Crack the shutters open wide, I wanna bathe you in the light of day

And just watch you as the rays tangle up around your face and body

I could sit for hours finding new ways to be awed each minute

'Cause the daylight seems to want you just as much as I want you

-"Crack the Shutters", Snow Patrol


For a moment, Sakaki thought it had just been a happy dream. But when he heard Kaori's soft breathing, and felt her warm body wrapped around his, he opened his eyes and smiled.

It had really happened. They had made love.

And he regretted none of it.

Kaori's eyelids fluttered open. She met his eyes, her cheeks pink. "It's morning," she muttered softly.

Sakaki turned his head. Through the window, a brilliant, bright sunshine bathed them in a warm glow, as though to bless them.

He turned back to Kaori and kissed the top of her head. He ran a hand through her silky hair and whispered, "Yes, it's morning."

Kaori, holding on to Sakaki's hips for support, pulled herself up and nuzzled her nose against his cheek. "It really happened, didn't it?" she murmured.

Sakaki gave her body a light squeeze. "It sure did."

"Ah-" Kaori winced.

"What's the matter?" Sakaki let go.

"It's my legs," Kaori sighed, rubbing her calves. "They're so sore…ah!" she cried out as Sakaki hoisted her legs on top of his shoulder. He massaged them and said, "That better?"

"Ah…yes," Kaori sighed. "Although, I also feel sore 'down there', too…that's normal for the first time, right?"

"How sore do you feel?" Sakaki asked, meeting her eyes.

"It's not painful, it just aches," Kaori assured him. She sighed, "To think you were so worried about hurting me last night…"

"And did I?" Sakaki asked. He let go of her legs. Kaori smiled, cupped his face, and said, "Of course not. I'm glad for last night, and I don't regret any of it." She rolled over on her side. "What time is it?" She reached for the alarm clock on the dresser.

"Does it matter?" Sakaki asked, reaching for her hand.

"Don't you have work today?" Kaori asked.

Sakaki shrugged. "Eh, I'll only be late by a few minutes."

"But you still shouldn't be late," Kaori said, shaking her head.

"I could call in sick," Sakaki suggested. He kissed down the back of her neck and whispered, "Then we could do whatever we wanted…"

"Oh, I won't let you do that!" Kaori insisted, pulling away. She picked up the clock. "Eight o'clock." She put it back down. "You could at least start showering."

"I think we both need a shower," Sakaki sighed. He pulled her in by the waist. "We could take one together." He grinned. "And then I could show you what two people can do in a shower…"

Kaori rolled over on her back just he rolled on his side. She giggled, "My, my, you're out to corrupt me, aren't you?"

"What, I haven't succeeded already?" Sakaki teased. He rolled on top of her and she pulled him over with the sheets with a giggle.

"You know," Kaori looked up into his eyes, "I'm not feeling too sore, so maybe we could…just quickly…"

Sakaki turned his eyebrows down. "Are you sure you would be up for it?"

"If we go slow, sure," Kaori said, wrapping her hands around his waist. "But after that, you have to get ready for work, got it?"

"Fine, fine," Sakaki sighed. "I got it, I got it."

The two smiled and giggled. They untangled the sheets and searched with their hands before claiming each other once more.


As it turned out, today's session would begin at noon, leaving Sakaki and Kaori the rest of the morning to spend together. They sat in the living room together, each wearing a bathrobe, sipping coffee and eating a bowl of cereal. They exchanged smiles and mused over where their relationship was taking them. The curtains were closed to give them some privacy, but were still open by a small sliver to allow sunlight to pour in.

So now we've slept together, Sakaki thought, stirring his spoon in the milk. Made love. Had sex. However you say it, there's no turning back now. He stroked Kaori's hand and thought, And I wouldn't dream of it.

Kaori grimaced. "Ah, perhaps making love a second time wasn't such a good idea," she said, rubbing her legs together. "I'll be okay," she added. "But we should probably wait another day or two before doing this again."

"Nah, it's okay," Sakaki shrugged. "It happens. We all get carried away."

"Did you and Mieko-san get 'carried away'?" Kaori asked.

Sakaki hesitated. "Sometimes…once in a while…"

"I see," Kaori said. She took another sip of coffee and said, "I'm done. I'll just take my dishes to the kitchen. Do you need me to take anything from you?"

