AN: Autumn is my favorite season, I'm a Yaoi fan girl, it made sense to put the two together =D
Warnings: Some swearing, mushyness
Reviews would be mucho appreciated, my first one-shot and Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi fanfic, so it would be nice to know how I did =)
Ritsu Onodera, Masamune Takano & Kagome Higurashi
Ritsu Onodera – (Age 25)
The leaves crackled with unexpected fire beneath my feet as they lazily carried my body along the sidewalk. My eyes were burning from lack of sleep and bright lights, and while caffeine was pumping like fuel through my veins, my back still slouched and I stared at the ground beneath me with distain.
Another day, another cycle, another work finished and ready for sale. Despite the optimistic idea the latter planted in your head, for me it was simply another reason for depression.
Over and over and over the days repeated themselves. Wake, run, apologize, manga, caffeine, manga, no sleep, manga, authors, printers, manga. Barely sleeping or eating, only enough to get me through to the end of the cycle, by which time I would only have the energy to collapse onto bed, and wake later only thinking of him.
A sigh escaped my lips in a cloud of steam.
I pulled my arms in closer as another icy gust ruffled my hair and sent goose bumps rolling up my arms, despite the warm long-sleeved shirt and red, checkered jacket I was wearing. I shivered. The mid- autumn air was crisp with the promises of winter but the blackberry tangles were still ripe with fruit as I passed them on my walk.
My stinging eyes, pounding head and rumbling belly all told me to get back into the cycle and head home. Only my stubborn mind refused. It was sick of having the same thing repeated constantly and wanted, needed, a change. My sanity was finally at risk it seemed. I don't quite know what I would have done if I woke up with thoughts of him tormenting me once more.
It was no where special, the park, just a memory from my childhood that had recently resurfaced along with those of him, and was calling to me. What exactly it looked like was hazy and clouded and slightly out of the grasp of my memory. The route to get there however was not. Like retracing a path you'd walked for decades it had become engraved in my mind without my even knowing it.
The rustle of maple leaves had become like a song. A ballad perhaps? A lonely bird tweeted its solo from one of the nearby trees, the sweet high notes like a flute, being carried on the wind.
The cars were becoming fewer and further apart in passing, and then all but faded as I turned off down a tree lined avenue, the noises of city life dropping away behind me like a curtain had been drawn.
Only the bird and leaf ballad remained.
Soon I was quietly humming along, simply letting my feet carry me to my destination as my mind drifted. Nowhere in particular mind. Small and brief daydreams changing as quickly as the shades of autumn, with themes mostly following the same nature.
'The maples' I supposed 'must be so beautiful to some people'. Appreciation of beauty had never been my strong point I guess.
Except when it came to him. In that aspect of my life, everything was wonderful, especially when I was younger. Every movement he made was like a step from a complicated dance, when he brushed his hair away with his long and slender fingers it was an ancient and elegant ceremony. I remembered it was so, so captivating.
It was one of the reasons I fell in love with him.
'No no no no no no no!'
I shook my head rapidly, as if trying to rid myself of thoughts already thought. Once done with my foolishness, I sighed.
'He's turning me into someone different' Sharply cutting off my thoughts there I sighed, again, pulled my scarf closer and pushed some straggly bits of hair out my eyes. Keep on walking.
Turning another corner into yet another estate, my feet sped up of their own accord, as if the muscles themselves remembered how I'd more than once sprinted down this very sidewalk, despite the fact was over a decade ago.
A sort of sad smile found its way onto my lips at the memories. The park was no where special really or of great importance, but it was a sanctuary of sorts to my young teenage self and a place where he could sit in peace for a while.
Now that I thought about it, I couldn't think of any legitimate reason for me not returning sooner. 'Perhaps it was just that I didn't need to?'
The chilly wind was coming in stronger and more frequent gusts and some girls from a nearby high school squealed and desperately clung onto their short skirts from the other side of the road, the peacefulness of the Maple Ballad having been interrupted by their chatter.
