A/N: This is the chapter that earns this story's newly-found (as of this typing) M-rating. Meaning, there will be incoming smut up ahead. You have been warned.

Also, thanks to ladyhadhafang for overlooking parts of this chapter, and for her song suggestion ("Anywhere" by Evanescence).

The woman knelt in front of the small shrine dedicated to her late husband, which sat in the corner of the living room, next to his favourite spot, and lit a stick of incense. "I know you don't like the smell, Yuushio," she sighed. "I know they used to give you a headache. But I know you also liked the smell of lavender, 'specially when I put on that perfume. So I…" She gulped. "I just thought you might…"

Her voice wavered. She reached out and spread the tips of her fingers across the cheap, wooden frame. In the picture, he was carrying their son on his shoulders through the forest. Both were smiling and waving to the camera. When she closed her eyes, she could picture that very day—Yuushio had decided their son was old enough to learn how to fish, so, on a day off, he took them down to the river bed. The sun was scorching through her sun dress, and pebbles had bounced into her sandals as she lay in her sun chair and read here magazine while waiting for the first catch. In the end, they hadn't caught any fish, but they still had fun together.

"It's all right, son," Yuushio had said as they packed up their rods. "We'll catch a big one another day, all right?"

That had been their last fishing trip together…

Before he had been assigned to guard the Kushinada report…

Before the police had come to tell her that Yuushio had been found lying in a pool of blood at the center….

They had never caught the murderer. And though no one could prove it, she was certain that the new assistant to that company was somehow involved….

She stifled a sob and slowly stood to her feet. She would have to start dinner soon.

There wasn't an evening meeting scheduled for that night, which left Sakaki and Kaori free to spend the rest of the evening together. Yet the couple barely spoke. Even during dinnertime, they could hardly look into each other's eyes without turning away and blushing. They were now a couple.

Now what?

What came next after confessing their love to one another? A chat? A kiss? A dance?

During that silent period, their minds raced with a thousand thoughts. There was so much they wanted to say, yet none of it could be said. When they tried, the words would fall flat on their tongues, and they'd go back to eating dinner.

After dinner, Sakaki broke the silence:

"Do you need me to help clean up?"

Surprised, Kaori said, "Er…no, that's okay. It's not a lot."

And then the silence resumed.

Kaori wiped the same spot on the same dish twenty times in a row before realizing she was out of it. In her life, she could never recall feeling this way towards another man. She had her share of childhood crushes, but those didn't last more than a week. During her teenage years, she had Kamibito classmates who kept their dating discreet and chaste, but she never knew anyone whom she had wanted to spend such time with. She had met many gentlemen during her university days, but not one caught her fancy.

And once she was told she had to stop attending classes, she gave up hope of finding anyone. Not that she had minded. It was just that it would've been nice to have someone accompany her, until the very end when she would be taken away (so she assumed). But she would never burden anyone like that. Nor did she meet a man whom she would even be tempted to burden like that.

Until now.

Kaori began to stack the dishes. She wondered where this relationship would end up. It would be nice to think that a miracle could happen, that her illness could be cured against all odds. But she knew in her heart that such a thing could never happen. All she could do was cherish the precious few years she had left with him.

And what could happen during that time?

Kaori's mind bubbled with excitement over the endless possibilities. So much so that she realized she was about to put the dishes into the trash bin.

Kaori laughed at herself and put the dishes back in their proper places. Indeed, life was short, and yet there was so much she wanted to do. If only she were given just one more year, or perhaps two, beyond the doctor's expectations that would be wonderful. That's all she would ask for...

But what to do now?


Kaori looked up. Sakaki stood in the entrance to the kitchen. He opened his mouth to say something, then closed it. Then, he said:

"I'm, er…going to get ready. For bed."

"Already?" Kaori said, looking up at the clock. "It's only eight-thirty."

"Right, um…actually, I think I'll just…go up to my room for a bit and, uh…read," Sakaki muttered. He left as quickly as he had spoken those words.

