A story inspired by the uninspiring volume 9 (chapter 48 of the manga)...written to the backdrop of the beautiful piano forte version of the Chihayafuru Main Theme from the OST. This goes beyond the anime, I suppose, but I will try not to include any spoilers. You can just say this could take place anytime after Chihaya and co. have already been to Omi Jingu and after Chihaya played Shinobu for the first time. Maybe around volume 8 or 9 of the tankoubon.

Just a bit of fluff I thought up on a whim. I make no claim to the characters, the story or the publication rights of Chihayafuru.

-Kero (2/20/12)

Verse 1

Hisakata no / In the peaceful light

Hikari nodokeki / Of the ever-shining sun

Haru no hi ni / In the days of spring

Shizu-gokoro naku / Why do the cherry's new-blown blooms

Hana no chiruran / Scatter like restless thoughts?

- Ki no Tomonori (poem 33 of the Hyakunin Isshu)


There were so many things she wanted to say to him, but the words gathered together and could go no further than the base of her throat. Not a single syllable could stumble forward from her flush stained lips. The crowd was too audible. Her kimono weighed her down. Camera flashes blinded her peripheral vision. All around her friends offered words of congratulations and cluttered her thoughts. One underlying string of consciousness prevailed. Chihaya wanted to reach out to him but he was too far away and not even looking in her direction.

Turn around. Please...

How many years had it been since they had made the promise? She had tried and failed, and tried again until her knees ached from kneeling, her hands hurt from striking, her eyes drained from crying until she made it here with years of effort, a place where she knew she would find him again. They had, after all, sworn long ago to meet when the path of their dreams intersected. The day he left Tokyo always lingered in her distant memory, an anchor in everything she did since then.

As if hearing her inner voice beckon, the tall figure dressed in kimono and hakama turned around and gave her a smile that only Arata could give. The warmth she felt when he looked at her was the same feeling she had before the tournament, when he texted "Have fun, Chihaya," to her phone. The words that caught in her throat choked her and brought tears to her eyes.

Arata walked over to her without hesitation, and with a hint of concern for her in his expression. "Chihaya?"

Her hand automatically found its way to his kimono collar and clutched it tightly.

Don't look away ever again, she thought, and I won't let go.

All the while, she could hear the wind-stirred cherry blossoms scattering around Omi Jingu.

-000-

Chihaya's eyes blinked open, and the feeling of wet tears falling down her temples bid her a warm morning greeting. She wiped the sides of her face and inhaled deeply.

Not this dream again, she sighed as she lay staring at the ceiling. Chihaya turned and clutched her Daddy Bear bed roll close to her, burying her face in it.

"When can I see you again?" she asked the empty room. Chihaya looked up to where her Daddy Bear stuffed animal was sitting on a nearby shelf.

Stupid, you can call him anytime you want, she imagined it saying. She looked over to her desk where her cell phone was charging. She had set Arata's number on speed dial but Chihaya had yet to use that function.

"I'd just end up sounding like an idiot," she mumbled into the pillow, answering her own rhetorical question.

That's your own problem, answered Daddy Bear.

I wanted to see him so badly back then, she thought to herself, recalling the time she and Taichi went all the way to Fukui to visit. I even borrowed money from stingy, money-loving, interest-charging Chitose to do it. And I would do it again...but... Chihaya sighed again. She wanted so badly to fulfill her promise. She hoped so strongly that her dream would someday become a reality, that he would be standing there in front of her as the best male karuta player in the world, and she in front of him as the best female karuta player in the world. And just as someone would ask to take a picture of the ruling Meijin and Queen together, she would gather the courage to say the things she could not. But until then...

I wanted to see you.

I really wanted to see you.

All this time, I really wanted to see you.

All this time...

Chihaya flushed deeply at the thought of saying these things to him while everyone was watching. But only then, only on that stage, when she surpassed her trials would she be able to tell him what she felt clearly, and beautifully; and the words would flow like a waka poetry from her lips.

What she felt was a mystery to even Chihaya, however. Many nights were spent with her straining to understand what it was that drove her to such feats, and many times, Chitose even called her out on her obsessive-compulsive behavior. If anything, Chihaya was passionate about the things she loved, and to others it may seem like OCD behavior. She was like that with karuta, with Daddy Bear...with Arata...