Similarly, the serenity of my semi-idle thoughts was scattered at the sight of a couple walking down the same path as I, in the opposite direction and heading straight for me.
They were holding hands. Shoulders and upper arms pressed together as if the slightest gap in their skins would be painful. The way the woman smiled at the taller man sent a slight shock to my heart and caused a slight hesitation in my feet's journey.
They were in love; my sluggish brain was struggling to process the information without going into overdrive or crashing.
As they passed, my legs were the ones who decided to go into overdrive. Faster than I imagined possible I crossed the next few streets, barely noticing the landscape anymore, ignoring everyone who passed and keeping my head low. Only concentrating on walking.
There was no way, I was going to let him get into my head just as I had become at peace with my thoughts.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I could see the red roofs of the buildings surrounding my haven sprouting from the various shades of red leaves.
My heart rate which had been gradually climbing from the exertion of my power walk, finally began to relax slightly as tears of relief pricked at my eyes, although I did not let them fall, or even show.
I silently turned into the street which housed the entrance to the park and suddenly everything was noticeable to me, as if my senses had somehow been heightened.
The hard tapping of my shoes against concrete, and the soft muffled ones against clumps of wet leaves which were scattered here and there. The difference in tune of the birds here as compared to the ones that had been nesting in the maples down the streets, the great wooden structure of the gate creaking in the building winds.
As I came to stand in front of it, my always busy and frantic mind seemed to blank.
The entrance to the park was much like the entrance to a great house, except the large, cherry wood gate was always open, no matter the weather nor the visitor. It brought some form of solace at the knowledge that no matter what troubles me or the world had gone through in the past decade, the solidness of the gate had stood steadfast through it all.
The image of the great entrance alone seemed to crush any fears that had been brewing hidden inside me about coming here. The fear that my whole sanctuary could be gone or changed for good only struck me now and my form pretty much trembled in relief.
Slowly, steadily, cautiously I began to move forward once again, this time attempting to drink in every detail of my long left refuge.
From the gate a thick path lead straight forward before splitting into numerous winding trails, each going their own direction and disappearing into the trees. While on either side of the straight main path there was nothing much but a few perfectly trimmed shrubs, at the point at which it divided, a huge forest seemed to bloom out of nowhere. It was kept in a neat curve and not a branch nor root of the edge trees dared cross the invisible mark line.
Despite the many years it had been, I still remember each of the different paths well as I had traveled down each one so often.
The path which led through the sparse trees on the far left was a simple, rather clear path which skirted the park, showing the simple beauty of the flowers and rock gardens before looping back round to become the path on the far right.
The next one in from the left was a water route, the trail more twisting and passing beautiful glistening pools, the water within them deep and icy but gleaming in such an appealing way they had many a myth about nymphs and kappa's orientated around them.
The central path was short and straight but for a few curves around trees that had sprung up. A magnificent and treacherous waterfall with rainbow spray cascaded from a high cliff which could be reached from the third path.
The third path was interesting enough, leading past and through huge caverns carved by water and up to the top of the precarious cliff the waterfall fell from. Also to a tea garden and tiny tea house, located deep within the park, surrounded by various sized rocks dripping with moss and moisture.
It was however the fourth, and smallest, path I had always favored, and as I automatically made my way up the steep course it was strange to see how next to nothing had been altered in all the years I'd been away.
The branch I'd snapped when I had slipped in the rain when I was 16 still stuck, as splintered as ever, from its moss covered trunk, although a slimy moss like vine now seemed to hang from it like a swing. As I gained altitude on the trail's hilly climb, I had to stop like always on a thick log, despite the fact it had decayed and now had a number of inhabitants inside. The fairy ring of cream and brown mushrooms in a sloped clearing had multiplied, the woodpeckers were still nesting in the same trees, a decaying green bench covered in moss which had the second beam broken in two from where I'd all but collapsed on it one time.
Nostalgia and déjà vu rolled over me in waves of shock as my emotions finally began to painfully claw their way to the surface of my subconscious.
'Not yet though, Not quite yet.'