"Nah, still working on it," Sakaki said, taking another spoonful of milk and shredded flakes of…something.

As Kaori left with her cup and bowl, Sakaki leaned back on the couch and let out a dreamy sigh. I'm in love…I'm in love…I never thought I'd think THAT to myself ever again after Mieko. I'm in love and I don't care about anything else, not even—

Did we use protection?

Sakaki abruptly crashed off his happy cloud as he realized:

No, we didn't.

Damn.

A quick panic struck through his heart. What happened last night hadn't been planned. They had just done it. So of course, he didn't have any condoms with him.

"Junichi-kun?" Kaori walked over to him. "What's wrong?"

Sakaki looked once again into her eyes. Were her eyes twinkling? Did her face glow because she was happy or because she was…?

"Kaori," he said, "we didn't use protection, did we?"

Kaori's smile fell. "No, we didn't," she said. "Although…" She paused. "I don't think it matters."

"And why wouldn't it matter?" Sakaki asked slowly.

Kaori sat next to him. "I know it's not a happy subject," she said, "but…it's related to my illness. You see…remember how I had that doctor's appointment the day after I asked you out? She said that she can't confirm anything yet, since not a lot is known about my condition, but…she suspected I might not ever be able to have children."

The panic in his heart began to fade. "Did he say why he thinks that?" Sakaki asked.

"Well, since I'm aging quicker, I might lose my fertility just as quick," Kaori explained. "I'm still getting periods, and I haven't shown any signs of menopause yet, so there's still a chance I could get pregnant, but that chance would be very slim. At least, that's what she said."

Internally, Sakaki breathed a huge sigh of relief. So she can't get pregnant…good. One less thing to worry about when we make love again…

Yet Kaori didn't look as relieved. She had a far-off, sad look in her eyes. Did she want children? Was she secretly hoping for a miracle to occur?

"Look on the bright side." Sakaki held her hands. "At least we won't have to trouble ourselves with protection."

"I suppose not," Kaori sighed, though she didn't smile. "It's just…" She gulped. "Part of me had wanted to be a mother someday…" She forced a smile. "But I guess we all have to compromise, right?" She looked into Sakaki's eyes. "What about you? Do you want children?"

"Absolutely not," Sakaki said without a second thought. He didn't say the reason why out loud, but he had a feeling Kaori could figure it out anyway—because when Mieko died, his vision of their future together died with her. And this included having a child. Therefore, he was certain he never, ever wanted children, and nothing would change his mind.

(A voice in the back of his mind spoke, "You also swore off love affairs for life after Mieko", but this voice was quelled)

"Oh," Kaori sighed. "I see. Then maybe this is for the best…" She gulped again. "I had thought about asking you about adoption, but if you don't want children…"

"Hey," Sakaki stroked her cheek, "we'll figure out what to do about kids later, okay? Right now, let's just enjoy what we have."

Just then, there was a knock at the door and a voice:

"Kaori-san? I brought that sheet music you were asking for the other day."

"Ah, just a minute!" Kaori called out. She stood to her feet with the couch handle for support while Sakaki said, "What should I do?"

"Just stay there," Kaori said as she walked to the door. "It won't take more than five minutes." She opened the door by a crack and said, "Ah, Sachiko-san! Good morning!"

"Good morning to you, too, Kaori-san," Sachiko's cheerful voice rang out. "I hope I didn't wake you up?"

"Oh no, I've been up for a while now," Kaori assured her. "Anyway, you said you have some music sheets for me?"

"Right here." Sakaki turned his head. His mother handed Kaori a worn-out book. Only her hands could be seen. "May I come in?"

Kaori and Sakaki exchanged a glance, neither knowing what to say. Alas, this move was their downfall.

"Wait a minute." Sachiko's tone caused Sakaki's body to tense up. "What, or whom, were you looking at?"

"Ah…"

"Just let her come in," Sakaki sighed, rubbing his temples, hoping this wouldn't be too painful. He closed his eyes and waited for the footsteps to stop before opening them. His mother was looking back and forth between the couple, observing their state of dress and uncomfortable, flustered looks.

"Ah," Sachiko said in her 'I get it now' voice. "So my advice worked out better than I thought."