How long are we going to remain stuck in this stage for? Kaori thought as she closed the various cupboards. Sooner or later, one of us will have to make the next move. We can't spend these last few years in such a broken silence!

But what was the next move?

Could it be…?

Sakaki lay on the bed and stared out the window. The sun had set during dinner and now the sky was a light shade of purple. He turned his focus back to the magazine on the nightstand. He picked it up and tried skimming through it, but all he could think of was what had happened just a few hours ago.

He closed his eyes and replayed the moment in his mind. The racing of his heart…that soft hand in his…those sweet, sweet words being cast back at him…her soft lips against his…

Sakaki opened his eyes and flipped through the pages once more. He was back at that geode article again. Sighing, he flopped the magazine back on the nightstand.

Why had he gone upstairs anyway? To give himself space to think? To ponder the next move in their relationship?

Sakaki turned and closed his eyes, drifting off gently…gently…gently…

With a start, he opened his eyes and turned the small alarm clock over. Nine thirty-five…just a little over an hour.

When he had last fallen asleep like that? It probably had something to do with this room. It gave off a very relaxing vibe.

Or perhaps he was the one more relaxed.

Sakaki wondered if Kaori was still up. Even though she often went to bed earlier, sometimes she would push herself into staying up an extra few hours, and then spend the following day lying in bed until it was almost suppertime.

"Guess I should make sure she's not overdoing it again," Sakaki sighed. He had begun to get off the bed when he heard a knock on the door.

"Junichi-kun?" Kaori said on the other side. "May I come in?"

"Sure," Sakaki said. He walked over to the other side of the bed just as Kaori opened the door. She stepped inside and said, "Can we talk?"

"Of course," said Sakaki.

Kaori closed the door behind her and walked up to Sakaki. She bit her lower lip and tried to make her eyes meet his, but quickly looked away, her face turning deep red.

"Kaori?" Sakaki said.

"Um…" Kaori looked back into Sakaki's eyes and said, "Junichi-kun…about what was said between us a few hours ago…"

Sakaki held his breath. She wasn't going to take it back, was she?

As if reading his mind, Kaori said, "I absolutely meant what I said. I do love you, more than I've ever loved another man in my entire life. And now…"

She stopped. Then, she untied the shawl around her neck and placed it on the nightstand. "I've thought over my feelings for you," she said. "And I'm absolutely certain of them. And now, I…"

Kaori gulped. She was trembling. "Kaori?" Sakaki said. "Is everything…?"

"Have you ever…well…been with anyone?" Kaori blurted out.

"Been with…?...Oh," Sakaki said when he realized what Kaori had meant. In the back of his mind, he dared to raise the hope of what her intentions had been in coming to his room, but he quickly dismissed those thoughts and decided to answer honestly:

"Just Mieko."

Kaori looked away once more. "I see. Well…I've never been in any kind of relationship like this before. So I've never been with anyone." She shook her head. "I'm sorry. I should've just said it as soon as I came in."

She looked back into Sakaki's eyes and said:

"I want to take this further. I'm ready."

"You…you mean…" Sakaki whispered. Kaori nodded.

It wasn't that he didn't want it. He had just never thought of it. The only thing he could think about, in regards to his relationship with Kaori, was how little time they had left and how he wanted to spend it with her. Yet somehow, sex never made the list. And when he looked at her, he found the idea almost impossible. Her body was so fragile, how could he risk hurting her like that?

Well…it might be okay if he went gently…

But was this really okay? Was he certain he'd see Kaori as Kaori, and not as Mieko?

Well, he had seen her as Kaori when he confessed his love for her, didn't he?

So why should this be any different?


Kaori's voice drew him out of his thoughts. That soft, sweet voice…

"Are you sure?" Sakaki asked.

Kaori took his hand in hers and whispered, "Absolutely."