My legs were beginning to shake with fatigue by the time I reached the top of path, and the urge to go home and sleep, or even just curl up at the base of a tree somewhere, was becoming overpowering, despite the longing for peace my mind desired almost more than anything.
However as soon as I turned round the last moss covered tree, my breath left me in a whoosh at the amount of memories and the all round beauty of my asylum.
It was a large clearing. The dark emerald grass was longer than I remember and a huge new patch of fox gloves had sprung up but it was still exactly the same as the image within my memories.
The vividness of the memory of the pain in my shoulders as I dragged that metal bench up the steep path hit me like a train. I remembered wanting something lasting, something that wouldn't rot, decay or move on without me and leave me sitting on the cold, wet ground.
On the far side of the clearing was a huge tree. Its trunk was at least 6ft wide and it's great canopy sheltered nearly the entire clearing, leaving only a 10ft gap where the warm rays of the sun filtered through at an angle which had so often reminded me of the morning rays coming through blinds.
Yet, I hadn't noticed, in my admiration of my clearing, I was not alone.
Sat on the ornate metal bench my 15 year old self had somehow managed to drag up here, was a woman.
At the same moment she herself seemed to become aware of her own lack of seclusion.
Her long hair was the color of a raven's plumage, reaching all the way down to her hips and falling in soft, almost straight waves. My own pale complexion was made me look like I'd been to a spray tan next to her white ivory. Somehow it didn't make her look like a ghost or paper, but managed to enhance her beauty into that of something unreal, like a pot doll or an image of some kind of spirit. Her lips were full and a rosy pink color, almost matching the slight blush that stained her cheeks.
Her beauty extended to her eyes, which looked like liquid sapphire. However, drying tear tracks ran like roads on a map across the delicate contours of her face, disproving the unreality of her beauty. It wasn't unreal, simply exaggerated by sorrow.
"Oh, hello. I'm sorry I wasn't expecting anyone to come up this path; it's usually pretty empty, especially on days like this." The woman offered me a small smile and instantly an answering one appeared upon my own face.
"No, I wasn't really planning on coming here anyway. I'm sorry to interrupt you, so I'll be leaving now"
Even the thought of leaving the sheltered clearing seemed repulsive and the tired feet that had brought me here were reluctant to move anywhere but further in.
"Don't be silly, come sit down, there's plenty room" Moving over she patted the space next to her on the bench. Grateful, my aching body pretty much dumped itself into the space without giving my mind a chance to have a second thought.
Now given a chance to relax, I noticed the woman had a warm blanket wrapped around her, and looked to be about the same age as me, although the sadness in her eyes begged to differ.
A strong gust of icy wind whipped through the clearing and as I shuddered at the growing violence of the weather, she reached over and spread half of the blanket across my own lap.
"Wouldn't want you catching a cold right? I bet someone'd be upset" she said with another happy smile, obviously content with helping complete strangers.
Stunned at the kindness of this woman, I could only shoot her a short thankful glance before her attention was again occupied and she continued to stare at the great old tree.
" So why are you up here in weather like this?" I asked quietly after a few minutes, attempting to somehow not break the peace that had settled over them. After a few moments thinking in a comfortable silence, she replied, eyes still staring straight ahead into the forest.
"I used to live near so I came here a lot, especially as a teenager. I went traveling for a few years after but then could never really remember which way to go to get back here, I guess I didn't have reason to either. I got lost and grew frustrated so just left to work in the centre of the capital. I love it there, but I've just been getting kinda' sick of the routine you know? Everything happening over and over again. I needed a break. What about you?"
My jaw threatened to drop at the words this stranger was speaking. She was exactly the same as me. The similarity of our lives was astonishing and it took me awhile to fully process it.
"Same I guess. I just sort of found myself walking here on the way home from work. Things have been kind of hectic lately and I remember this place as a sanctuary of sorts I used to go too when I was a teen. It's weird but as soon as I got here I felt more at peace than I have in the last ten years" I said with a slightly embarrassed chuckle, unsure why I was being so honest with this woman I'd never met before in my life.
