Akira's new roommate was going to be a problem.
"Um... Okuzaki..." The girl stood off to the side, watching with wide eyes as Akira set down her shoes. Her cheeks were faintly pink. "I-I hope you feel welcome!" she blurted, and bowed deeply.
Akira blinked at her. "... thanks?"
"I cleaned off both beds!" she continued earnestly, and Akira noticed the color spreading on her face, gradually increasing from pink to red as she spoke. "My stuff is all over here, so you can pick whichever one you want - I'll try to stay out of your way most of the time, but I can cook dinner - even though all I can really make is ramen - and I'll keep the bathroom clean and try not to keep too many girly products around, and - "
"Uh - Nakamura?" Akira interrupted, after she'd gotten over her surprise and managed to remember what her roommate's surname was. "You know I'm really a girl... right?"
Nakamura stared at her for a moment, as if not fully comprehending what she had just said. "Yes?"
"Good grief," Akira muttered under her breath, not quite loud enough for the other girl to hear. Terrorizing her roommate wouldn't have been a good way to start off her school life as a girl, after all. "All right, then I'll take that bed." Closest to the window - just in case she needed an easy escape route.
It never hurt to be careful.
Takumi's new roommate seemed a little strange.
Well, maybe 'strange' was the wrong word. "So, how long did you know that Okuzaki was... y'know... ?"
"A girl?" Takumi supplied helpfully over his shoulder, trying to divide his focus between the pot of curry in front of him and the question at hand. Receiving an eager nod from the other boy - Kawamishi, wasn't it? - he responded, "Only for the last couple of weeks. She was a really private person, you know?"
"Did you get to see her boobs?" Kawamishi blurted, unexpectedly.
Takumi halted in mid-stir. He couldn't have heard that right. "Sorry, could you repeat - ?"
"I mean, you guys lived together; you must have seen something!" Kawamishi was staring at him expectantly, eyes bright. "How big were they?"
"Um..." What would be the best way to answer a question like that? Takumi pushed aside the half-guilty memory he had of Akira standing in the bathroom in just the sarashi and shorts, and tried what felt like an awkward smile. "I really didn't see anything."
Kawamishi gave him a look of stunned disbelief. "Nothing?"
"Sorry." Takumi turned back to the curry, hoping this would end the conversation. "Like I said, she was really private."
"Maaaaaan." Kawamishi let out a long sigh. "Not even in her underwear?"
It was going to be a long year.
Akira's first day of her second year of junior high school was more annoying than she'd hoped, but still less than she'd feared.
The uniform took some getting used to. For one thing, the skirt was way too short - but being allowed to wear her shorts underneath made this easier to put up with. And she was still able to use her comfortable shoes. Plus, the blazer wasn't that bad, although her chest felt exposed without the sarashi. She probably needed a bra. The thought of having to shop for one filled her with dread.
It was better to get used to being a female student first, before trying to get used to shopping for female stuff.
People kept gawking at her, too. Rumors had apparently spread during the break, and by now just about everyone knew she'd only been pretending to be a boy - but it seemed like everyone in the whole school just had to make some excuse to come and take a look. Like they'd never seen a girl before or something. It was dumb.
At least the teachers were acting normally.
"They'll get used to it after a while," Takumi assured her later, when they were sitting on one of the benches outside finishing up their lunch. "Right now it's big news, that's all."
"You're too much of an optimist." Akira eyed him critically. He seemed to be taking this in stride. "People don't just forget this stuff - even if some other big news comes up, I'll always be 'that girl who dressed like a boy'. It's annoying."
"Well, look at it this way - you're like a school legend now." He grinned at her.
She raised an eyebrow back at him. "I could live without being that kind of legend."
"Still, it doesn't hurt to look on the positive side of things."
That somehow made her smile. "Is there ever not a positive side for you?"
He put a hand to his chin in a show of thoughtfulness. "Maybe once... but a girl I know told me I needed to start acting more like a man, and I got over it."
