Warning: In this AU, the characters are not uber-wealthy and their ages have been slightly altered. Also, Megumi talks... a lot. There will be OOCness, but that can't really be helped. It's an AU, after all.
Disclaimer: I don't own SA.
As she predicted, the bookstore café is almost empty when she pushes open the glass door and steps inside, welcoming the drastic change in temperature. August is the hottest month of the year and today is a Saturday afternoon to boot. She is sweaty and dazed from the sun during the fifteen minutes it takes to walk to the café. Weather reports claim this weekend will break new record highs, and it appears they might actually be correct this time. Everybody is either at the beach or the waterpark, trying to get the most out of summer before school begins next week.
Megumi does neither.
She orders her usual hot tea (the air condition in this café gets cold, as she discovered) and makes a beeline for her usual table in the corner, away from the door and windows. Facing the wooden wall, she pulls out her earphones, turns up the volume, and begins to study.
Akira and Hikari, her roommates and close friends from high school, wonder how she can shut herself indoors to read textbooks that aren't even assigned yet, especially on such a hot day. Megumi, in return, wonders how they can stand burning under the sun all day long without fainting or blowing their eyes out. Besides, she argues, this is their last year as undergrads. In one short year, they will graduate and become official working members of society.
This year is, in a nutshell, their last chance to figure out what they want to do with their lives and get a job.
Megumi wants to get a job. So while other college students are partying away their last days of summer, she is going to study hard. In a bookstore café. On the hottest day of the year.
On a Saturday afternoon.
Her music is turned up quite loudly. Despite the fact that it is not so good for her eardrums, she enjoys hearing nothing but the music. It helps her concentrate, which never fails to boggle her friends and family. But for her, music has always been a central part of her identity.
A few hours later, she is immersed in the middle of a Spanish tragedy (and a bad one at that) when she realizes somebody is standing over her table, trying to get her attention. She automatically pulls out an earbud and looks up at the young man expectantly. "Yes?" she asks softly.
"Excuse me," he says politely. "I hope I'm not bothering you."
He is bothering her, but Megumi shakes her head.
His face is handsome, she notes, in a rather sharp and feminine way, and he seems to be aware of it judging by his elegant fashion and carefully-trimmed haircut. The way he holds himself reminds Megumi of a cat slinking towards its prey.
He also looks kind of metro, with the earrings and the form-fitting clothes. She eyes his slender frame and wonders if she's stronger than him.
"You looked like you were studying," he continues. "Are you a university student here?"
She nods silently. Hopefully he will be put off by her blatant disinterest and leave her in peace. She is not in the mood to flirt with a metro stranger. He looks like he is accustomed to approaching girls while they are busy studying.
"I'm a student here too," he assures as though she has asked. He smiles charmingly, and she thinks there is something mocking about it. "Is that for your class?" he gestures languidly at her book.
Megumi doesn't smile back and shows him the cover.
"Thomas Kyd," he remarks with a nod. "I read him back in high school. People thought Shakespeare was better, but I was on his side. Are you a literature major?"
He senses her guardedness and his smile grows wider. "Ah. I apologize if I'm disturbing you. I just noticed you were so absorbed in your book from where I was sitting." She glances over her shoulder to his seat and is slightly uneasy to realize he has a clear view of her back. "I wanted to take a break from my own studying," he explains rather off-handedly.
She considers asking what he is studying out of courtesy, but doesn't want to encourage him either. He reminds her of Kei, Hikari's handsome and rather dubious boyfriend, and that makes Megumi wary of him. Guys with masks and ulterior motives are not her cup of tea.
"So why are you taking this class?" he asks, apparently not discouraged by her silence.
"…It's a requirement for graduation."
"Is this your first degree?"
She nods, belatedly realizing he could be a graduate student or pursuing his second bachelor's degree at this college.
"I'm in my second year of law," he says, as though confirming her thoughts. "Are you a senior?"
He smiles again, but this time it is wry and a little more genuine. "And what are you majoring in?"
Megumi hesitates. "Music Education," she murmurs, waiting for his reaction. She is not disappointed. The flash of surprise and the incredulous raising of his eyebrows is what she comes to expect by now. Her own family can't believe she is going to be a teacher, so why should a stranger?
But then his expression becomes thoughtful and he remarks calmly, "You'd make a horrible teacher."