"Hectic how?" a mild sort of curiosity evident in her tone, but not an intruding one. She was leaving the choice to tell her up to me and I was once again struck by the strange kindness of her.
"You don't want to hear about my troubles, believe me" I stated, laughing, attempting to cover up my secret yearning for someone to listen and tell me what to do.
She turned to look at me, her blue eyes piercing my own, staring into my heart it felt. The tear tracks were still glistening on her cheeks, but now they didn't seem like symbols of sadness, simply signs she was getting stronger. I have no idea what made me change my view of them, but I have a strange feeling it was that moment of looking into her eyes. After all they say the eyes are the windows to the soul right?
Looking down into the dewy grass, a nervous chuckle escaped my lips.
"Well I'm not quite sure where to start" glancing up at her, the woman's lips had curved into a slight smile.
"Then start at the beginning" Once again, the amount of time and detail she was willing to get caused surprise to flit through me.
"It could take a while.." I said uncertainly, anxious about finally giving into the desire to ask for help but also aware that frankly, she most likely didn't give a shit and didn't want to waste her time on some stranger with problems in a cold park on an autumn night.
"I have all the time in the world" the reassurance in her warm voice was probably the thing that made me cave. Swallowing down a lump in my throat I haltingly began.
"Well there was this guy, back when I was in high school.."
It was dark and the only sound was my own voice and the chirping crickets. The birds had long ago gone to sleep and I had finished explaining everything that had happened with him up until joining the Emerald editing team and finding him working as my boss.
The only time she had interrupted me was to ask that we move under the huge tree as it looked as if rain was on the way. Sure enough, at around half 11, a slow but steady drizzle had began. Taking candles and a lighter from a yellow back pack which had been laying by her feet up until then, we sat under the bows of the vast tree surrounded by glowing candles which provided a soft radiant warmth, which reminded me of the woman herself a lot.
Tears had pricked my eyes when it came to explaining the time when I was 15 and everything had gone wrong between him and myself, but despite my efforts to not let them show, this strange woman had pulled me to her in a warm, comforting hug, letting me shed my few tears into her shoulder, before allowing me to continue with my tale.
"So now Yokozawa-san thinks there's something going on between me and Him and is threatening me, when there really isn't. Or at least in my opinion there isn't. He keeps admitting his love for me, saying that he never.. stopped loving me and it feels like he's pressuring me to love him back or thinking I already do, despite the fact I have no idea what my feelings are towards him. I keep getting into really awkward positions with him and I have no idea how to react in them, or even how to act towards him in general. I've tried to just treat him as my boss, or even friend, but he always seems to go just a bit too far and screw my feelings and thoughts up all over again." Burying my face in my hands I resigned myself to that I was well and truly fucked in the brain pan.
A warm arm snaked across my shoulders as silent, yet violent sobs wracked my frame. It pulled me towards the woman and all I could do was lean into her shoulder as she tenderly stroked my hair with a gentle hand.
It wasn't a pitying nor condescending gesture, it was simply a comforting one. And I couldn't have been more grateful for it.
"It seems..like you really care for him" Her voice rang crystal clear in my ears, easily comprehensible despite its hours of silence.
My lungs pulled in a gasp of air, eyes widening and although shakes continued to rock my frame, my body seemed to have frozen. I couldn't move a muscle, or raise an objection.
"Since seeing him again it's not just old feelings that have reappeared, but you've been strengthening and creating new ones simply by the amount you have thought and wondered about him over the years you've been apart. You've told me you worry about him when he's ill or his personality's off slightly. You noticing things about him that no one else does shows the amount of attention your body pays to him without your even knowing it. You care about what he might have thought of you for the last decade, you worry about it.
You get jealous when this 'Yokozawa-san' mentions their or His past relationships after you. You felt bad and guilty when you found out from Yokozawa how messed up He had been for all those years, you told me so yourself.
Even while trying to prove a point that you don't know your feelings for him to a complete stranger like me, you still give hints about just how much you care about him and how infatuated you are.