It's not right…what if this reminds you of Mieko…what if…

Sakaki pushed the voice out of his mind, took Kaori by the shoulders, and gently lowered the two of them onto the bed, he on top of her. Then, he looked into her eyes. Their faces were close enough to touch, their lips were just inches away from each other, and their hearts beating faster than a single flash of lightning.

Kaori reached for Sakaki's vest.

I know she's Kaori…not Mieko…I don't need to worry myself about that…I've done this before, so I know what to do…

Then why was he shaking? Why was he trembling at her slightest touch as though this was his first time? As though he was a virgin, just like her?

The vest fell to the ground. Kaori's hands reached for the buttons on his shirt. Her fingers shook, and she couldn't snap them open. She gulped and tried again, going slower. But in the back of her mind, she knew this act would lead them one step closer to consummating their relationship. And for that to happen, he would have to see her…

Would he even want her?

Kaori snapped off the last button and pulled the shirt back. Her eyes wandered to his bare chest and torso. He didn't have the figure of a supermodel or star athlete, but he was still in-shape and so...unblemished.

Sakaki pulled off the shirt and tossed it aside. He stroked Kaori's cheek and whispered, "Hey…can I try something?"

"Wh…what would that 'something' be?" Kaori asked shyly.

Sakaki leaned in closer. His breath smelled of apple cider. "Another type of kissing," he whispered.

"I…I didn't know there were types of kissing!" Kaori laughed weakly. "Why don't you just…show me?"

"All right," Sakaki said. He closed his eyes and whispered, "Open your mouth, just by a little bit."


"Trust me." His grip around her waist loosened.

"O…okay," Kaori said slowly. She closed her eyes and parted her lips by a few inches, wondering what he was about to do.

Then, she felt something thick and wet slide into her mouth, between her teeth, and a pair of lips close over hers.

"Mm…mmph…" A rising heat stirred in her panties. But even though it felt "good", at the same time it felt…weird.

Kaori broke off the kiss and gasped for air. "S, sorry…that was...too much…Junichi-kun? Would it be all right if…if I undressed?"

Sakaki backed off. Kaori sat up straight and bit her lip. She could do this. She had to do it in order for them to…

"Please look away," she said quietly. She turned away from him and crawled to the edge of the bed, wondering if he would still want her after this. She closed her eyes and reached for the zipper on the back of her dress. With one, slow move, she unzipped it, and slipped it down her shoulders, her chest shaking with every breath.

It was one thing when he agreed to this, but when he sees my body…oh, why did I come here? It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Before she knew it, her blouse was lying on the floor, and her dress came down to her waist. Kaori took another deep breath, stood up, and pulled the dress the rest of the way down until it fell. She sat back on the bed and said, "You can look now."

She turned at the same time he did. Sakaki looked into her tear-brimmed eyes. She wore only her slip, bra, and panties, all of which were white as snow. Her bare skin, much like her arms, was stretched and aged by thirty more years. A deep, red rash covered her upper arms, and the veins in her legs were like vines.

Kaori looked back over at the dress lying on the floor. "I'm sorry," she muttered. "This was a bad idea." I was so foolish. How could I think Junichi-kun would ever want—

"Ah-!" Kaori gasped. Sakaki wrapped an arm wrapped her around the waist and turned her back to face him. His eyes moved across her face. He kissed down her neck and across her shoulders. Kaori held her breath, wondering where this was going.

His lips passed over her rash and aged skin, as though she were spotless. It was all Kaori could do to keep herself from breaking down bawling.

"J, Junichi-kun…" she whispered, unable to hold back the two, hot tears that streamed down her face and splashed in Sakaki's hair. He looked up and whispered, "Kaori, you're beautiful."

"Ah…thank you," Kaori whispered. Anything else she could've said would make her cry harder.

Sakaki pulled Kaori onto his lap, and turned her to face away from him. "Let me know if it feels too rough, okay?"

"E—eh!?" Kaori cried out.

"Oh no, we're not getting to that part yet," Sakaki quickly said. "Just try to enjoy the moment, and let me know if you're not."