He's the one who gave me my dream, of course I would feel strongly about him, she would often reason to herself. But the second she tried to explain it logically, a question would always follow: Is it only that?

Instinctively she knew that what she felt ran deeper than that. This feeling was springtime bright, ran oceans deep, flowing steady, like a river. When she thought about Arata it was a similar feeling to how she felt about the poetry she knew by heart. It was friendship. It was family. It was truth. It was hope. It was also more than that, though she had no name for it. Perhaps the day she would understand would be that bright day at Omi Jingu when they stood on the stage together.

She closed her eyes and placed a hand over her chest. Beneath her fingers she could feel her quickened heartbeat. Whenever she thought of him, her heart would react in kind. Chihaya wished she could decipher its language. Just as Chihaya was immersed in these thoughts, a knock on her door interrupted her.

"Chiha-" started her sister, opening the door before she even had permission. But she stopped short when she saw her younger sibling's expression. "Wah, what's with that face?" Chitose wrinkled her nose. "Just when I thought you couldn't look more appalling in the morning you greet me with this."

"W-what?" asked Chihaya, too lazy to make a clever retort.

Her sister sighed. "Do you have anything important to do today? Do you need to prepare for any tests or important assignments or anything like that for Monday?"

"No, why?" responded Chihaya quizzically. It was Sunday morning.

"I need your help. I need you to come with me to a shoot. Mom was going to go but she's coming down with something, and I don't need her sneezing everywhere when she should be in bed," said her older sister. Surprisingly, Chitose had a deeply embedded line of filial piety underneath all her self-absorbed attitude and make-up.

"Why do you need me?" she asked.

"Well, duh, I'm going to need an assistant, right?" she answered, rolling her eyes emphatically.

"You mean a stooge you can order around to get you coffee and snacks," mumbled Chihaya rolling over and turning her back on Chitose. "No thanks. I need to practice karuta."

"Karuta, karuta," muttered Chitose. "Is that all you think about?"

"No," retorted Chihaya. "I think of other things too!"

"Like what?" insisted Chitose, rummaging through her sister's closet for something suitable to wear. "That hideous Daddy Bear? That doesn't count."

"Why not?"

"Because I said so," answered Chitose. "If you were a normal girl, you be thinking about purses, or make-up brands, or dieting. Maybe even boys, or who you want to give chocolates to. Or," she added as an afterthought, "who you'd want to confess to under the cherry blossoms."

"Cherry...blossoms..."mulled Chihaya. "I had a dream about cherry blossoms."

"That's a good sign," said her sister with a brightened expression. Chitose picked up a matching pair of shoes from the closet to complete the ensemble. After all, a model's sister cant go around in public looking like a slob. People might start to speculate that Chitose had "work" done on her.

"Cherry blossoms...at Omi Jingu," finished Chihaya. Now that she thought about it, the Meijin match occurred in January after the New Year. It would still be too early for cherry blossoms.

"Good grief!" exclaimed her older sister. "Cherry blossoms and karuta? What is wrong with that warped little mind of yours? If it were me and I had to choose between the two, I'd pick love over karuta, hands down."

"Why do I have to choose between them?" Chihaya wondered aloud. "Why can't I have both...?"

"Where are you going to find a guy who will indulge you and play karuta with you all day?" asked Chitose with exasperation and stomping her foot. "That guy would have to be as bad a karuta nut as you are, and that would just be...wierd," she said finally, trying to find the right word for it.

"I can play karuta with him...he wouldn't mind..." said Chihaya, almost inaudibly. She had only played against him once, but thinking on it now, the thought of playing against him now, as they were both advanced into the A ranks sent a thrill to her heart. It would be magical, she thought.

"Can we drop the subject please? Get dressed and eat something. We have to leave in 20 minutes."

"What do I get out of it?" she grumbled at her older sister.

"My eternal gratitude," Chitose said sarcastically and closed the door behind her.

"Tch." Chihaya rolled out of bed and onto the floor. She looked up at the sun streaming in through her curtains. Some fresh air could actually clear her head from the haze of thoughts that greeted her this morning. Reluctantly, she got dressed.