And obviously he cares about you as well, otherwise he wouldn't make such a show of it. He probably just can't understand why you would reject him so much despite what you had all those years ago and the lingering feelings from that. Also It sounds as if he just can't control his own emotions and that's why he pushes for you to understand through more physical methods. You could actually have the world's greatest first love, you know that?"
Her laugh rang out like the tinkling of a bell, and finally my body allowed me to turn my throbbing head out of her shoulder and look up into her face.
The candle's soothing light softened her features, but it was clear that the tear tracks were completely gone, leaving only smooth skin in their wake. A pure hearted and honest smile illuminated her face, her eyes twinkling as if a sun was shining from inside her, its warm rays landing on everyone and everything that came near her, lightening their hearts and lessening their load in life.
My lips parted slightly, not quite a gawk but almost.
"I-…" My tongue felt heavy and thick, leaving me stuttering and searching for words aimlessly.
Was it possible, after all the time I'd been denying it to myself, I could actually believe, accept, it?
Was it true?
The little voice inside me that I'd been ignoring for so long seemed to be magnified louder than ever. Screamingly louder than the voice I usually listened to, my common sense.
Louder and louder and louder it became until it filled my entire head, and then it overflowed in a shiver that reached from my soul all the way to the tips of my toes.
"I..love…Takano-san?" My tongue whispered aloud the words I'd been denying for so, so long, it had felt like they'd never be spoken again.
The woman's smile grew.
"I..Love him.." No longer a question the simple three worded statement sent a shock ricocheting throughout my body. In stunned silence I sat there, in the clearing I'd cried over him in when I was 15. Now ten years later, in almost the exact same spot, I was sat in the dark with a complete stranger on a freezing autumn night, surrounded by candles, realizing my own true feelings for the first time in a decade.
It was slightly overwhelming, even for a Shojo manga editor.
"I.. Have to go" I stood as if in a daze, some part of me unwillingly pulling away from the woman's embrace and warmth. Despite no longer physically touching her heat seemed to emanate outwards in a sort of bubble. It wasn't visible but there was a slight tingle on my tongue, a hot feeling on my skin like that of standing in the sun during the height of summer.
"Ok" She said simply, smile dimming slightly, but still never leaving her face "If you ever need me again, chances are I'll be here. Unfortunately it seems a few hours aren't enough for my own problems to dissipate, so I guess I'll be sticking around a bit longer."
"Thank you so much! Thank you!" I all but yelled as I stood quickly and began to cross the clearing at almost a run. The grass was cold and slippy and soaked my jeans but it was barely even noticeable. Just as I got to the bench we had sat earlier however, a thought struck me.
"Hey! I'm sorry, I don't even know your name!"
The woman glanced across, an expression akin to surprise on her features for the first time that evening, as if she wasn't accustomed to being asked something about herself, rather than just answering other people's problems.
"Kagome. Kagome Higurashi."
"I'm Ritsu Onodera. Thank you so much Higurashi-san, I'll never forget this! See you around!" And after a quick, low bow, I turned and practically sprinted down out of the clearing and onto the path leading down to the main entrance of the park.
It was full on raining by now and the semi-dry leaves which had coated the trail earlier, now were sopping wet and provided untrustworthy footing, more than once causing my feet to slip and make me fall, and ankles twist. Lashing rain I hadn't noticed under the gigantic canopy of leaves blurred and grayed my vision making it even harder to be sure I was on a straight path for the exit. My hair was saturated and annoying chunks kept flopping into my eyes but it hardly even seemed to matter.
Thoughts were buzzing like bees through my mind. Frantic, hurried bees, happily stinging each one of my brain cells. Hundreds of possibilities and feelings existing for mere seconds but forever engraving themselves into my subconscious as they did so.
Suddenly, miraculously the trees began to thin and the dark, gray sky began to burst through the cover provided by the large trees of the park forest. The bright street lamps were dazzling to my eyes after the dim candles and filtered light of the clearing.
The thick stone path was slippy, and once I'd swung out of the gates onto the main street, the concrete was even worse, my shoes fighting for grip against the flooded surface.
