smile playing around his lips, looking remarkably dry considering I was dead positive he'd just pulled me out of a rather chaotic creek. He looked perhaps fifteen, a year older than me.
And he was gorgeous.
Unbelievably so. If not for the oddness of his long silver hair, which was in line with no style I knew of, I would have thought that some young model had been stumbling along and happened to find me flailing along like a drowning beetle. Even now, I found it hard to believe otherwise. He was just so… so… stunning, the fact which was accentuated by the none-too-inconspicuous kimono that he was wearing. Yes, a traditional Japanese kimono, dark plum-colored with a faintly iridescent pattern of what I guessed to be cherry blossoms all over it.
I realized that I was gaping and shut my mouth with a snap, suddenly aware of how I must have looked to him—a soaking wet girl in a lime green T-shirt and sodden, light brown skirt, pigtails coming loose and one sandal gone, scraped up and dirty from my little plunge.
I opened my mouth for a gracious thank-you, but before I could begin, he was talking, in a rather flourished, gallant voice that sounded as though it belonged onstage.
"Oh, it's such a delight to see you well, miss! I was only taking a walk along the side of this nice little stream, but at the sight of a pretty damsel such as yourself in such apparent need of a savior, I couldn't help but take it upon myself to rescue you!"
I blinked, rather taken aback by his attitude. "Uh…." I mumbled blankly, wondering if he was teasing me. "Yeah… about that… thanks." I felt the familiar prickle of a light flush tickling my cheeks and neck.
"Of course, of course! It was my pleasure." He held out a long-fingered hand, clearly for me to shake. "Ayame Sohma, a joy to meet you!"
"Um… yeah, right." I took his hand in mine and shook it hurriedly, my face burning yet harder at the thought of how rude I must look to him. "My name's Amethyst. But it's kind of showy… you can call me Jessica if you want, I prefer it."
"Amethyst… no, I like it! I like showy things."
Really? I couldn't tell at all.
"The more extravagant, the more appealing, don't you think? But if Jessica is your preference, I'll respect that, of course," he added hastily.
Without even processing it, I smiled. The expression slipped from my face just as quickly, and I ducked my head shyly, rising shakily to my feet. "Well… I better get going, then," I admonished, burning with self-consciousness. Wow, I'm pathetic today.
"No need!" he assured me jubilantly. I hesitated, a hint of incredulity creeping up on the edges of my consciousness. He—Ayame—spoke as though time with him was a privilege, as though there was no possible way that my reason for leaving was actually due to my own demands rather than politeness directed at him. I raised an eyebrow slightly, and, in response, he patted the ground beside him. I nervously sat beside him, hugging my legs and settling my chin on my knees. Presumably, he was looking for conversation. I wasn't much of a talker, though.
As things turned out, I didn't need to be. Ayame immediately launched into a sort of self-centric monologue, giving me what seemed to be the majority of his life story. His parents and home life, he skimmed over, saying with a light laugh that he really never spent that much time with his family, that they had their own business to attend to. I noticed a hint of shadow in his golden eyes as he said this, though it quickly vanished when he plowed on to tell me of his friends. He had two who were closest to him, he said, his cousins—Shigure and Hatori Sohma. Once, I noticed him refer to Shigure as 'that puppy,' which sparked my curiosity, but he didn't seem to realize it. Perhaps it was some sort of nickname. Over the next half hour, I began to get a wider view of who Ayame was—fifteen years old, as I'd guessed, and extremely popular in his school, along with his friends. Dramatic, fancy, and loud—my exact opposite, really, and yet I found myself liking him. He seemed nice, if a hint blind to others and their needs (I had been shivering the majority of the time, but he didn't notice).
After what seemed like ages—a period of time that, I had to admit, I was rather enjoying—he abruptly stood up, giving his long curtain of silvery hair a quick shake and tugging inexplicably at the sleeves of his kimono. "Well, it is getting dreadfully hot out here, isn't it? I ought to be heading inside, I am awfully sensitive to heat…"
"Don't go," I found myself saying without thought. Instantly embarrassed, I sprung to my feet beside him. "Never mind, sorry—if you have things to do, I mean…"
I snuck a sideways glance at him as I bent over to wring out the side of my shirt in hopes of getting it a bit drier, expecting his face to appear mildly disgusted at my original insensitivity. But, quite the contrary, he looked extremely pleased.
"You want me to keep talking? Well…" His eyes—so golden, and shaped almost like a snake's, if a snake could be as friendly as him—danced delightedly. "That's a nice change. Normally, I'm rushed out the door all too hurriedly…"
This was such a sad image that I actually felt my throat tighten a bit at its prospect. Cheerful, enthusiastic Ayame, despised and dreaded by his family—it was painful to think about.
"Well, if you wanted to, you could come back to my house for a while. We have air conditioning and everything." The words poured out of my mouth completely without forethought. I instantly wanted to bite them back—why had I been so outright?—but it was too late; they were already hanging in the air, a shy suggestion, lifting up a bit at the end like a question.