It was amazing how effortlessly Takumi could turn a bad day around. Akira glanced at him sideways. "You need a girl to tell you that?" she scoffed, and then returned his grin from earlier, feeling inexplicably good all of a sudden. "Wuss."
Takumi's first day of his second year of junior high school seemed like an endless stream of people asking him questions.
'Did you know Okuzaki was a girl?' came up the most often - closed followed by 'So when did you find out?' It would've been all right if it had stopped there, but Takumi was startled by how many of his classmates were convinced that they had been more than friends. And a little uneasy about how much detail they wanted on that topic.
"So, did anthing happen... before you knew?" the boldest of the girls asked him, just after lunch. Her face was flushed, eyes bright - and she kept tossing glances over her shoulder to a group of three or four other girls who were giggling behind their hands near the classroom door.
"'Before'?" Takumi repeated, and tried very hard not to think about the way he'd been looking at Akira's eyes and smooth skin, and wondering to himself if maybe... Well. "I don't think there was an 'anything' to happen."
The girls all looked a little disappointed at that.
Unfortunately, his male classmates were just as bad. "So, after you found out Okuzaki was a girl," the question began - in the boys' locker room, no less, "how far did she let you get? I mean, you guys were living together and all..."
Takumi's ears grew hot. He looked around - at least four other guys had stopped to listen in. "Well..." He remembered the way Akira had started to relax the barriers she'd put in their dorm after her secret had been revealed, and felt strangely guilty. "We really didn't do anything like that."
The guys exchanged doubtful looks.
It's true, though.
"They said what!?" Akira's eyes widened for a second and then narrowed dangerously. "Who?"
"It's not really important," Takumi answered hastily, hoping to forestall disaster. "They were just rumors. Anyway, I told them it wasn't true."
"Yeah, but what do they care about whether it's true or not?" She looked exasperrated. "For crying out loud! What the heck are the people at this school thinking? As long as it makes a good story, it doesn't matter?"
"I think you're probably right," he agreed, turning to look down the path again. They were almost to the boys' dormitory; he wondered if Akira had forgotten, or if she just wanted to walk him there. Either way, he wasn't about to point it out. "You know there are going to be rumors no matter what we say."
She let out an aggrieved sigh, then shook her head. "There could be worse rumors, I guess."
"True enough." He nodded. "At least they don't think this is all an act and you're secretly still a boy."
"I'm surprised no one's asked me if you're secretly a girl," she responded, drily.
Takumi laughed, but he wasn't completely sure that she was joking.
On the first Sunday after the semester had started, Akira escaped out the window of her dorm room while Nakamura wasn't looking and climbed a tree outside the boys' dorms to knock on Takumi's window.
He'd been frying up something for lunch; when he looked up and saw her, he dropped the wooden utensil and splattered sauce all over the kitchen floor.
"I see your coordination hasn't improved much," she noted, after he'd opened the window to let her in.
"Well, it's not every day I get visited by the school's secret ninja." He smiled in response to the face she made, retrieving his fallen tool and carefully wiping it off.
"You're still not over that?"
"What's there to be over?" He turned back to the food again, seemingly unconcerned. "Was there a reason you had to come in through the window, or are you just keeping in practice?"
She raised an eyebrow at him. "Do you really want the whole school to know I came over here?"
"We could've met somewhere," he pointed out, reasonably. "Actually, I was waiting for you to call."
Akira would've had a hard time explaining why that made her feel so pleasantly warm. She adopted an unconcerned look. "I guess I just missed this place. I know it's only been a week, but..." She shrugged.
"Mm. I know what you mean." He removed the pan from the heat, switching the stove off, and turned to look at her. "Everything seems so different without you here."
It was hard to respond to that - so Akira didn't even bother trying. "Is your roommate around?"
He shook his head. "I think he went out to meet some friends."
"Good." She nodded decisively, crossing her arms. "Let's hang out here, then."
Takumi actually looked a little startled. "Are you sure? If he comes back and you're still around..."