"Mother," Sakaki groaned, wondering why she was here now, of all times in the day for her to arrive.

"Well, I suppose the two of you are adults now, so it's not my place to stop you," Sachiko sighed. She looked over at Sakaki. "But I would still like to have a private talk with you. In the kitchen, if you don't mind."

As Sakaki stood up, he couldn't erase feeling as though he had been caught with one hand in the cookie jar.


"Before you say anything, yes, Kaori and I are now having…relations," Sakaki said as they stood in the kitchen. He leaned against the fridge folding his arms together. Sachiko stood by the sink. "What else do you want to know?"

"I know what happens in the bedroom stays in the bedroom," Sachiko said, fiddling with the strap of her purse. "That doesn't mean I'm comfortable with the idea. But it doesn't have anything to do with Kaori-san." Her face warmed up. "She's a wonderful young lady and I think you made a fine choice." She switched to a stern expression. "What I want to talk to you about is your reason for sleeping with her."

"And? Do I need a reason?" Sakaki asked. "We're in love."

"And I believe you," Sachiko said, but she frowned. "But don't you think this is moving too fast? How long had you known Mieko for before you started sleeping with her?"

Sakaki froze. "Crap," he muttered with a scowl.

"Watch your language," Sachiko scolded, wagging her finger at him like he had tracked mud into the house. "I figured out you had lost your virginity to Mieko a long time ago. I didn't think it was any of my business to interfere if the two of you were in love. However, I doubt you slept with her after only going out for a week."

Oh, for the love of—we are NOT having this conversation. This HAS to be some kind of twisted dream.

"Six months," Sakaki muttered. He sighed, "We had been going out for six months—plenty of time for us to get to know each other."

"And what makes you think three or four months is any more time?" Sachiko asked. "I don't doubt your feelings for her, but I know you—you can be bullheaded and impulsive when you get yourself worked up over something, just like on the day of…" She stopped herself. "Like when you get angry." She shook her head. "Anyway, that's not the only thing I wanted to ask. What I would also like to know is…" She hesitated and blushed slightly. "Are you being…careful?"

Sakaki stifled a groan. "We are not having this conversation."

"Just answer the question," Sachiko said, folding her arms. "And I don't just mean whether or not you're being safe. I also mean whether or not you're sure of what you're doing in this relationship."

Sakaki brushed aside a strand of his bangs. "Don't worry about it, mother," he said. "I know what I'm doing."

"In that case," Sachiko headed for the living room, "the only thing I can tell you is to be careful."

Sakaki tapped a cramping foot. Well, he'd probably start by being 'careful' not to stay in one position for too long next time.


Tatsuya had seen Sakaki on his good days and on his bad days.

But he had never seen him like this on either days.

During the afternoon session, Sakaki had arrived fifteen minutes earlier with a bright smile on his face. Not a superior smirk, not a 'Kushinada-will-never-know-what-hit-her-in-the-ova ries' smile, but a real, genuine, happy smile. He walked with a small skip in his step (though he tried to disguise it with as much dignity as possible) and spoke to everyone, even Misaki, on friendly terms.

It scared him.

But not enough to shake his nerves during the evening meeting. Though Sakaki still kept up the same, unnerving cheerful demeanor during the meeting, Tatsuya took the time to notice Nemuru's reaction to his behavior.

"Sakaki-san?" Nemuru said. "If you don't mind, I would like to turn our discussion to the possibility of releasing an official explanation about how this surgery is supposed to go."

"Yes, yes, when should we do that?" Sakaki murmured, drumming his fingers on the table.

"Perhaps sometime in January?" Nemuru suggested. "It will give us enough time to write up a proper discussion, including a possible question-and-answer session."

Sakaki scoffed, "Oh? You have any suggestions for these 'questions' or 'answers'?"

"It would just be a general forum for people to bring up any concerns they might have, and we could answer them right away," Nemuru said. She frowned and balled up her hands together. She tilted her head to her left.

Ah, so she senses something odd, too, Tatsuya thought. But is it just about this man alone, or is she on to us?

"So you want to give people room to openly doubt our intentions and then make fools of ourselves?" Sakaki said, adjusting his tie.

"That's not what I was saying," Nemuru said, but her voice lacked the same tension from when he usually criticized her. "In fact, I was suggesting the opposite."