"All right, that would be excellent," he agreed so instantly that I was rather taken aback. "Lead the way, Jessica!"
For no particular reason, I felt yet another blush staining my cheeks and a quick swoop in my stomach at the sound of my name in his overly dramatic voice. I turned to guide Ayame out of the trees. The trek to my house was a short one, but not unpunctuated by random comments from him on the scenery and such. It led me to believe that perhaps he was unfamiliar with this area—that would explain why I didn't recognize him from school, anyway.
The door to my house was unlocked, as I had left it. My parents were gone for the day, so we were the only two there. I held the door open for Ayame, who didn't seem to think such an action required a 'thank you,' and closed it behind us, this time locking it. I wasn't sure why, just knew that I didn't want anyone to come up and barge in. A bit nervous, I stepped into the kitchen, where he had perched on a bar stool and was drumming his fingers against the granite island, on which sat a fruit bowl.
"You can have some if you want," I told him, inclining my head towards the bowl. "Want anything to drink…? I think we have some juice…" Without waiting for a response, I pulled open the refrigerator and took out a bottle of sparkling grape juice. The cool condensation on the bottle neck felt great against my fingers, which were still warm from outside. I kicked the fridge shut and turned around in time to see Ayame biting down on a papaya.
"Delicious," he commented brightly. I allowed myself a small smile while pouring two glasses of the grape juice, then pushed one over to him.
"Here, give this a try. It's great. I'm going to go change, I'll be right back." These last words were thrown over my shoulder as I headed down the hall to my room. Once inside, I shut the door tightly and flopped down on my bed, not making a move towards getting dry clothes. My stomach was spinning rather violently, and I felt a bit light and floaty. It wasn't an unfamiliar sensation, though I'd never felt it quite this strongly, that I could remember, anyways. For the second time that day, I realized that I'd been smiling without thinking about it.
There was something about Ayame that I liked a lot. More than a lot. In many ways, he was my exact opposite, and yet I couldn't deny the pull that I felt towards him. Even now, I wanted to be out there, listening to him go on about his popularity, rather than in here on my bed. Quickly, I heaved myself up again and changed into a white tank top and jean skirt, leaving the other clothes draped over the towel bar in my bathroom to dry. My one sandal was lost permanently, but I dropped the other in the bathtub so that I'd remember to rinse the mud off it later. I splashed some water on my face, dried it off carefully, and put my still-damp hair into fresh pigtails before heading back out to the kitchen.
But he wasn't in the kitchen. The papaya and glass of grape juice were both gone. My stomach turned unpleasantly. He hadn't left, had he? Then I heard a faint crash from the neighboring living room and practically dashed in.
He was there, gazing at the mantelpiece over the faux fireplace, seemingly enraptured. His hands dangled at his sides, and the empty glass that had held the grape juice lay shattered on the ground. Puzzled, I moved silently to his side, trying to see what he was staring at so intently and making sure not to step in the glass.
Those golden eyes were fixed on one of the pictures of me as an eleven or twelve-year-old that could be found throughout the house. Even then, sky-blue bands held my then-light brown hair into two pigtails. I was laughing at a little toddler who sat in the grass next to me. I remembered him—a really sweet little kid, with pale hair and the most exquisite little violet-silver eyes.
"We met him on a trip to the zoo, out of town," I murmured. Ayame flinched slightly at the sound of my voice, but otherwise didn't react. None of his grandeur from before was apparent now. He looked lost, standing there staring at the picture. "I really liked him, he was a cute little guy. Really shy… so, naturally, we got along well." I gave a light laugh, but neither of us was really amused, so I cut it off quickly. I was beginning to get a little worried about Ayame. He was so still, breathing so shallowly. And why had he dropped the glass? "His name was, uh… Yu… something with a Y… Yuki, that was it. Yeah, Yuki. Normally a girl's name, that's why it stuck with me…"
"Yuki," he repeated. Somehow, he spoke the name like a foreign word.
"Yeah… Ayame… are you all right?" I asked anxiously.
"He's my brother."
I was caught off guard by this. "Y-your brother?" He'd never mentioned a brother earlier, but rather made it sound like he was an only child whose parents didn't pay him all that much attention. "I didn't know you had a brother…"
"Neither did I," was his quiet reply.
I could make neither heads nor tails of that comment. "Are you two not close?" I asked tentatively.
"Not close…? No, not at all, we hardly know each other." He shook his head slowly, then his eyes flickered to fixate on me. "We never have. I guess I didn't really want anything to do with him…"
What a stupid question. I wished that I could take the words back. So obtuse, so careless. What did I know? He might have reasons beyond my comprehension. Family problems, perhaps…
But he responded without any delay whatsoever. "I don't know. There's not anything wrong with him, not really… he has it hard, though. Harder than me… of course, a lot of our family has their struggles…" He looked away, smiling humorlessly as if sharing a joke with himself and regretting that I couldn't possibly understand it as well. Then, instantly, his eyes shone with bright tears.