"Then he can think whatever he wants," she finished for him, and was somewhat gratified to see that he was blushing a little. That was one picture she'd never drawn - his face when he was flustered. She would have to correct that later. "Anyway, let's just eat first and then we can figure the rest out from there."
He smiled again. "Stomach takes priority?"
On the first Sunday after the semester had started, Takumi spent his afternoon sitting on the floor near the kitchen with his former roommate, backs to the wall.
"I'm pretty sure my roommate still thinks of me as a guy," Akira told him, after a moment of companionable silence. "She turns red and starts flailing around whenever I'm anywhere near her. I don't know how she manages to sleep."
Takumi chuckled. "Well, you were the school's top pretty boy."
"Look who's talking, replacement pretty boy." Akira shot him a wry smile. "I've heard all the new rumors."
He couldn't help but smile sheepishly at that. "I think they just want to speculate about whether or not we were involved before I found out you were a girl."
She shook her head dismissively. "You'd have to be crazy to obsess over something like that."
"Well..." Takumi coughed, a little embarrassed. "It's not totally crazy..."
Akira stared at him. "No way." She apparently was quick enough to draw the correct conclusions from his response. "Seriously...?"
"It was only sometimes," he admitted, staring straight ahead instead of meeting her gaze. It wasn't like he'd planned to ever admit that to her, but he didn't want to lie about it, either. "I wouldn't have thought anything would come of it anyway, even if I was sure." It was strange to remember how he'd felt back then - it hadn't been that long ago, but for how much things had changed, it might as well have been in another lifetime. "Not just because you were a boy at the time, but because I'd always assumed I wouldn't get the chance for anything like that."
Akira was silent; when he looked over at her, she was still watching him, expression unreadable. "Me too," she said, and slid her hand along the carpet until her fingers covered his. She smiled slightly.
Takumi noticed she hadn't clarified whether that statement referred to having feelings for him, not thinking anything would come of those feelings, or assuming there'd be no chance for it in the first place. Or all three. He smiled back.
It didn't really matter, anyway.
"You're not the only one with a strange roommate, though," he said after a moment, turning his hand under hers so that their fingers could twine together. "Kawamishi is kind of obsessed with the fact that a girl used to live here. I think I caught him smelling his pillow the first night."
That got him two raised eyebrows, and a moment of stunned silence. Then Akira suddenly snickered. "Did you point out that he's actually sleeping in your old bed?"
"I don't know if he'd survive that," Takumi replied, a bit ruefully.
Akira's fingers curled against his, almost absently. She had slender, long-fingered hands that felt rough to the touch. His were probably a lot softer. "We have some weird classmates," she remarked.
He glanced over at her, amused. "And how normal are we by comparison, Ms. Secret Ninja?"
She gave him a flat stare. "Ask yourself that question, Mr. Sister Complex."
They stared at each other for a bare second or two, and then laughed.
On the first day of the Golden Week holiday, Akira woke up at around three in the morning from a nightmare that left her in a cold sweat and unable to fall asleep again.
She'd tried to travel back in time and prevent Gennai from being killed - but it had happened again, and again, and each time Takumi had faded away in front of her eyes. Once he was even in her arms, and she had felt him grow insubstantial even as she tried to keep hold of him.
The dream was so vidid that it was hard to believe that in reality he was all right.
She couldn't reassure herself either, since it was Nakamura in the second bed now. Akira sat up, concentrating on breathing evenly to slow down the rapid beating of her heart. It was a dream, she reminded herself. Just a dream. Takumi is fine.
It was obvious she wasn't going to get back to sleep, though. All of her nerves were on edge. Akira slid out of bed, moving silently to avoid waking her roommate, and retrieved her practice clothing from the dresser.
At least if she wasn't going to sleep, she could do something constructive.
The weather was definitely warming up. Akira was sweating by the time she'd gone through her first set of exercises, but it wasn't too bad. She was breathing heavy, too; she'd always gotten a little out of shape while school was in session and she didn't have enough time to practice regularly. A few more days of break, and she'd be back into it.