Sakaki let out an airy sigh. "Fine, fine, but what about funding? We're fine for the moment, but money doesn't come out of thin air. We'll need something to keep our funds up."

Nemuru blinked. "Are we still talking about our future question-and-answer session?"

"Oh, yeah, that," Sakaki said, his eyes darting over to the window and back to Nemuru. "Then, ah…we could have a fundraising ball sometime next month just to show everyone our first thoughts are with our commitment to this surgery so that the question-and-answer thing will go over okay the following month?"

"I'm fine with it, if Tatsuya-san doesn't have any objections," Nemuru said with a slight nod. She turned to Tatsuya. "Tatsuya-san?"

"Sounds brilliant," Tatsuya said, rubbing the dry skin on his hand with his thumb. "We can discuss the proper arrangements another time."

As he turned the topic elsewhere, he observed Sakaki's behavior, and wondered about his relationship with that woman…Kaori Mana? Perhaps their relationship had reached new heights and they had…?

And if this was the case, all the better for Tatsuya. Now that their commitment had deepened, this could only mean Sakaki would become more desperate and vulnerable. Now, it was only a matter of waiting.


As the next few weeks flew by, Sakaki and Kaori's lovemaking grew more frequent. They weren't sleeping together every night, but they had moved up to sharing the same bed, and stayed up having long conversations.

"Have you ever woken up early enough to watch the sun rise?" Kaori asked one night, leaning her head on his shoulder. The fleece of her pyjama sleeves rubbed against his wrists.

"Sometimes, but I couldn't stay around long enough to appreciate it," Sakaki said, pulling the blankets up to their chests. "I had to go to work for an early morning shift—that was in university. What about you?"

"Once," Kaori said. "It was sometime after I started living with my grandmother. I woke up early, and couldn't go back to sleep, so I went to the kitchen and got some crackers and a glass of milk. I took them to the living room and ate and drank while watching the sun come up. It was so…so beautiful. It's one of those things that makes you appreciate life, and…oh, I couldn't do it justice. You would need to see it for yourself."

"I'll have to make time for it someday," Sakaki said, blinking to keep his eyes open. "Have you ever watched the sun go down?"

Kaori ran a finger over one of his buttons. "I might have," she yawned. "I can't remember right now, though…oh, except for…our date? Was the sun setting, then…?"

Her eyelids drooped and she floated off into a deep, blissful sleep. Sakaki smiled. He whispered, "It was."


On another night, after they had finished making love, Kaori sat up in bed and asked Sakaki a question:

"How much longer do you think we can continue like this?"

"What do you mean?" Sakaki sat up. He reached for his shirt across the sheets and slipped it back on. The room was a bit chilly tonight; he noted to check the thermostat in the morning.

"Like…as we are." Kaori stared out the window. "I haven't had any fevers in a while, but I do still have days when I feel weak and out-of-breath. It reminds me of how vulnerable we are."

"We?"

Kaori nodded. "Yes. We need each other. I hope we can keep going on like this, but I don't know how long that will last for." She sighed, "Sorry to be so gloomy, but it's been on my mind lately. But anyway…" She smiled. "The moon is so beautiful tonight, isn't it?"

She pushed her hair behind her shoulders. The blankets were around her waist, baring her upper body, which was silhouetted by the pouring moonlight. She no longer hid her body—now, she allowed Sakaki to see her as she was. And what he saw was a beautiful young woman wrapped up in the shawl of the moon.

Sakaki kissed the back of her neck and traced patterns around her waist and stomach. Her airy laughter was like a fleece blanket. He whispered, "Oh, I think we can keep doing this for a while."


November was fading fast. Now, it was the second of December. As Sakaki took a drink from the water fountain, he wondered how time could have flown by so quickly. His nights with Kaori—the sweet ones, the passionate ones, the ones where they talked until one in the morning, the ones where they made love until 'time' became a meaningless word—had blended together into one, blissful experience. It had been enough to make him forget all thoughts of revenge.

But was that a good thing? Was he disrespecting Mieko's memory by 'forgetting' about her?

"Mieko," Sakaki asked, turning off the fountain, "is this what you want?"

Did I ever once say I wanted you to seek revenge?