"O, okay…" Kaori gulped and nodded. She leaned against his chest with a sigh. His hands slid down her waist and to her thighs. She wriggled at his touch, causing him to hesitate.

"It's okay," she said, turning to him with a smile. "I want it."

Sakaki was frowning. "But you'll let me know if…"

"Oh, of course," Kaori said, tapping him on the nose. She leaned her head on his shoulders and shivered as his hand drew nearer to her panties. He slid his fingers across the damp, heated cotton. At his touch, Kaori silently gasped. She curled her toes as the pulsating heat grew with each stroke he took. "Please…" she whispered. "Just a small bit…"

Sakaki slid his fingers between the cotton and her skin. He lightly touched her damp skin and traced his fingers across her folds, not going in just yet. She was still a virgin, she was still delicate. He had to take this slow, for her sake.


Kaori squirmed at his touch. A few, small drops of her fluids dripped onto his fingers, and she looked away with her face pink. "Sorry," she muttered.

"Nah, it happens," Sakaki said with a shrug. "Want me to go further?"

Her folds tensed up beneath his touch. "No, that'll be fine for now," she said. "But it still felt good," she added with a small smile.

Sakaki slipped his fingers out. They were still wet, but he could live with that. Kaori took his hands and placed them on the hem of her slip. "If you may?"

"Right, right," Sakaki muttered. "Just raise your arms a bit…yeah, like that."

Kaori shivered as the silk fabric slid across her skin and over her head. The room couldn't have grown colder, for she was now hotter. The growing heat in her face rose as Sakaki tossed the slip aside. She turned herself to face him and said, with the same smile, "So…do I look okay?"

The rest of her skin looked much like her arms and legs—thin and red—but it was her ribs that caught Sakaki's attention and made him gasp. Her ribs weren't protruding, but they were still noticeable. They made Sakaki closely examine the rest of Kaori's body. She was thin, dangerously so. Was this another product of…?

The corners of Kaori's lips turned down. "No, no, it's all right," Sakaki quickly said. "It's just…"

"I know," Kaori said quietly. "The doctor says he wants to discuss my diet with me on the next visit. I haven't had much of an appetite lately, so…"

"Got it," Sakaki said. He paused. "Anyway…the bra…"

"Right," Kaori murmured. "Do you need help?"

"I'll try first," Sakaki said. He forced his eyes away from the signs of her fragile body and onto the bra. It was a white soft cup bra with enough space to show her cleavage. With his fingers, he searched for the hooks around the back. He found them, but his fingers shook. What was he doing? What had he done? When they got to the act…

"I think I need help," Sakaki admitted. "Sorry, it's been four years since I last did this."

Even then, he couldn't remember being very good at it. Mieko had teased him over it—

This was not Mieko.

"Allow me," Kaori said.

Sakaki backed off and watched as Kaori unhooked her bra. Her cheeks were flushed, and her eyes were focusing on everywhere in the room except him, but there was also a look of determination within them. She bit her lip and took off the bra, tossing it onto the floor. Her breasts weren't affected as badly, but the center of her chest also had the same aged, stretched look.

"H, hey," Sakaki said, "since you're almost undressed, maybe I should…"

Kaori nodded, still unable to look him in the eye. Sakaki unbuckled his belt and reached for the zipper of his pants, wondering if this was such a good idea. Even if he tried to be gentle, would he still hurt her? Would he become consumed by his first sight of a half-naked woman's body in four years and make love to her as passionately as he had to Mieko? Would she be able to handle it?

Now, Sakaki's pants lay on the floor. He held Kaori by the shoulders and kissed down her collarbone to between her chest. She moaned softly and held him closer until their arms touched. His lips moved to her breasts. He cupped her right one in his hand. His palm felt warm and soft, yet his fingertips were slightly calloused.

Her knees shook as his lips passed across the dainty skin and over her nipple. Instinctively, she held him by the back of his head, running her hand through his dark, dry hair and warm scalp.