It hadn't helped, though - none of her skills had been of any use. Akira had been forced to rely on Gennai, and the few times she could do anything by herself, she'd summoned her element. Now, on her own, she wasn't so sure that she could even protect herself if something happened - much less Takumi.
That thought made her feel cold all over. She tried to push it from her mind. Worrying about it wouldn't help anything.
The sun was just starting to break the early morning darkness when she finished her training exercises. Akira fell out of her stance, wiping her forehead with the back of her hand. Despite her efforts, the dream was still on her mind - but she felt better, somehow.
In some ways, training at least made her feel like she could take action if she needed to. Even if she'd failed Takumi once, that didn't mean she wouldn't keep trying to protect him if something happened.
On the first day of the Golden Week holiday, Takumi got a better understanding of how allowing someone to take care of you could also be a way of taking care of them.
"Are you okay?" he asked Akira, after the second time she'd let their conversation trail off.
"Yeah, I'm fine." She frowned, looking away from him again. "It was just a dream, after all," she murmured to herself, almost too quietly for him to hear.
"A dream?" he repeated, leaning forward on the bench so that he was on eye level with her again. "What about?"
Akira turned to regard him for a moment. "The HiME carnival," she said, after a moment of silent contemplation. "I kept going back to try and fix things, and each time it turned out the same." Her gaze slid away again, and she stared straight ahead. "I was never able to save you."
That wasn't what he'd expected. Takumi blinked, not really sure what to say in response. They rarely discussed the events of the HiME carnival. Fading out of consciousness in his sister's arms and then waking to Akira had been the most jarring part of it for him, but it still didn't really feel like he'd died.
He sometimes forgot that it had to have seemed that way to her.
"You did save me, though," he said, after a moment's thought. When she turned her gaze sharply towards him again, he offered a small smile. "If it weren't for you, I might not have gotten that operation. I know I wouldn't have wanted it. And I don't think I would've found the strength to pull through at the end."
Her eyes widened. "Takumi..."
"Akira." He reached out to take one of her hands, gratified by the blush that rose on her cheeks as a result. "I was glad to hear that you wanted me to live. And honored... to be your most important person."
Her expression softened. "Dumbass. Look where it ended up getting you."
"I kind of like where I ended up," he replied, and squeezed her hand.
On the day of her fourteenth birthday, Akira gave in to the inevitable (and the steady approach of the switchover to the summer uniform) and asked Mai to help her shop for a bra.
"It's not so bad once you get used to it," Takumi's sister said helpfully, leading the way into the lingerie store. "Learning to put it on is the hardest part. After that, it's kind of nice not to have them jiggling around all the time."
Akira could've done without any sort of talk about 'jiggling'. "Let's just get this over with."
The older girl offered her a sympathetic smile. "Well - it shouldn't take long."
Almost as soon as they'd entered the store, they were joined by a beaming, middle-aged lady with a name tag on. She seemed a bit taken aback when she was told that they were shopping for Akira and not Mai.
"How old are you, dear?" the saleswoman asked, after looking her over for what seemed like a very long, awkward moment.
"Fourteen," Akira admitted, shifting on her feet with agitation. The store made her uncomfortable for some reason. Maybe it was just the knowledge of what she was doing there.
"Ah. Don't worry, then." The woman smiled kindly at her, reaching towards the back of a nearby rack for one of the bras with the labels that read 'A'. "You'll grow."
On the day of his fourteenth birthday, Takumi learned that seeing a bra that belonged to your girlfriend was different from seeing a bra that belonged to your sister.
"You didn't have to come and get me, you know." Akira opened the door to let him into her dorm room all the same, reaching for her shoes. "I'm pretty sure I can remember the way to the boys' dorms."
Takumi grinned. "But if you got lost on the way, I'd feel bad that I didn't walk you over."
She shot him a flat stare. "Don't be an idiot."