She stares. Music is pounding through one ear but she can only hear his words echoing in her brain and did a random stranger just outright insult her?
Megumi feels anger and disbelief threatening to burst out of her throat, but she is more surprised by the prickle of hurt his words have caused. It is so trivial, so terribly inconsequential, yet it is probably the meanest thing anybody has ever said to her.
Before she can decide whether to coldly ignore him or just leave the café altogether, he explains, "Why be a music teacher when you can be a musician? When I look at you, I see an artist."
She nearly forgets her anger in her bewilderment.
"Create," he continues, looking straight at her but at the same time looking straight through her. "Instead of teaching music, why not create it? Why settle for second best when you can be first?"
After a pause, Megumi offers him a polite, meaningless smile.
"Because," she says, "you don't know me."
She puts in her earbud and ignores him in favor of her book until he leaves a couple hours later.
School starts and a few months fly by like migrating birds. Megumi forgets about the guy from the café and is swept in a whirlwind of papers, books and exams. One evening during finals week, she goes to the bookstore café with Akira to write her paper on music theory. It is due in a few days but she wants to finish it early so she can spend time with her mother, who is taking a week off from work just to be with her children.
Akira is majoring in Botany and wants to join a landscaping company after she graduates. She is confident, mature and very beautiful. She can also bake. No wonder her boyfriend is head over heels for her.
Megumi wants to be like Akira.
As they sip tea and munch on the café's pastries, Akira remarks, "Oh yeah. Isn't this the same café that girly jerk said you'd make a terrible teacher or something?"
Megumi pauses and then she remembers. "Yes," she replies darkly.
Her short-haired friend giggles at her expression. "So in the end, was he hitting on you or insulting you?"
The two friends share a laugh, and then resume their work in content silence. Megumi recalls his amused eyes and light mocking tone, and pulls out her earphones because she can't concentrate.
After a couple hours, the café grows empty and Megumi is finished with her paper. Satisfied, she stretches freely and glances up when the door opens. A young man strolls in. She stares dumbly for a few seconds before realizing it is the same guy she met a few months ago during the summer.
She whirls back to Akira to hiss that it's him, but then stops at the expression on her friend's face. The brunette is staring at him with unconcealed dislike in her eyes.
"Megumi," she says softly, "let's go home."
Megumi barely has time to agree before her friend is packing her things at an alarming pace, and in less than ten seconds the two are heading for the door. She can't help but glance back and is startled to see the young man staring at Akira's back, a vulnerable expression in his features. He doesn't seem to recognize Megumi at all.
They leave the café. It is cold and dark outside, and when Akira releases a sigh, white fog swirls in the air before disappearing.
"Sorry if you weren't ready to go," she apologizes a little sheepishly.
Megumi shakes her head. "Do you… know him?"
She doesn't elaborate.
The two walk in silence up the streets toward their apartment where Hikari is probably waiting. Megumi is pondering the chances of Akira knowing the guy from the café, and gathers the courage to ask about him.
"Megumi," her friend suddenly says. "Was he the guy you were talking about?"
She nods. Akira laughs, short and bitter. "I'm not surprised."
Megumi hesitates and then glances at her. "…Who is he?" she ventures.
After a long silence, Akira smiles wryly.
"A childhood friend."
It is winter and Megumi works for longer hours at her part-time job. But when her brother invites her to dinner with his girlfriend and another friend, she agrees to go, if only to see if this girl is right for her twin. Ryuu, their childhood friend, unfortunately cannot make it, as he is studying abroad and won't be back until next year.
A part of her is glad that her brother has gotten over his phobia of girls, but another part is jealous. She isn't sure if she's jealous of the girl or her brother. Everyone but Megumi seems to have found 'the one' and it makes her feel slightly frustrated.
They meet at a casual restaurant downtown, close to Jun's private university. It is a French-Italian fusion, and Megumi's favorite. It is also his girlfriend's favorite.
She decides she likes Sakura.
Jun talks about his latest architecture project, some kind of tower that is supposed to twist like an optical illusion, when Sakura's friend arrives twenty minutes late.
"There he is," she says in fond exasperation and waves loudly, "Yahiro! Over here!"
Megumi glances up with a friendly smile as Yahiro slides into the seat across from her, but her greeting freezes on her lips. A flicker of surprise registers in his eyes before he smirks in recognition.