"A…ah…" Kaori's legs twitched as his tongue flicked, prompting a soft, voiceless "Yes" from between her lips. A weak, hot pulsation down below was building up, and she didn't dare try to stop it. She wrapped her legs around his and whispered, "Just…a little more…please…"

Sakaki kissed down the skin and across her chest before laying his head on her other breast. He closed his eyes and steadied his breathing. He could feel his erection building. Soon, they could actually get to 'it'. An airy voice floated through his mind and whispered, There's nothing wrong with this, absolutely nothing wrong with this….

"Ah!" Sakaki jerked his head up. Kaori's knees had brushed against his underwear. She sat up and said, "Ah, sorry!" She glanced at the bulge in his boxers and said, "Do you want me to do something about that?"

"Uh…do what you can," Sakaki said with a nod, wondering what Kaori had in mind.

Kaori bit her lip and slid her hand down the front. Sakaki let out a short gasp when he felt her cold hand brush against his hot ere—

Oh. Yes.

She was rubbing, fast and hard, not sure of how far she should go.

Yes. Don't stop. More.

"Gah!" Sakaki gasped. Kaori looked at him with her eyebrows and lips turned down. "It's all right…"

"If you say so," Kaori muttered. "Mind if I…?"

"Go ahead," Sakaki murmured. Was this delirium? Was he losing his head? Or was he finally remembering what pure pleasure felt like?

Kaori pulled his boxers off. She gasped and turned away, blushing. "Oh my…" She laughed, "Sorry."

"It's okay," Sakaki sighed.

"Um…" Kaori frowned. "Should I do anything else with it…? Like…playing with it in some way…?"

He shook his head. "Nah, let's save that for next time." His muscles tensed at the term 'next time'. The term implied there would be other times after this. Meaning, this act would seal their commitment.

Sakaki wasn't sure whether to feel excited or afraid over this.

Kaori, too, was caught off-guard by this, and said, "You mean…we'll do this again?" She laughed, "Obviously…I mean…so about my panties…"

"Ah, right, right," Sakaki muttered. He laughed, "Sorry…it's seems like we're taking so long, doesn't it?"

"I don't mind," Kaori said, brushing her hair aside. She lay on her back, spread her legs apart and said, "Like this?"

"Yeah," Sakaki nodded. "Like that." He slid himself on top of her, just above her breasts, and traced his kisses downwards. He kissed past her thin rib cage, past her flat, stretched stomach, and stopped just above her panties. By now, they had grown much darker, and, from the feel of his fingers, much damper. He slid them down and off, and waited for Kaori's reaction.

"Kaori? Should I go any further?" he asked.

"Sure," Kaori nodded.

Sakaki hesitated, hoping he could still remember how to do this. Cautiously, he moved his tongue around her sensitive, wet flesh. He went slow and smooth. Nothing about this could hurt her, right? It wouldn't hurt her, right?

Well, she didn't sound like she was in pain. If anything, the rising sounds in her throat indicated the opposite.

He stopped, and used two of his fingers to part her folds, and slipped them inside. Her flesh clamped around them and she gasped, "Oh…my…I didn't think this would…feel…so….aaaahh!" she cried out as her back arched and her whole body trembled.

Alarmed, Sakaki removed his fingers and sat up. For a moment, he assumed the worst, but when he looked into her flushed face, and listened to her heavy panting, he realized she hadn't been in any pain. She was having an orgasm.

And in spite of himself, Sakaki laughed.

"Wh, what?" Kaori asked. Her bangs brushed against her sweaty forehead.

"Nothing," Sakaki sighed. "I just get worried over nothing. So…how was that?"

Kaori smiled and nodded. "That was nice. I wasn't sure what it would be like, but…so…" She said what they were thinking out loud: "Now we're both naked."

"That we are," Sakaki said. Their eyes met. This should've been the sign that there was no turning back now. This didn't stop them from hesitating, shivering in anticipation, each thinking, Are we really going to do this?