"Um... Okuzaki?" Nakamura's hesitant voice interrupted them. The girl herself wandered out of the bathroom. "I don't think this is one of mine," she said, timidly holding up the item in question. "Is it your - oh!" Her eyes went wide when she spotted Takumi, and her entire face flushed scarlet. "I - I'm sorry!"
All of that seemed to occur in his peripheral vision, because dangling from her now tightly clenched fist was a fairly plain white bra.
A bra that looked about the right size to cover Akira's -
"Nakamura!" Akira strode forward and snatched the offending item from her roommate's hand. Her face was at least as red as the other girl's. "Don't just go waving those things around!"
"I'm sorry! Really! I didn't mean to!"
"Um..." Takumi could feel his own cheeks burning. "I think I'll just wait outside." He backed out the door before either girl could reply, and quickly shut it behind him - but it was only after he'd made his way completely out of the dorm building that he felt his rapidly pounding heart begin to slow down somewhat.
On the first day of the fall semester, Akira did some serious thinking about the fact that she and Takumi hadn't kissed yet (the one on the floor of their dorm room totally didn't count).
She'd thought about it before, kissing Takumi. It wasn't like he would ever initiate it; his 'take things as they come' attitude was as frustrating as it was endearing. Normally, Akira didn't have a problem taking the lead, but kissing was one of those things that she really wished he would just take off her hands for once.
They'd been dating for more than six months now, and holding hands was as far as they'd gotten.
"Did you want me to make dinner for you tonight?" Takumi halted at the entrance to the boys' dorms, giving her a questioning look.
Akira considered it. "Is your roommate going to be there?"
"I think so. He doesn't have a club meeting today."
"I'll pass then." She shook her head, a bit regretfully. "He's always giving me this look, like I've got another head or something. It's kind of creepy."
"He's not that bad," Takumi defended, but there wasn't much conviction in his voice. "Anyway, I guess I'll see you tomorrow, then." He turned to face her, with one of those unassuming little smiles, and she noticed his eyes catch for a moment on her lips before they darted up to meet her gaze.
Akira inwardly sighed. If he wanted to kiss her, why didn't he just do it? It was such a pain in the ass how wishy-washy he could be. "Right. Tomorrow," she agreed, and leaned forward a bit. Maybe if she gave him some encouragement, he'd stop being such a wuss.
His gaze lingered on her lips again, and she thought for a moment that he was really going to do it. Her heart started to beat harder as she watched him lean the tiniest bit towards her, eyes growing a bit heavy-lidded...
And then, abruptly, he seemed to snap back out of it and gave her a cheerful smile like nothing had even happened. "Let me know if you change your mind about dinner, okay?"
Akira brought a hand up to her face, with an audible slap. This is just stupid. "What the hell?" she wondered out loud.
Takumi peered at her with some concern. "Akira?"
She let the hand slide off her face, and gave him a flat stare. "Geez. If you want to kiss me, you should just do it. Don't wimp out at the last second and act like you weren't thinking about it. Are you a man or what?"
His eyes widened. "Eh?"
Akira gave up. "Oh, forget it," she said, and leaned forward to claim his lips with hers.
On the first day of the fall semester, Takumi kissed Akira for the second time (he was pretty sure the one on the floor of their dorm room counted).
This time, though, he had more time and presence of mind to notice how soft Akira's lips were, and how her breath brushed his cheek erratically and her hand trembled just a bit against his shoulder. He shut his eyes and let himself get caught up in the moment, caught between excited and contented.
She pulled back after a few seconds, and stared into his eyes, almost as if she were as pleasantly surprised as he was. It was a side of her that he only saw in private moments like this, all barriers down, with her heart exposed to him as clearly as if he could read her emotions on her face. It made his own heart begin to pound, and he wondered if maybe they would kiss again.
Then the moment passed, and she offered a wry smile. "I have to do everything myself," she complained, and he noticed her tone was an odd mix of affection and frustration. "You sissy."
That was right - he hadn't kissed her. She'd kissed him. Takumi felt a bit sheepish. "Sorry."