"Yahiro, this is my twin sister," begins Jun, not seeming to notice the exchange between them. "Megumi goes to the same college as you—she wants to be a music teacher."
"Nice to meet you," says Yahiro with infallible courtesy, holding out a hand for her to shake. Warily, she takes the hand. It is slender and warm, and she quickly lets go. He continues with the same polite tone, "Your sister is beautiful, Jun. I feel like I've seen her before."
Sakura inserts excitedly, "I know, right? She looks like this one fashion model I love. She's like a doll!"
"I'm glad we're not twins," Jun remarks dryly.
"Perhaps I met her twin," Yahiro suggests, catching her eye. Megumi looks down at her Italian pasta salad, squelching the urge to go to the restroom and never come back. It is not surprising that he pretends this is their first meeting. Akira's words resound in her head like a broken record for the rest of the dinner, and she isn't aware of the passing time until Jun asks Yahiro to take his sister home.
Megumi adamantly declines, saying she is capable of riding the bus on her own, and that Yahiro is much too busy being the law student that he is. When the man refuses to cooperate and agrees to escort her, she says she needs to make a stop somewhere else.
"Where?" Jun demands. She blurts out the first place that comes to mind.
Sakura is nonplussed. "What, at this hour?"
Megumi nods, rather desperately. "We… need some food. It's my turn to buy them." She waves goodbye and tries to escape, but Yahiro proves to become even more despicable in her eyes by snagging her arm. She is not a violent person by nature, but the desire to pop him one in the eyes is overwhelming.
"What a coincidence," he smiles perfectly. "I need to buy something too."
Everything fast-forwards and suddenly she's walking side by side with the jerk who betrayed Akira's trust and she wonders at the coincidences that have recently involved him and her. Jun and Sakura probably have no idea what kind of person Yahiro really is.
"Akira told you about me," he says without preamble. "That I'm a bad guy."
Not that Megumi knows what kind of person he is either. And she doesn't want to know.
"Do you hate me, Megumi?"
His tone is light and he is looking at the stars, so she replies casually, "I don't hate you. I just don't like you." He chuckles at her honesty and she continues in the same lofty manner, "As long as you don't interfere with Akira's happiness, I don't really care what you do."
They walk down the streets in silence for a while.
He suddenly comments, "So you're on her side. I knew you were a Shakespeare fan."
The bitterness is detectable in his voice and Megumi looks at him incredulously. "Of course," she says. "She's my friend."
"And I'm the enemy."
The way he is deliberately drawing lines makes her irritated. As far as she is concerned, he deserves no pity from her. "If you're such a bad guy," she blurts out, "then why are you walking with me?"
Yahiro suddenly slants a look at her, as if surprised by her question.
"You're her friend."
Akira and Hikari decide to hold a New Year's party at their apartment. They invite their boyfriends. Megumi invites her brother, who invites his girlfriend, who in turn invites Yahiro.
Megumi wonders if she knew this would happen as she explains apologetically to Akira, the queen of hostesses, about this unfortunate social development. Akira only shrugs, saying as long as he behaves himself, she has no problem with him being at the party.
Megumi doesn't tell her that he will probably act like the bad guy, the sacrificial scapegoat, if it would protect Akira from realizing the truth. This is what she learns when Sakura tells her, in a sympathetic tone, why Yahiro acted the way he did when they were children. The only bad thing about him is that he's too nice and he won't let people know about it.
On New Year's Eve, the party is underway and the atmosphere is pleasant. Only one person is late, and Hikari begs Megumi to sing.
Warm with champagne and the laughter of friends, she gladly acquiesces and sings a favorite ballad. It is a slow and sweet melody, full of emotion and nostalgia. She is transported to another world when she sings, so Megumi doesn't hear the quiet knock or notice another person enter the living room.
When the last syllable falls from her lips, the room comes alive with applause. She blushes, partly from the warmth of the room and mostly from being center of attention.
Sakura rushes over and squeezes her arm. "I didn't know you can sing!" she gushes. "What was that song?"
"Um, it has no title."
Hikari joins the conversation. "It's a song Megumi made up," she chirps proudly. "She's going to be a music teacher!" Sakura nods in amazement.
