A/N: In this case, "Remember Me" is a beautiful piece by Thomas Bergersen, and I MUST recommend playing it after the second line (NOT counting the one below): watch?v=fHsc3XmALC0
"No thank you, dear."
Sachiko sat and drank her cup of tea while sitting next to Kaori in the living room. The flavour of the tea was off, but she didn't say so out loud, lest she be rude. Actually, a lot of things about Kaori were 'off' today. Sachiko had stopped by for a visit in the afternoon in the hopes of getting to know her a bit better. When she had arrived at the front door, Kaori didn't exactly look unhappy, but she didn't look happy, either. Now, she was fidgeting with the white collar of her long, black dress, and fixing her gaze across the room.
"Kaori-san," Sachiko said, "is something bothering you?"
"Hmm? Um…" Kaori frowned.
"Is it about your condition?" Sachiko asked in a gentler tone.
"Oh no, no…well, yes and no…" Kaori sighed. She lay her cup on the saucer and brushed her bangs away from her forehead.
"Is it about Junichi?" Sachiko asked.
Kaori stiffened. "Yes," she admitted.
"Is he on his best behaviour?" Sachiko asked with a small smile.
"I guess," Kaori shrugged. "Although…I don't know…Sachiko-san, how did you know you and your husband were meant for each other, if you don't mind my asking?"
"Oh, not at all, dear," Sachiko said with a wave of her hand. "Katsurou was a bit old-fashioned, and hard-headed at times, but he was still very kind to me." Her eyes shined over. "We had both lost almost everything," she mused. "All we had was each other. I still remember those harsh winter nights when he would wrap me up in the few blankets we had, saving none for himself. And when he became ill on the night of that huge blizzard, I stayed by his side the whole night. In the end, it was our will to do everything for each other that brought us together. I knew that no matter what we may face, we could still face it together. Does that answer your question, dear?"
"I suppose," Kaori said slowly. "Sachiko-san….about me and Junichi-kun…" She realized too late how she had addressed him, and blushed. Sachiko smiled and said, "Ah, I get it. You're ambivalent about where the two of you stand, correct?"
Kaori nodded. "Sort of…I mean…"
"I don't mind at all," Sachiko assured her. "In fact, it would make me happy to see Junichi move past…what happened."
"There's that, too," Kaori said. "Look into my eyes and tell me: How much do I resemble Mieko-san?"
Sachiko studied Kaori's face. "Hmm…I see a strong resemblance, but I can still distinguish, in my mind, between you and Mieko," she said. "Why? Are you afraid Junichi might see you as Mieko?"
Kaori nodded. "I want to be sure it's me he loves, and not Mieko-san. A few nights ago…he said something to me, and I'm not sure how to take it. He said…" She gulped. "That he loves me."
Sachiko laughed, "Dear, why's that such a bad thing?"
"He also said he never saw Mieko-san, that it was always me he loved," Kaori said, tracing her finger along the porcelain cup. "I wonder how much of that is true. When we first met, I was performing in the garden. When I was done, he came up to me and called me 'Mieko'. I still remember the look in his eyes. He looked so sad…" Her voice trailed off.
"Ah." Sachiko sighed and shook her head. "Poor thing…sometimes, I wonder if I should've been there for him. I did stay with him for a short time after what had happened, but maybe I should've taken him home. He looked fine when I left, but now…" She shook her head. "What's past is past. Anyway…my son tends to be very dramatic when he's in love. He sometimes gets a bit carried away." She laughed, "Oh, the things I've overheard him say to Mieko would've made Shakespeare-san blush! But there is a grain of truth to what he says. He does love you, I am sure of that. Why don't you have a talk with him today when he comes home from work?"
Kaori nodded. "I think I'll do just that. Thank you for your advice, Sachiko-san."
"Anytime, dear," Sachiko said with a smile.
Sakaki came home towards the end of Mana's violin lesson. He went straight to his room without looking Kaori in the eye. This fed Hiroshi's suspicion that something must've happened between them on the night of their date after he had left.
The possibility that it had been 'that' had crossed his mind, but he dismissed it. It was too soon for them to be that far, wasn't it? At least, they might have kissed. Today, when he and his friends had eaten on the rooftop at lunch (though it was quickly getting too cold for that), Nemuru had given them the typical 'Sakaki-san update' and had noted he was behaving odd during Sunday night's meeting once again. When Hiroshi had asked if it had anything to do with his date with Kaori, Nemuru had fallen unusually quiet. She had only said, "Yes, probably," and nothing more.
Had Nemuru stayed behind? Had she seen something? Hiroshi didn't dare ask.
The final few notes on Mana's violin died out. "That was fine, Mana-chan," Kaori said. "But you keep reaching too hard for the higher notes."
"Mo~, am I ever gonna get those high notes?" Mana muttered.
"In time, you will, with practice," Kaori said. As she said this, her eyes were focused on the dimming sky outside the window, as though it were the most fascinating thing in the room.
"That does it," Sakaki muttered as he marched down the stairwell, now changed into his street clothes. "We're settling this once and for all."
He paused a few feet away from the living room. Hiroshi and Mana were shaking hands with Kaori, exchanging smiles, and thanking her for a good time. All he had to do now was wait for them to leave, but since Hiroshi loved to shake hands with people so damn much, this would take a while.
He knew what to say. He would apologize for overstepping their 'date' (or whatever that was), and ask if they could start over. If he was lucky, maybe she would accept his apology. At least she hadn't kicked him out. Did that mean she wasn't entirely angry?