"It's all right." Akira thumped him lightly on the shoulder. "I knew you were like that from the start. Just don't expect me to do all the work." She turned before he could respond, raising a hand back over her shoulder as she walked off towards the girls' dorms. "Anyway, I'll see you tomorrow."
"See you," Takumi responded automatically, but he couldn't help but feel like he'd just missed something.
Partway through the winter break, Akira had already spent more time in Takumi's dorm room than she really should've - but it wasn't like anyone needed to know besides them.
And anyway, Kawamishi had gone to stay with his family for the holidays.
"Looks like it's snowing again," Takumi noted, peering out the window on his way back from the washroom.
Akira leaned back from the table and stretched, abandoning her math problems for the moment. Due to the massive amounts of homework they'd been given over the break, they'd spent most of their evenings so far bent over their textbooks. "That should make the walk back to my dorm interesting," she noted wryly. "What time is it?"
He checked the clock. "Just about midnight."
"Probably time to call it a night, then." She slid the worksheet back into her binder and started gathering up the other books she'd sprawled across the table. "How hard is it coming down?"
"It looks pretty bad out there." Takumi hesitated for a moment, looking out the window again, and then turned to her. "Why don't you just stay?"
That shouldn't have been an awkward request - she'd been his roommate for nearly a whole school year, after all - but Akira still felt a nervous sort of knot forming in her stomach. "Where would I sleep?" she asked, trying to ignore it. "In your roommate's bed?" That wasn't really a pleasant thought. "Because I'm not so sure - "
"How about mine?" he suggested, and then immediately seemed to realize how that sounded and added hastily, "I can take Kawamishi's bed. Anyway, that one used to be yours - it should be okay, right?"
The offer was tempting - it meant she'd be able to wake up to one of Takumi's breakfasts, if nothing else. Akira still felt a bit weird about it, though. "I don't have a change of clothes," she pointed out, hesitant to either accept or reject the offer. "Or pajamas."
"You can borrow some of mine," he offered.
The thought of someone noticing her returning to her own dorm the next day wearing Takumi's clothes brought heat to Akira's cheeks. "I can manage on my own!"
Takumi blinked at the outburst, then smiled. "Does that mean you're staying?"
She stared at him, a bit dumbfounded - then had to avert her gaze, embarrassed. "Yeah. I guess I could stay."
"Okay, good." He moved back over to the table, and started to clean up his books as well. "Are you sure you don't want to borrow pajamas, at least?"
It would be nice not to have to sleep in her clothes... Akira hesitated for a moment, then sighed, feeling a bit resigned. "Let me see what you've got, and I'll think about it."
Partway through the winter break, Takumi did something he probably should've done two and a half months ago.
"So," Mai asked him, on one of the increasingly rare occassions when they met for lunch, "how are you and Akira getting along?"
"Pretty good." He sipped at his drink - nice and warm still - and added, "She stayed over the other night."
"Eh!?" His sister looked startled - and a bit alarmed. "You didn't - I mean, the two of you didn't - "
"Huh? Oh, no! No, nothing like that." Takumi waved his hands, hoping to calm her down before she leapt to some awkward conclusions. "I slept on Kawamishi's bed."
Mai relaxed, slumping back into her seat. "That's a relief... Don't scare me like that!" She sat up again, retrieving her drink.
"Well, we were roommates before," he reminded her, feeling a little amused. "Nothing happened then."
"You weren't dating before," she pointed out, giving him a meaningful look across the table. "I know you wouldn't have tried anything then, but now..."
Takumi was a little surprised by the implication. "I haven't tried anything."
She blinked at him. "Nothing?"
He shook his head. "If Akira wants me to do anything, she'll say so, right?"
His sister gave him a funny look. "Have you tried asking her?"
"No, she's the one who does all of that."
Mai sighed, raising a hand to her forehead. "Oh, Takumi."
"Never mind." She dropped the hand and offered a smile. "Don't worry about it."