Megumi smiles, ignoring the twinge of annoyance that appears in her chest. Believing it's the stifling room she excuses herself and steps out onto the balcony for some air. It is certainly colder outside, and she almost considers going back in to grab a jacket.
"I knew you were an artist," says Yahiro from behind her. She glances over to see him step up to the balcony railing beside her, his eyes fixed on the night stars above. "You could be a professional."
"My dream was to be a singer when I grew up," she confesses softly, hugging herself as she stares unseeingly at the moon. Behind, she can hear laughter as Tadashi, Akira's boyfriend, tells a funny story. Somehow she feels terribly sad, and continues, "But as I got older, I realized how unrealistic I was. There are so many good singers out there, and I'm only one of them. And it's not a stable job either."
He breathes out slowly and asks, "Are you cold?"
She shakes her head, not wanting to go back inside yet. He unzips his coat and shrugs it off, and she belatedly says, "Oh no, it's okay," when she realizes what he is doing. Her protest dies pathetically when he places the coat around her shoulders. It is heavy but still warm from his body heat, and her upper arms tingle where he had touched them, despite the layers of clothing.
"Thank you," she murmurs shyly. He pretends not to hear her, and Megumi continues lightly, "I didn't think… you would come tonight."
Yahiro smirks and shoves his hands into his pockets. "You mean Akira? She wouldn't have noticed if I came or not."
"Do you love her?" And Megumi clicks her mouth shut, mortified by her careless remark. She blames it on the champagne. He doesn't seem upset, fortunately, but the lines around his eyes are tense.
"I thought we were discussing why you gave up your dream," he comments idly. "You should sing."
She feels another twang of annoyance and she thinks she knows why this time, but doesn't care to acknowledge it. "You should tell Akira the truth," she says more boldly than she feels, not seeing him stiffen marginally. "It's not fair to her. At this rate, she becomes the bad guy and—"
"It's none of your business," Yahiro cuts in coolly.
Megumi feels stunned, but quickly retaliates, "Maybe not, but I'm her friend." She feels a little angry and it fuels her. "And I don't like it when my friends are being lied to and manipulated."
"I'm doing it for her sake," he says flatly.
"No," she corrects, "you're being a tragic hero."
Yahiro is very still, almost as if he doesn't hear her. But she sees the way he tightens his jaw and spots the glaciers moving behind his eyes, and she feels a guilty stab of satisfaction. She wants to break that mask and catch him off guard, for once.
Then he turns to face her, a mocking smile on his handsome face.
"Straighten out your own life," he suggests mildly, "before dishing out advice to other people."
"You don't even know what you want to do."
Megumi gives him a look. "I want to teach children music," she points out.
"Right, because you get stability." His tone becomes politely bewildered. "So lying to yourself is more realistic than following your dreams. Interesting. Is that what you're teaching the children as well? How to be realistic?"
She wants to hit him. "My life has nothing to do with you and Akira."
"Exactly." He leans in and lowers his voice. "Let's keep it that way."
"And you're hypocritical."
Suddenly, the balcony door opens and they hear Sakura call brightly, "Yahiro! Megumi! Come on, it's almost time for the countdown!"
"Coming," Yahiro replies without looking away from Megumi. "After you," he gestures calmly.
She turns without a word and quickly walks back inside, feeling hotter than she was before. Then she remembers his coat and hastily takes it off. She grabs a cup of champagne and downs it in one shot. On the other side of the room, Yahiro is chatting disinterestedly with Hikari and Kei, not looking in her direction at all. She wishes Akira never arranged this party.
The countdown begins. Couples drift off to find an isolated spot for themselves as the seconds tick determinedly toward midnight. Megumi stares at the clock, holding an empty cup and wishing she could disappear.
"Ten… nine… eight…"
The others begin chanting, with growing excitement and louder voices. Megumi edges away from her brother and his girlfriend as they hold each other comfortably, thinking of escaping to the kitchen, when she bumps into someone. She knows it is Yahiro even before turning, because they are the only singles left and he has a distinct cologne scent that seems to be permanently etched into her senses. She wonders if he is also escaping the happy room, surrounded yet utterly alone, but then he puts a hand on her shoulder and leans in.
"…one! Happy New Year!"
Everyone is laughing and kissing now, but Megumi is only aware of his warm breath on her skin as he murmurs, "Happy New Year." His lips brush her cheek in a chaste kiss, almost as if in apology, and then he steps away, congratulating the others in a louder tone.