I couldn't look him in the eye now, I just couldn't. I instead busied myself with lifting a few of the large glass shards which had landed in the carpet. He looked vaguely surprised when he saw the shattered glass, and blinked quite heavily several times.
"Did I…? Oh, I'm sorry, let me help with that—"
"It's fine," I promised immediately, scooping the pile of sharp bits into my hand and tipping them into the garbage can sitting nearby. "Wait—ouch—" One of them had sliced my finger. I instinctively drew it back, hissing in pain.
Before I even realized what was going on, Ayame had crouched down beside me and caught my hand. I tugged back weakly, but he held it steady. "You're bleeding," he exclaimed concernedly, as if I were the one with problems, as if what he seemed to be going through right now wasn't clearly a thousand times worse. Indeed, I was bleeding, and enough for drops to be rolling down the back of my hand and staining his pale skin, as well.
"Don't worry about it, glass wounds always do a lot," I muttered through gritted teeth. "I should get in the kitchen, though, if the blood gets on the carpet, my parents will kill—"
"Here." Without any further words, or seemingly any recognition of how forward it was, he brought my injured finger to his mouth and sucked at it as though it was his own, as if it was completely normal and casual for him to be the one to stem the flow of blood with lightly applied pressure of his tongue. I felt my eyes widen hugely, and all of my sense of touch seemed to extend out to that one index finger, so that I could feel the delicate strength of his lips and the faint brush of his teeth. My head was spinning with shock. Was Ayame completely blind to social norms? Not like I was protesting, no, of course I wasn't, but… still…
"There…" He tenderly released my hand, and I snatched it back towards my chest with such speed that my wrist cricked. "It's stopped bleeding, now let's go get a Band-Aid so that it doesn't come back…"
Just then was when seemed to notice that my face was, at my closest guess, about the shade of an intensely overripe strawberry. Immediately, his pale skin became tinged with a watermelon hue, so that the two of us, red and pink, wouldn't have looked out of place on a Valentine's Day card. "I'm sorry," he stammered, the usual smoothness of his speech gone. "I don't know—I just—I was just trying to stop the bleeding, I didn't…"
At least he'd stopped thinking about Yuki. That was what mattered, I told myself. "It's fine," I promised. "I don't mind, I'm the one who should apologize, I…"
"Don't be ridiculous, you didn't do anything wrong at all! Look at me, on the other hand—first getting all weepy, then… when I see someone hurt, I want to take care of them like I'd take care of myself, it's a stupid instinct, I—"
"—never think about anyone outside of myself, it's ridiculous—"
"Thoughtlessly, with absolutely no consideration that perhaps you—no, you definitely wouldn't want a near-stranger—"
"I don't think of you as a stranger, you saved me, you're my friend—"
"To just take your hand and—"
Without thinking, without really anything running through my mind at all except for the wild prospect that it was the only way to shut him up, I leaned forward and kissed him.
I'd never kissed anyone before, so didn't know precisely what to do, but as soon as I felt his lips against mine, I knew that it was natural and right. My eyes were instinctively shut to increase my sense of touch. He tasted like the papaya and grape he'd been consuming, a sweet, fresh flavor that, combined with the softness of his mouth and the hard edge of his teeth under it all, was heavenly. Reaching forward, I squeezed his forearm tightly, then pulled back. It was all over quickly. Too quickly. I was sure that I'd never blushed so heavily in my life, and I had to remind myself to breathe, force myself to look up into his eyes.
"I'm sorry," I tried to say, but it came out as the barest whisper. "That was… way more outright… than what you did."
"…It's okay," he said simply. "I… I liked it."
We stared into each other's eyes for a few moments, a brief count—one, two, three—and then I sprung up to my feet, babbling.
"Okay, I'll go get you some more grape juice, then—assuming you liked it, because you drank it all, you know, so then you probably do like it—okay, I'll—yeah…" I bustled off in the direction of the kitchen, but his voice froze me in my tracks.
"It's okay, Jessica. I mean it." There were rustles as he stood up, and I turned back to him. "But… well… I think that perhaps I ought to be going. Going… back home. I… want to say hello to Yuki."
For some reason, the words—about Yuki, not leaving—brought a surge of pleasure to me. The idea that Ayame might reconcile with his brother, clear up whatever it was that seemed to be between them, was certainly a good one.
But that meant he was leaving….
"Right." I led him to the door, feeling oddly hollow, and opened it, so that the sunlight streamed through and hit his long, silvery hair, glinting off of it. "Well… I guess this is goodbye, then?"
He considered me a final time with those golden eyes, smiling, though it was a fainter one than he had worn the rest of the time. He leaned in ever so slightly closer, and I wondered briefly if he was going to kiss me—my heart started to beat faster and heavier… but all he did was whisper in my ear.
"I guess it is." Then the small grin erupted into a bigger, fancier one, as exotic and luxurious as Ayame himself. "I'll see you around, Jessica."
Then he stepped out into the sunlight and was gone.