Encounters

Years after her last interaction with her first and only middle-school friends, Haruka bumps into an old friend.

Haruka leaned into the bookshelf, inspecting each book with meticulous care. They were the classics that she had never gotten the chance to read; The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, Pride and Prejudice…The idea that she would finally get a chance to relax was relieving, yet almost completely unreal.

It took her days of—she paused, mulling over what would be the most appropriate term—"good behavior" more or less to convince Mamoru to take her to Tokyo. She figured the only reason he had agreed to it was because the city was so crowded.

But now they were finally here and, God, it was amazing to say the least. It was all so grand and beautiful, filled with dazzling lights and colors. She let out a somewhat dreamy sigh, thinking of all of the other places in the world that were left for her to explore.

Haruka picked up Jane Eyre from the shelf and eyed it curiously. The pages were crisp and fresh, the spine making a crackling noise when she carefully opened the cover. A small smile grew on her face as she flipped through the pages and she sighed in satisfaction.

A figure loomed over her, casting a slightly darker shadow on the bookshelf and she turned expectantly. Mamoru squinted at the book through his glasses and tilted his face to look at her questioningly.

"Jane Eyre," She stated with an unwavering grin, hugging the book tightly to her chest. He raised an eyebrow and stared at her but her smile only grew wider.

"Pft." He shook his head, sighing deeply, and turned away. Nevertheless, she saw the smallest hint of a smile tug at the corner of his lips as he walked away.

"You ready?" He asked her impatiently. She nodded more to herself than to him before quickly sweeping over them one last time. "Just about," Haruka called and he sauntered over to the café.

She hummed to herself quietly until she reached the end of the row. "That should be about it…" Her hands slipped back into her jacket pockets and she turned contentedly to follow Mamoru.

"Oof!" She bumped into a hard surface and stumbled back clumsily. A hand shot out to grab her arm and steadied her, much to her sudden relief. She clutched the wooden shelf behind her and righted herself before she could manage to trip over her feet again.

"I'm sorry," A kind, yet urgent voice apologized quickly. She brushed away the bangs from her eyes and blinked up at the man. "It's all right!" She flashed him a bright, reassuring smile, but faltered once she got a good glimpse of his face.

His eyes were a mellow, yet piercing shade of green, overshadowed by long thick eyelashes. He had choppy jet black hair that stuck up in several directions, exposing dark studded earring on his left ear. God, he looks so…familiar. Was it familiarity? She couldn't tell.

Haruka glanced around nervously for Mamoru, but was unable to find him. She looked back at the man, realizing that he had not moved since their encounter, and saw that his eyes were wide and his mouth agape.

"Tachibana?" He sputtered and she felt her heart drop. She opened her mouth to respond but was unable to form any coherent words. Her thoughts, however, were racing at the realization that this was Kashiwado—one of her only friends from middle school. And goddamn, has he grown up, she admitted to herself with a quick raise of the eyebrows.

"Tachibana," Kashiwado repeated, and she was brought back to her senses. "Ah," She hadn't thought of what to say yet. Shit. Nice going, Haruka. She gave another furtive glance at the café, but Mamoru was nowhere to be found.

Kashiwado furrowed his eyebrows at her unusual behavior and lack of…well, lack of any reaction whatsoever. He stepped closer to her with a curious expression on his face and she hastily took a step backwards, but collided with the shelf again.

"Ack!" She ducked her head and let out a frustrated whine as she felt her head begin to throb with pain. She heard a chuckle above her and felt a large hand softly pat her head. "Er- excuse me!" She tried to casually step out of his reach but found herself at a dead end. Suddenly she felt so claustrophobic in this goddamn bookstore.

"I'm afraid you have me mistaken for someone else." She mumbled quickly as she tried to awkwardly make her way past him through the narrow aisles. Suddenly he grasped her arms, jarring her, and she looked up into his determined, steady gaze. Her heart thudded in her ears and her breathing began to quicken.

"Tachibana, I know it's you. Please wait." He pleaded with her softly and she guiltily met his gaze. He stared at her for a few moments in silence before loosening his grip on her arms. "Where have you…? Where did you go after…?" He trailed off in exasperation, unsure of where to even begin.

"I…" She was speechless, unable to give him the response he wanted, or the truth. I can't give him anything, she thought bitterly. "We were so worried about you." He breathed and she looked up at him in surprise.

He waited for her response patiently, a small sliver of hope lighting up in his eyes at her reaction. "Kashiwado…" She hesitated, although she knew that she had already exposed her identity by saying his name.

"Is there a problem?" Mamoru's low, threatening voice broke through the tension, startling them both. Kashiwado's eyes widened and he spun around in the direction of the voice. Mamoru glared at him in more than an intimidating manner, curling his fingers over the edge of his cane, and Haruka felt relief wash through her.

"It's you…!" Kashiwado exclaimed as he recognized the aged samurai. Mamoru folded his arms across his chest and nodded towards the door without taking his eyes off of the other man. Haruka backed away from them reluctantly, as she felt a small pang at the thought of leaving a bit of the only childhood she had behind again.

Kashiwado looked at their exchanging glances confusedly and reached out to her, but Mamoru wouldn't have any of it. He stepped forward in one swift stride to place himself in between the two. "Hey—" Kashiwado protested but was cut off by an irritated growl, "Don't touch her."