Megumi joins the others as well, thinking this is the worst New Year of her life.
The snow is melting and there is sun peeking through the clouds on the day Megumi realizes she needs to become a singer. It is a distant dream, of course, and she has so much to do before taking the first step, but she realizes that dreams are a lifelong process. It might take years, decades, before she reaches her goal, and she is prepared for that.
She digs out all her old lyrics and scores, every single scrap of paper that has lines of inspiration, and studies them. For the first time in her life, Megumi doesn't feel like this is a waste of her time. She is building her future with her own small hands.
That is why, even though she has school work to be studying and books to be reading, she sits down at the bookstore café and revises her old songs, music pouring through her earphones as usual.
Somebody sits down across from her and she looks up, startled.
Yahiro smirks knowingly at her, tapping his ear. Sheepishly, she takes out her earbuds and turns off her music player. "Sorry," she apologizes, trying not to show the mixture of emotions swarming her guts like butterflies. They haven't seen each other since New Year's and he looks more handsome than usual.
"Is this your favorite place to study?" he asks curiously.
"Yeah." She doesn't tell him she comes here hoping she might see him again. Instead she inquires, "How are you?"
He sighs and leans back in his chair. "Exhausted," he admits wryly. "I had to meet with some clients this week and give three presentations for class. I've gotten maybe ten hours of sleep in the past four days."
"Then you should be resting right now!"
He waves it aside and looks down at her papers. "What are you studying?"
She still feels dubious, but lets it go for now. "I'm actually editing," she replies, feeling a little embarrassed. "My old songs," she adds when he looks at her expectantly.
Yahiro raises a slender eyebrow. "What for?"
She is sure that he already knows why and just wants to hear her say it for his own satisfaction, but Megumi says it anyway.
"I want to be a singer."
Contrary to her expectation, he does not smirk or rub it in her face. Instead, he becomes thoughtful.
Megumi is fiddling with her earphones, and she rushes out, "Thank you."
"What for?" he repeats absently.
She is blushing slightly but the gratitude is real and she looks him directly in the eye as she explains, "You made me realize that I should follow my dreams. I thought it was impossible and that it was too late… but it's never too late." Megumi smiles genuinely at him, almost laughing at the look on his face, and decides to give him a different explanation. "I had a few negative experiences when I was younger, and I think they just built up until I believed I couldn't be a singer."
He doesn't say anything and she smiles to lighten the atmosphere.
"Anyways. I'm still going to be a teacher," she informs him matter-of-factly. "I'll just sing in my free time."
He snorts softly, either in amusement or sarcasm, but his smile is gentle. "No wonder you and Akira are friends. Always practical-minded."
The sting is less painful than before, but Megumi still has to wait for the ache to subside before teasing quietly, "Maybe that's why you're so nice. You're not practical enough." She almost wishes he is less kind, less thoughtful, so she would have a reason to dislike him, but knows that no matter what he does, he will always be the same to her.
Yahiro can see through words and masks better than anyone, and he knows she wants him to let go of the past. To look at what is in front of him.
But he glances down and says, "Maybe."
Graduation is approaching and Megumi doesn't want to graduate. It is much too soon, much too fast, and she wants to remain a student until the end of her days. But time goes on, as she has learned, whether she likes it or not.
Ryuu has come home from Australia, and she spends as much time with her surrogate older brother as she possibly can before he embarks on yet another trip in the summer. He wants to be an animal specialist and thus travels frequently around the world. He is also tall and handsome, and many women in the bookstore café glance at him furtively as he listens to Megumi tell him about her post-grad plans. She is both proud and exasperated by his obliviousness to the attention. It is one of the reasons why she gave up on her fleeting, high school crush on him. That, and the fact he paid more attention to animals than humans.
"Do you have a boyfriend, Megumi?" he suddenly asks her. She blinks in surprise.
"Of course not," she replies bemusedly.
Ryuu is looking over her head and there is a strange expression on his face as he says, "Then why does that guy look like he wants to kill me?" Before she can whirl around to see, he mutters, "Oh good, he's coming."
A familiar cologne scent reaches her before Yahiro greets coolly, "Hello, Megumi."
