Author's Note: I was rereading the first volume of Kimi ni Todoke and this story emerged in my mind. Enjoy.

Summary: It only took a year for Kazehaya to fall in love and it began the day she smiled.

Beta: Milly

Stages of Love

Twenty minutes. It had been a full twenty minutes and he still couldn't find the way to the stupid school. Shouta alternated his time between glaring at the scrap of paper Ryu called directions and sending confused glances at the surrounding area. The high school entrance ceremony would be starting soon but he hadn't a clue on how to get there. He knew he should have asked Ryu to walk with him this morning. Ryu's older brother had attended Kitahoro High School, so Ryu would have known where to go.

Sighing, Shouta glanced around one last time searching for a sign or an omen to guide him. The wind scattered small pink cherry blossoms along the narrow path in front of him, sending them twirling in the air as if dancing to some unheard tune. He started forward as if to follow only to stop once again. There were two roads in front of him. One went straight and the other lead off to the right.

And unfortunately, he didn't remember Ryu mentioning two diverging pathways in his directions. Groaning, Shouta scratched the back of his head in hopeless confusion. This was pointless; he was never going to make it on time this way.

He had finally decided to call Ryu when a shy voice spoke from behind him. Long black bangs hid the majority of her face and her voice seemed so soft and disjointed that Shouta struggled to make out the words.

"If- if you're looking for Kitahoro High School," the girl said, eyes firmly focused on the ground, "it's over there. To your right."

"Eh?" he said, glancing in the direction she indicated. "Thanks," he said smiling in relief, "you totally saved me."

He began to head down the path when a gentle gust of wind sent some of the small cherry petals ghosting along the sleeves of his jacket. He turned slightly to brush them off when something caught his attention. The girl on the path was smiling. Maybe, smiling wasn't the right word for it. It was as if she had just been handed all the happiness in the world and she could no longer contain it within herself. It poured out from her skin, her eyes, and her lips in such intensity that he found himself wrapped by complete amazement.

That spring, Kazehaya became curious about the strange and mysterious girl whose smile could outshine the sun.

His unexplainable fascination with the girl meant Shouta found himself constantly watching her. Everyone else tended to avoid Kuronuma Sawako, he noticed. Stories and rumors circulated about how she practiced black magic and could summon spirits to do her bidding. But in his eyes, she was a hard worker, devoted to trying her best. She constantly volunteered for unwanted tasks and consistently scored well in class.

As the months went by he began noticing more and more about Kuronuma. But as much as tried, he could never get her to talk to him other than a few mumbled words. True, he greeted her every morning, but she never responded. She would stare at him as if he was a strange, foreign creature. It frustrated him to no end. He couldn't figure out what he might have done to upset her.

Then he wondered if she had noticed him staring at her in class and was freaked out by it.

But it wasn't like he meant anything by it!

So he happened to notice her a lot in class, but he sat in the back row and when he got bored, his mind tended to wander. And if he happened to noticed how she would nod so seriously when the teacher lectured about some important point, it wasn't that big of deal. And if he happened to greet her by her name in the morning, it was only because he wanted to make sure she knew she was included. And if sometimes he lingered after school ended to watch as she watered the flowers around the school, it didn't mean anything either. All in all, it wasn't that big of a deal.

He hoped he would believe it himself if he repeated it another few hundred more times.

He wanted to give up on her. Quit watching her and find something new to focus his attention on but she had this way of drawing his awareness back to her. Like when she always took the unwanted tasks so that the teacher never had to assign it to someone who didn't want them. Or the way she moved her chair ahead of time on test day so that people didn't have to worry about sitting in "Sadako's seat." She would even try to greet her classmates knowing that they would probably freeze or run away. Even when they ignored her, Kuronuma always put her classmates before herself.

It was an admirable trait.

He just wondered why he felt so excluded.

During the test of courage, he finally had a chance to talk to her, to get to know her. He felt both honored and humbled to hear of her desire to make friends with the rest of the class.

That night under the stars, he felt something beginning to stir within himself. A yearning. A longing. A desire to learn more about the selfless girl who willingly would play the part of a ghost because she thought it would make her classmates happy.

It was a surreal experience ruined the next day by the teasing of their classmates.

But then she surprised him again. As she always did. She thought he was the one being made fun of and so she rushed to defend him. He watched in awe as she spoke of his kindness, pleasantness and friendliness without embarrassment or fear.

But then, she disappeared.

That summer, Kazehaya became flustered by the girl who could twist his insides into knots and send scores of butterflies dancing within his stomach without even realizing it.