"No, but…but…"

Would your revenge really be about avenging my death? Or would it just be to give you peace of mind? You've already found that now with Kaori-san, right?

"Yeah, I guess you're right," Sakaki sighed. "I've always been a foolish man, haven't I, Mieko?"

"Who are you talking to?"

Sakaki gasped and spun around. Nemuru was standing in front of him, raising her eyebrows.

"No one," Sakaki scoffed, shoving his hands into his pockets. "Why are you so eager to know?"

Nemuru frowned. "Don't take this the wrong way, but I swore you were talking about Mieko-san."

Was it Sakaki's imagination, or had Nemuru stiffened up at the name just as he had? He clenched his fists and sneered, "So what if I was? What makes you think you have the right to ask?"

Nemuru flinched, but stood firm. "Perhaps I don't have the right to ask you about Mieko-san. But I do wish to ask what your real plan is with Tatsuya-san."

"My real plan, huh?" Sakaki smirked. "You want to know that badly? You don't have any faith in us?"

"I'm not saying I don't, but—ah! Tatsuya-san!" Nemuru said with a bow as Tatsuya came around the corner with a thick manila envelope.

"Good evening, Kushinada-san," Tatsuya said with a bow. "I'm just here to drop off the results of the last test—the one with the rats."

"Did it go as expected?" Nemuru asked.

Tatsuya and Sakaki shared a smile. Nemuru stifled the urge to accuse them of being up to something after all. She couldn't jump to conclusions yet.

"In a sense, yes," Tatsuya said. "However, one of the rats died in the experiment, so we may have to start over."

"Should I talk to the research scientists?" Nemuru asked.

"I'm afraid they've gone home for the night," Tatsuya said with a pitiful sigh. "I'll make a note to have them talk to you tomorrow, if you wish. Oh, and I almost forgot—about that fundraising ball you and Sakaki-san mentioned a few weeks ago? We have a set date: December seventeenth."

Sakaki raised his eyebrows and turned his head sharply. "The seventeenth? That's—never mind," he shook his head.

"Something wrong?" Tatsuya asked. "Do you have anything planned for that day?"

"Not…in particular, no," Sakaki said slowly. "But..." His eyes switched over to Nemuru. "Is Kushinada needed for this?"

"We could discuss this in more detail tomorrow," Tatsuya said, checking his wristwatch. "Right now, though, I think we should get back in the conference room to wrap things up."

"Speaking of which," Nemuru said as the three began to walk down the hall together, "next week will be my last week supervising. Then I'll turn in a report to the neighbourhood council and neighbourhood association. So if there's anything else you wish to bring up in my presence…"

"Understood," Tatsuya said. As he said this, he and Sakaki shared another glance. Nemuru thought, I think I'll stay behind a few extra minutes tonight.


After the meeting was over, Nemuru walked out of the conference room along with the others and turned around a corner. Then, she stopped and peered from behind. Tatsuya was the last to leave. He walked over to one of the scientists and gave him something—a bottle? Pills?

Tatsuya gave a small nod and he headed down the hall with the scientist. Nemuru followed a few steps behind, then stopped and waited for them to walk the rest of the way, all the while keeping herself hidden from their sight as much as possible. This was it. She was about to find out what they were really up to. And then she would finally have something to deliver.

But then she'd be asked how she knew about it, and she would have to admit she had been spying on them. At the very least, this might give her some leverage if anything went wrong.

The two men stepped behind a door marked "RADIOLOGY". Wait…Tatsuya had given the scientist pills…and they were heading for the radiology department?

"What are you doing here?"

Nemuru gasped and spun around, her heart skipping a beat. Then, she relaxed and sighed, "Misaki-san. Please don't do that again."

"Sorry," Misaki said, speaking in a low voice. "So you think they're up to something, too, huh?"

Nemuru nodded. "You've also had your suspicions?"

"Yes," Misaki said. She put her hands on Nemuru's shoulders and drew her a few steps back. "But I think we should get going now and deal with this later. If we hang around any longer, we'll get caught."

Nemuru nodded. "Yes. Let's go."

She and Misaki turned back. As they walked away, Sakaki slowly opened the door to the orthopedics department and smirked.

"Kushinada," he whispered, watching the two females leave with glee. "You have no idea how much trouble you're in right now."