She looks up with a bright smile and returns, "Hello." But he is not looking at her. She quickly introduces, "Oh, this is my childhood friend. Ryuu, this is… Yahiro. Ryuu just came back from study abroad in Australia."
The two men nod at each other, not shaking hands. Even Megumi senses the challenge in both gazes. Wondering why they are so hostile, she endeavors to break the tension, but then they begin to 'talk'.
"You two must have met while I was gone," Ryuu comments, looking squarely at the other man. "She never mentioned you at all."
Yahiro smirks. "She never mentioned you either, even though you're her childhood friend."
"There was probably no need to. We've known each other all our lives."
"Pity you're not so close anymore."
The two have a staring contest. Megumi resists the urge to announce that the subject of their conversation is, in fact, sitting right in front of them. Their tough front is so ridiculous it borders on comedic, but she can't laugh.
Thankfully, Ryuu's phone rings. His eyes brighten when he sees the caller ID. "Hey," he greets warmly. "How are you?"
Megumi takes this chance to give Yahiro a look. What was that all about?
He doesn't seem to notice, or decides to ignore it.
Ryuu suddenly gets up, still talking on the phone. He mouths apologetically at Megumi, "My girlfriend," who only smiles back, and then he shoots Yahiro a pointed gaze that warns him not to do anything sketch while he's gone. Then he walks out of the café, saying, "Wait a minute, Finn, isn't it really late over there? We're at least seven hours ahead…"
She watches Yahiro pause, before he takes Ryuu's seat.
"What was that about?" she demands out loud, a little annoyed but mostly bemused by his stereotypical male exchange with Ryuu. He probably put on a show just because it is amusing.
Yahiro ignores her question and says calmly, "So I met with a client the other day, and do you know what he does for a living?"
His lips quirk. "He's a music producer. Specifically for amateurs. I told him I knew someone who wanted to go pro, and he said he would be willing to arrange an appointment." He waits for this to sink in.
Megumi stares at him. "Do you mean… me?" Her voice is tiny and incredulous.
"Yes, you," he almost rolls his eyes. "Be grateful. He's not really an audition kind of guy, but because I was such an amazing lawyer he decided to make an exception just for me."
Whatever reaction he is expecting, Yahiro is visibly startled when she jumps out of her seat and hugs him, wrapping her arms around his neck. She can feel him stiffen in surprise, but then he relaxes, even reaching up to touch her back.
"I'm sorry," she mumbles. "Thank you."
He makes an amused sound, telling her without words that she is being contradictory and really it is nothing. Moments pass and the time to pull apart has come and gone, but she does not let go. An awkward realization settles over them and Megumi desperately wishes they could stay like this for another minute, another century—
Ryuu comes back and politely demands what they are doing.
It is a hot summer morning and Megumi is sitting in her usual corner at the bookstore café. She is listening to her new single, which has been used for a low-budget film (a very bad one at that). Scattered across the small table is her iced green tea, her notebooks, a bunch of scrap paper, and three different colored pens.
She should be writing lessons for her class on Monday, but inspiration has struck as she was walking towards the café, and now she is scribbling the lyrics and melody before they disappear.
Somebody sits across the table from her, but she doesn't look up until she is finished writing. Then she pulls out her earphones and smiles up at him. "You're early," Megumi greets softly.
Yahiro shrugs carelessly. "I was free this morning." Then he gestures at her pages, asking, "Is that your new song?"
She nods. "But you can't read it. Not yet."
He raises an eyebrow. "Why not?"
"It's a surprise," she declares firmly, and tucks it away into her folder. He doesn't need to know that it's meant for him, because even though they're good friends now, they aren't anything more than that. Megumi has long since given up hope that he will look at her in that way, and cherishes the fact that he is there for her at all.
(Such as being the first to read her lyrics. And being the first to hear her new songs. And meeting her at the café every single week.)
Yahiro seems a little unhappy that she won't share her song, but then he moves on and suggests, "Let's go out."
Her heartbeat spikes up at these words despite convincing herself she had moved on, and Megumi struggles to ask in a normal tone, "Where?"
"Anywhere. The weather's too nice to spend it indoors."
"I like being shut up inside a café," she protests, already shuffling her papers in her bag. Yahiro offers her a half-smile and holds out her iced tea for her.
"Only when you're alone," he says.