He thought about her all summer and into the fall. When summer break ended and classes resumed, he continued to watch her desperately trying to figure her out. He felt like a stalker but he couldn't help himself. Kuronuma was so different, so unique. He never met another person like her before. He never knew a person could be so heartfelt and so selfless. It was like she didn't have a selfish bone in her body so sincere was her dedication to placing another's wellbeing above her own.

But no one else seemed to understand that. The class thought that he had rejected her declaration of love. In reality, she never made one. She respected him. A fact that frustrated him to no end. To him, it meant she didn't even see him like a boy, just as another classmate. He wanted to do something to fix the situation, but he didn't know how. He feared that if he was any more blunt in his attempts, he would either scare her off or ruin whatever it was they had between them.

But the choice was taken out of his hands.

Kuronuma began to avoid him.

At first, he thought he was imagining it. So she didn't linger in the classroom to talk to him or look at him anymore during the lessons, she could just want to pay attention to the lesson. But then he noticed she was not only withdrawing from him but also Yano-san and Yoshida-san.

He tried to ignore it. Ignore the hurt, the pain, the confusion her absence brought. But he couldn't. Whether she realized it or not, he liked spending time with her. He enjoyed seeing parts of her that no one else knew existed. It was like he had been given a privileged secret anytime she broken into one of her rare smiles.

So when she refused to look at him, to stay in his presence, to even talk with him, it hurt. More than he realized it would. He couldn't understand what he had done to drive her away. Was it because he told her he liked keeping her smiles to himself? Did she realize that his feelings for her were beginning to go beyond the feelings of friendship? Was she disgusted by the thought?

Eventually, he confronted her.

Through her tears, he learned that she distanced herself for his benefit. She was worried that her presence was damaging his reputation. And although it clearly hurt her to do so, she stayed away. She wanted what was best for him, even if it meant sacrificing her own happiness in the process. He wanted to laugh, to shake her, to yell. So many emotions conflicted and collided inside of him but the one thing he felt most deeply of them all was relief. Sawako wanted to stay by his side.

That fall, Kazehaya realized that he didn't want to ever leave her side again.

As the air turned colder, Shouta felt like he was losing his mind. And he had no one to blame but himself. It started the day his friends began talking about arranging a Christmas Eve party for the single members of the class. From then on, he kept picturing what it would be like to see Sawako over break.

When he noticed her lingering around the party sign up sheet, he finally gave in to the urge to ask if she would be attending. When she said she wanted to go, he wanted to cheer. Finally, he had a way to get closer to her.

That night when he walked home from school, he passed a small stand that sold beaded bracelets and cell phone straps. One strap in particular caught his eye. It was small with a mixture of pink and yellow beads that led down to the image of a daisy. It was perfect. He quickly bought it before he could talk himself out of it.

The next day, he found out that she wasn't going to be attending the celebration after all. And suddenly, the present he selected for her sitting wrapped and waiting on his desk at home seemed so foolish.

In the days that followed his temper grew short and his frustration increased. But his hands were tied; he couldn't force her to go. During the Christmas Eve party, he grew outright despondent. He tried to smile and laugh as if nothing was wrong but anytime someone came in he kept hoping it would be Kuronuma and when he noticed it wasn't, he became even more depressed.

When Yano-san came over and started talking about how much Kuronuma wanted to come and how much Kuronuma had been looking forward to it, he nearly lost it. He wanted Kuronuma to come too but what was he supposed to do? That was when Yano came up with a plan. Why not call Sawako and invite her one last time?

He watched nervously as Yoshida dialed Sawako's home phone number. She quickly shouted out Christmas greetings before handing the phone to Yano-san. His palms began to sweat as he watched. Yano must have noticed became she began to smirk and said something into the phone that was too low for him to hear. Then she winked and slyly put the phone in his hand. He took in a deep breath as he put the phone next to his ear; he still didn't know what to say but he knew he had to try.

"Kuronuma?" he asked nervously.

She didn't reply. He called her name again, but still no one responded. He thought about giving up. He was about to hang up when another voice came on the line. It was Kuronuma's mother. She asked him about the party and if everyone was having fun. And they were, except him. But could he say that? He thought back to the shy girl who approached him to give him directions, the same girl who bravely stood up for him in front of the entire class.

"Everyone would be happier if Kuronuma was here," he told her honestly.

There was a brief pause and he wondered if he said too much, but then the woman responded with four small words that sent his heart racing. "She's on her way."

As everyone else left for karaoke, Shouta stayed behind to wait. He stood there hoping and praying, desperately waiting for Sawako to arrive. And then she did. When his eyes finally caught sight of her, nothing could prevent the grin from spreading across his face and warmth from growing in his heart. She was here. Sawako was here. With him.

It was in that moment, that cold winter day that Kazehaya knew he had fallen hopeless, pathetically, into the strange emotion called love.