"…and thank you again," Hiroshi finished. "We'll see you tomorrow."
"Yep, see you then," Kaori said with a small wave.
"Bye-bye!" Mana called out as she and Hiroshi left. Kaori closed the door behind them. She dropped her smile and sighed.
"Kaori?" Sakaki took a step forward. Kaori gasped and spun around. "Oh, sorry," she quickly said. "Um…did you want to talk about something?"
The words Sakaki had planned in his head vanished. Still, he knew he had to say something or else they'd be there all evening. "Yes," he said. "It's about…our date."
Kaori lowered her eyes. "Oh. That."
"Yes, that," Sakaki said. He sighed, "I was an idiot. I'm sorry. And don't apologize," he added. "I know you. That's what you'll try to do. But it wasn't your fault. I should've asked if you were okay with a kiss. Or at least, I should've waited for you to say something back after…what I said." He shook his head. "I guess I just got caught up in the moment. I was stupid, so, so stupid."
"Junichi-kun." Kaori reached for his hand. "I accept your apology. What you need to understand, though, is what a kiss means in Kamibito culture."
"Ah, another one of those things, huh?" Sakaki said with a small smile. "I should've known. So what does it mean? "
Kaori searched for the right words to describe it. "Well…it's like this," she began. "You know how those old laws forbade any kissing between a Kamibito and an Ochibito? Or how some of the elders look down on any 'frivolous' activities between couples? They're both related. To you, a kiss is another way of expression affection. But to us, it's more than that: It's a declaration of eternal love. It's mainly because, once an Ochibito is kissed…"
"Ah, I get it," Sakaki said with a nod. "But what about a Kamibito couple?"
"They wouldn't have to worry about the same risk, but it's still an important ritual for us," Kaori said. She paused. "When you told me you loved me, I didn't know how to reply. I could see where this was leading, but I didn't think it would happen so fast." She looked away. "And then you kissed me, and…"
"Damn," Sakaki groaned, rubbing his forehead. "Now I feel like an even bigger idiot."
"But did you mean it?" Kaori asked, looking Sakaki in the eye. "Do you really love me?"
"Absolutely," Sakaki said, holding both of Kaori's hands. "And you?"
"I've given it some thought," Kaori said. She smiled. "I know for certain that I have developed feelings for you. I enjoyed your company when we first met, and when I had to leave, one of my biggest regrets was leaving you behind. And now that we've gotten to know each other better over the past few months, I can say this much." She let go of his right hand and stroked his cheek. He gasped.
"You're always there when I'm sick," she said, brushing her fingers across his smooth cheeks and jawbone. "You're quite the romantic when you want to be. I never feel lonely when I'm around you. And now, I have thought my feelings over, and I am certain of it." She whispered:
"I love you, Junichi-kun."
Sakaki's breath caught in his throat. "So…you too…"
"Yes." Kaori wrapped her arms around his shoulders. "I only wish you had given me more time to think about my feelings before kissing me…"
"Yeah, sorry again," Sakaki laughed.
"But now," Kaori leaned in closer and whispered, "I'm ready." She closed her eyes and relaxed her lips. Seizing the moment, Sakaki pulled her in by the waist. He leaned in closer until their faces nearly touched. He closed his eyes and pressed his lips against hers.
The amber sunset poured through the windows and bathed the embracing couple in all its glory. A moment like this, so beautiful, so right, was left untainted, unsoiled, by the envious hands of the shadows at their feet. If there was ever a moment in their lives they would replay over and over if given the chance, this would be the one. From their minds escaped all thoughts of Mieko, dying, revenge, regrets—there was nothing but this moment, nothing but this sheer happiness.
Kaori tilted her head back, and Sakaki leaned forward, continuing the kiss. He spread his hands from her waist to her arms to her shoulders to her jaw line to her hair. He ran his hands through her long locks, slid his fingers between the strands of golden brown.
Hey, God…please let me be happy with her, for as long as possible, okay?
At last, they parted. They opened their eyes and realized they were cloaked in amber. Kaori smiled and laughed shyly. Sakaki took her by the hand and spun her to face the setting sun. "Can you believe it?" he whispered.
"No, it…it still feels like a happy dream," Kaori sighed, leaning against his shoulder. "And if this is a dream, I don't want to wake up."
"I mean the sunset," Sakaki said, gesturing to the window. "It's been years since I've watched the sun set with the woman I loved."
Four years ago, to be precise. A lump caught in his throat.
"Oh, right," Kaori giggled.
"But yes, this is like a dream, isn't it?" Sakaki said. Again, he wrapped his arms around her waist. "We should have dinner soon."
"Yes, we should," Kaori murmured. But neither of them moved. "Sakaki-san…when we kissed, your bangs tickled my nose."
"Oh," Sakaki said. "Yeah, I should get them cut, shouldn't I?"
"No, it's okay," Kaori said, rubbing her arm against his. "It felt kind of nice."
Sakaki spun her to face him and said, with a smile, "Would you like to feel that again?"
"Ah…well…" Kaori stammered. "I suppose there's nothing wrong with a second declaration of eternal love…" She laughed, "Just listen to me now…when did I ever get to be so poetic..."
"I might have had something to do with that," Sakaki whispered.
The two kissed once again, not daring to part for many, many seconds until, at last, they separated and headed for the kitchen.