They end up taking a walk through the city park, joining the multitude of couples and families enjoying the great outdoors. She notices a few young women giving him second glances, no doubt attracted by his good looks, and is comforted by the fact that he doesn't notice any of them (he's like Ryuu in that respect). Nevertheless, Megumi moves subtly closer to him as they talk about their summer plans and his final year in law school.
Then they move onto the topic of Jun and Sakura's engagement. "Have you written a song for them yet?" Yahiro asks, leading them to a free shaded spot under a tree. He waits for her to sit on the grass and then sits beside her.
Megumi shakes her head, brushing back her long wavy tresses. "I still have a year until the wedding," she reminds him. "It has to be special."
"Marriage," he breathes out. Then he chuckles dryly, as though it is a funny joke. "It's amazing people still try, despite the current statistics of divorce. Not that those two would split up."
"It's about keeping a promise," Megumi says quietly, watching a few children chasing each other in the grass, shrieking with laughter. "You stick together no matter what until you die, through sickness and sadness."
"What if you hate each other?"
"Then you make a choice," she responds, remembering her mother's words. "You decide what is more important to you: a promise or your happiness."
He turns his head to look at her now. "What's more important to you?"
She pauses. "The promise. Because keeping the promise is my happiness too."
"Is that so?" Yahiro's tone is disbelieving, and she turns to frown at him. "Nobody's that honorable, Megumi. It's every person for themselves in this world, and you're no exception. You'll probably file for divorce the minute he cheats on you."
"I wouldn't," she retorts, then adds as an afterthought, "He wouldn't cheat either."
"How do you know?" he challenges.
"I wouldn't marry a guy like that," Megumi states emphatically. If he's anything like Yahiro, then she is positive there wouldn't be any such problem. She tilts her head back to look at the emerald branches, saying, "He'll be my best friend and closest companion. I'll write him songs and go on café dates with him every week…" She says this knowing that Yahiro doesn't make the connection; his platonic feelings are both a curse and a blessing in this respect, and she laughs at herself because she has never wanted to move on in the first place.
There is a comfortable silence as they listen to the sounds of children shouting and groups of friends chatting under nearby trees.
Then Yahiro observes quietly, "Your future husband kind of sounds like me."
Megumi takes a moment to register this. When she does, it slams the breath out of her lungs, with all the force of a speeding semi-truck. She is still grasping for a proper response as the man waits for her.
Finally, she manages to say, "I didn't notice."
"Well I did," he says with unflinching calm, belying the way his fingers are restlessly plucking the grass by her leg. "Have you ever thought about us?"
She forgets how to breathe. It feels wonderful, in a terrifying way. "What do you mean?" she asks uncertainly, knowing exactly what he means. Once going forward, there is no going back and she doesn't want to lose their friendship. There are still many questions left unspoken, doubts about whether he has let go of the past or not, and there is a split moment in time when Megumi can deflect his question and pretend not to understand.
But he clears his throat inaudibly and says, "As a couple."
She takes a deep breath. "…Yes. A little."
"I'm not very good at breaking promises," he warns her in that same, light tone. "So if you ever hate me, I won't be the one filing for a divorce. Anyways, it isn't my field of specialty."
Yahiro is being lighthearted to cover up his anxiety, she realizes, and it is so unfamiliar and endearing that she has to laugh a little at him. He turns to her and smiles faintly.
"What do you say, Megumi?"
She also turns to face him, and her radiant smile needs no words.
Yahiro sees her answer and smirks back, more relieved than his usual wryness. She watches him gaze at her for a moment, then he leans closer, planting a hand on the grass to balance him. And unlike that night on New Year's, his lips brush against hers in an unmistakable gesture. When she closes her eyes and leans in slightly, he kisses her again with a little more firmness, his other hand settling on her neck with steady warmth.
They pull apart after what feels like too short a time. She realizes her arms are around his neck without her knowing, and her cheeks are flushed. "Ryuu and Jun probably won't be happy," she murmurs.
He makes a sound of agreement. "Neither will my brother."
After a long moment, she says dumbstruck, "You have a brother?"
"Yeah. Chitose. He should be in middle school. Or is it high school?" Yahiro muses, and almost laughs upon seeing her expression. Megumi smiles too, letting her head rest against his shoulder.
There are so many things they don't know about each other, but she knows they will have a lifetime to discover these things.
For now, she softly hums the half-finished song meant for him.