My lungs were burning like I was drowning by now, but my stride didn't hesitate or falter. Turning so many corners and running down so many roads.
Mercifully the sidewalks were practically empty as there weren't many people out by now, and the only people who were, were so out of it, it probably didn't even seem strange to see a man sprinting at full speed down the sidewalk in the pouring rain, jeans covered in mud and leaves.
The pain in my chest had grown seven fold but soon I was only a few blocks away from my apartment block.
I was so physically tired after everything that had happened, today and in the last few weeks, all I wanted was to collapse on the floor and go quite happily into a coma. But unfortunately for my body, my stupid, insane and completely irrational mind had decided otherwise.
Swinging another corner, slipping slightly and grazing my knee, It was finally in sight.
From the light coming from the room next to mine I could seen the shadow of a figure. It was tall, male, looking out and drinking a bottle of beer with a slightly irritated expression I could see from even this far away. If I could have managed it, a sigh of relief would have escaped my chest, as it was however, said chest was currently being devoured by agonizing spikes of cold, ice-like pain.
Making a mad dash across the road, ignoring the blaring of a van as it skidded to a stop to avoid hitting me and the angry voices swearing at me from the windows, I finally reached the door to my apartment block.
Yanking the door and allowing no chance for hesitation, I entered the warm wet-dog smelling lobby and, too anxious to wait for the elevator, flung myself at the stairs.
Without the rain blurring my vision it was a lot easier to concentrate on running in a straight line I noticed wryly. The steps it seemed were the next hindrance in my mission, each one being as slick as the pavement outside had been and much harder to run up without tripping on my sopping and baggy jeans. It really seemed that everything in the world was against me on this decision.
Not that I was going to let something like that stop me though.
At last spotting the sign for the third floor, I allowed my steps to slow a little, but only a little. The last thing my body needed was for my mind and determination to give in now. And plus a spark of resolve that I would follow this through this time kept me going, all the way up until I was standing in front of his door.
I don't even remember sparing my own apartment door a glance as I went straight past it to the next, virtually collapsing on the wood in exhaustion.
The thump that resonated through the timbre echoed through my own body, my eyes were blurry and wouldn't focus right. Water dripped like tears from my hair down my face and cheeks, leaving stains much like the ones from Kagome's own though lacking the beauty of sadness.
Leaning against the frame of his door, panting, heart beating rapidly, the sound of footsteps incurred almost no reaction to my body, only a slight heating of my skin and the sensation of tingles from head to toe.
It felt like forever, the time he took to get to the plank of wood between us and turn the handle. Watching the metal orb twist was like watching someone about to be hit by a truck in slow motion – Not wanting it to happen but wanting it to be over with all the same.
And then it opened, and there he was.
A startled look was in his eyes, thin, light rose lips slightly agape in shock. The beer bottle in his hand dropped to the floor with a startling crash as the glass shattered and the liquid inside seeped out with a sudden vigor for freedom.
His hair fell into his beautiful eyes but he seemed to take no notice, his gaze never leaving my form as it trembled with fatigue and cold against the door frame.
"Ritsu-" the voice in which he spoke my name was halting, as if for once he was the apprehensive and unsure one, although all the familiar levels of feeling were still there as well. He had cut himself off when I literally fell into his arms, my pounding, dizzy head resting against his chest.
Through the daze of tiredness it still sent a shudder of appeal down my spine and coated my skin in a layer of sunshine as he wrapped strong arms around me.
Resting his head on top of mine, he whispered my name with favor into my hair.
Breathing in his woody scent for mere seconds and my body had become relaxed than it had been for years, up until a few hours ago.
Reaching shaking arms up, I grasped at the back of his shirt, smiling blissfully at the feeling of him holding me closer without causing me to feel any panic, worry or confusion.
"I'm home, Takano-san"
That night I ended the cycle I'd been living and started another. Instead of waking up with him on my mind, I woke with him laying beside me, with his taste on my lips for the first time in ten years.