Haruka stared at them in desperation as Mamoru advanced on Kashiwado. "Don't—!" She grabbed Mamoru's arm to stop him, and he tensed up, very nearly shaking her off. Kashiwado shook his head, confounded by her reaction, and clenched his hand into tight fists.

"I can't let you leave again." He insisted, frustrated with himself, and she furrowed her eyebrows in deep confusion. Mamoru let out a crude laugh, catching her off guard, and Kashiwado scowled. "I don't...understand," Haruka stared at him, frowning slightly to herself.

"No, you never did, did you?" Kashiwado replied very quietly, almost to himself. Haruka's eyes softened at his words and she couldn't help but feel like an insensitive idiot at the realization of his words. They were all silent for a few tense moments before Mamoru exhaled slowly through his nostrils and uncrossed his arms.

"There are people looking out for her. You don't need to worry about that." He told him gruffly and Haruka couldn't help but glance up at his surprisingly gentle manner. Was Mamoru…reassuring him? She was actually stunned into silence.

Kashiwado sighed and ran his hands through his hair in frustration. Haruka found it difficult to look away from his apple green eyes. If things were different, she couldn't help but wonder, but she shook off the thought.

She resisted the urge to reach out and comfort him. After all, how could she assure him that she would be all right? That her life wouldn't be in danger all of the time? She hung her head in guilt; there were simply no words.

"I suppose you expect me to believe that." Kashiwado responded soberly. Mamoru's eyes narrowed but before he could deliver a cutting remark Haruka stepped forward and replied, "Yes, I do."

No matter how much preparation she made for the future, it was never enough. She knew some things couldn't be changed, however, and she had come to terms with that. Haruka offered him a sincere smile and for a moment he seemed to lose himself in her.

"Thank you for caring about me and thank you for being my friend." She tried to keep her voice from failing and cleared her throat to keep up her cheerful facade. "So this is our final goodbye then," He realized dismally and Mamoru shot him a glare, "It's all you're getting."

Haruka hissed at him sharply underneath her breath and he turned to glare daggers at her. She glared back at him just as fiercely, seemingly unaffected by his harsh demeanor.

When Haruka turned back to Kashiwado, she saw his lips upturned in a strange smile at their bickering. "Fine, I trust you." He chuckled and she felt her heart warm.

He turned toward Mamoru, his expression serious. "Take care of her," He entreated, to which Mamoru nodded curtly. Haruka's head tilted slightly as she stared at them, scrutinizing them. What is it with men? It was as if they were having an entire conversation without her.

Kashiwado moved to walk past her, avoiding eye contact, and she remained awkwardly silent. She suddenly felt more alone than ever now that she would lose this newfound connection, but she tried to suppress the feeling.

"Goodbye, Tachibana." She just barely heard his faint whisper and she twisted around to catch his last words. Just as she did so, she felt him lean in close to her and brush his lips against her forehead.

Mamoru protested immediately, grabbing Kashiwado by the collar and bringing him up to his face. The younger man had grown significantly taller, but Mamoru still towered over him.

"That's enough." Mamoru growled threateningly and Kashiwado met his eyes with a cool, level stare. Haruka was standing stock still, her face flushed with warmth from the unexpected yet pleasant contact. Her forehead was still tingling and she felt far too embarrassed to face either of them.

Mamoru gave the other man a seething glare for another dozen seconds before he slowly released him. Kashiwado released the breath he realized he'd been holding and heading toward the exit.

Haruka turned and mouthed goodbye to him and she finally saw a satisfied smile spread across his face. A bell above the door jingled softly as he opened and swung it closed behind him.

She caught Mamoru's glance and tilted her face slightly, flashing him an awkward, guilty smile. She knew she should probably be thanking him for allowing Kashiwado to kiss her. They all knew what would have happened to him if he had tried to kiss her on the lips, though. She pursued her lips and tried to hold back a laugh. What inappropriate timing.

Mamoru frowned and ran a hand through his hair before glancing at Kashiwado. She silently thanked the fact that he was a little more than preoccupied at the moment.

She watched his retreating figure with a sense of loneliness, yet fulfillment before Mamoru's low, gentle voice brought her back to reality.

"Come on. People'll start to get suspicious." Mamoru put an arm around her back and pulled her forward. She complied, nodding her head, and headed to the exit with a soft sigh.

"Oh!" She paused and snatched a book from the shelf and he raised an eyebrow. "Lemme guess—Jane Eyre?"

She looked up at him, smiling brightly, and he felt the corners of his lips pull upwards. It was taking years to break through his cold exterior but she finally thought she was getting through to him.

"Nah," She wrinkled her nose. "I think I'm going to go for The Count of Monte Cristo." He shrugged and she laughed, pulling him along with her to the cash register.

Did I do the right thing? She handed her book to the cashier and peered out the window one last time. The city was crowded with swarms of people drifting through the streets like hurried ants.

She glanced back at Mamoru who was staring at her thoughtfully through his glasses. They exited the bookshop in silence before he murmured quietly, almost to himself, "Fate's a funny thing."

She raised an eyebrow. What an interesting comment, she thought to herself, smiling. She chuckled, and he gave her a look as if she was crazy. Until death do us part, his voice from her vision rang in her mind as clear as day, even after all of those years.

He touched her shoulder and she linked her arm through his as he pulled out his cane; their routine. Yeah, I think this is right. They disappeared into the crowds.