"Kaori…" Sakaki spoke. "…are you sure? It can hurt…for some women…"

"And you're afraid it'll hurt me?" Kaori sat up and slid over to him. "I'll be fine. If it hurts too much, I'll let you know, and we'll stop. But…what would that make what happened up until now…?"

Sakaki shrugged. "Harmless experimentation, I guess? Some couples do that, like with…" He didn't dare finish the sentence. "How should…I mean…without…"

This was wrong. He couldn't do it. But it was too late. And it was all because of his selfish desires. He would hurt her. She would try to mask the pain, but—

"Junichi-kun." She spread the tips of her fingers across his cheek. "Please. I want this with you. If it's with anyone before…" Her voice broke and she blinked back tears. "I want it to be with you," she choked out.

Sakaki looked into her tear-brimmed eyes. "Kaori…" he whispered, and his voice broke, unable to say the rest of it. But Kaori understood and wrapped her legs around his waist. She gulped and nodded, whispering, "Please."

He wrapped one arm around her back, holding her in his steady grip. He tried to enter her slowly, but she cried out. She blinked, and insisted, her voice wavering, "I—I'm all right."

He tried to go a bit slower, but she still gasped sharply. He wondered if this was too much, if he should turn back now—

"Just hold me," Kaori whispered. He stopped moving, and wrapped his other arm around her waist. Kaori lay her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. Sakaki lay his head on top of hers, breathing in her vanilla-scented shampoo. Both were shaking, and both were waiting for their bodies to adjust. Outside, the wind howled and hissed across the trees.

How long had it been since he had ever felt like this? How long since he had made love to another woman? After Mi—

No. He wouldn't think of her right now. He would only focus on the fragile body he held in his arms, wondering if it was possible for his heart to break during one of the best nights of his life. She loves me…she really loves me…

"I…I think I might be okay if you move now…" Kaori whispered. "But maybe it'll be easier if we try lying down, okay?" She clasped her sweaty palms around his waist and admitted, "My legs are getting tired."

"Yeah," Sakaki sighed. He held one of her hands and stroked her thumb. "So are mine."

Within the night, a series of gasps and caresses were exchanged between the couple. Lustful hands traced across their flesh—hers across his back muscles, his across her hips, and the top of her legs. Voiceless whispers of each other's names radiated on top of the squeaky springs. She tilted her head back and gasped deeply, silently begging for more. He was inside her now, deep enough to make her feel and want. The pain had long faded (though it left a dull ache) and all she could think about, beyond the warmth and desire, was how thankful she was to have this one moment.

And as he traced kisses down her neck, tasting the salty sweat and tears, he was blinded by pure euphoria, overtaken by an overwhelming mix of physical pleasure and emotional high. For a moment, he could envision a future where Kaori was well, and would live to old age.

And maybe, they could be happy.

He gasped suddenly, and his body shivered against hers. They could feel it ending, but the beauty of this moment would stay with them long past the climax.

The moonlight shined upon the couple, who now lay side-by-side in each other's arms, her head leaned against his chest, his on top of her head, their arms wrapped around each other, the sweaty sheets wrapped around their waists. Kaori wrapped one of her aching legs around his and murmured, "Your heart's beating really, really fast."

"Yours probably is, too," Sakaki said, running his fingers through her long, soft hair.

"We're lovers now, aren't we?" Kaori's voice trembled.

"Of course," Sakaki said, squeezing her tighter. "Lovers"…the word almost made him cringe. After Mieko was gone, he had sworn off lovers for life. But now, after being reminded of what it felt like to have a lover…perhaps starting over wouldn't be so bad.

He kissed her on the head and whispered:

"I love you."

Before, he had used "daisuki". Now, he used "aishiteru".

"I love you," Kaori whispered back.

As the lovers drifted off to sleep, they silently prayed for this happiness to last a little while longer beyond this embrace.

Dear my love, haven't you wanted to be with me
And dear my love, haven't you longed to be free
I can't keep pretending that I don't even know you
And at sweet night, you are my own

-"Anywhere", Evanescence