"Sure." Takumi didn't comment when she changed the subject, but he was getting that feeling again - like there was something really obvious he should've realized but it just hadn't hit him yet.
The conversation was still bothering him when he and Akira were lingering at the table after dinner that night, side by side for a change, with steaming mugs of tea in front of them. She was drawing something, the sketchpad resting against the edge of the table as she worked, and he was supposed to be taking notes for an essay he'd been assigned to write in one of his classes - but he couldn't seem to focus properly.
Maybe I should just ask. Takumi drummed his fingers against the table, considering that thought. He was pretty sure his sister would tell him, if he made it clear how much he wanted to know. But from the way she'd reacted, it seemed like she expected him to know already - or at least to figure it out somehow.
What exactly was he missing?
Akira grabbed his wrist suddenly, bringing his thoughts to a momentary halt. The rhythmn his fingers had been playing out on the table faltered. "I'm trying to concentrate," she said, giving him a pointed look. "If you're going to keep doing that, let me know now so I can go work on this somewhere else."
"Sorry." Takumi smiled sheepishly at her. "I'll stop."
"Good." She let go of him, retrieving her pencil and bending back over the sketchpad in front of her.
He pulled his hand back, studying her for a moment. As much as he didn't want to disturb her while she was working, it was kind of nice to be able to pull her attention once in a while. And he had to admit, having her focus on him was a definite plus. Especially when it came with perks. He enjoyed it when Akira took his hand or kissed him, because it showed how much she liked -
So that was it.
Takumi shifted a bit, trying not to be too obvious. "Akira?"
"What?" She turned away from her sketchpad to face him.
He leaned in before he got the chance to think about it too much, pressing his lips to hers. Their shoulders bumped, but he persisted, lingering for a moment or two longer than he maybe should've. Akira stiffened briefly - with surprise, he figured - but seemed to relax into it after the first couple of seconds, her mouth warm and soft under his. He pulled back slower than he'd gone in, a little regretful that it had to end at all, and looked for her reaction.
She didn't disappoint him; her eyes were still closed for a beat or two after he'd opened his, but there was color on her cheeks. When she met his gaze, her expression was a bit dazed. "Takumi," she breathed, and then her eyes widened a bit as if she realized how that sounded. "What was that for?"
He smiled in response. "Because I wanted to." And then he leaned back in for another kiss.
She didn't seem to mind.
On the last day of the school year, Akira was just starting to think about how long it had been since someone had looked at her funny or made a comment about her dressing like a boy.
Akira paused, looking up from the bag she'd been stowing her schoolbooks into. The girl in front of her was from the art club - someone she'd talked to only a few times before. Not that she'd gone out of her way to be social. "What?"
"Some of the girls from art club are going out for milkshakes," the girl - Tsukiya, Akira remembered suddenly - told her, nodding over her shoulder to indicate her friends. She offered an encouraging smile. "We were wondering if you wanted to join us."
Akira looked in the direction Tsukiya's had indicated, where three other familiar-looking girls were waiting. One of them waved at her. None of them looked particularly anxious or uneasy about her being invited. Still... "You're sure it's okay, having me along?"
Tsukiya looked a little startled. "Why wouldn't it be?"
The smile was already tugging at the corners of her mouth, despite her best intentions. Akira felt somehow relieved, although she wasn't sure what had been worrying her in the first place. "All right," she agreed. "Just let me pack up my things."
On the first day of the new school year, Takumi met Akira at the point where the path from the boys' dorms met the path from the girls' dorms.
"Took you long enough," she commented, falling into step beside him. "I was starting to think you'd overslept or something."
"I have to make two lunches, remember?" He haded her the spare box. "There's yours."
"You don't have to keep doing that, you know." She took it all the same, with a wry look. "Still, you're going to make a great housewife some day."
"That's what some of the guys were saying," he admitted.
Akira shrugged. "If it makes you feel better, the girls in our class love it." She glanced over at him with a bit of a wry smile. "Nakamura especially. I don't think she really gets the fact that we're dating; she talks about you all the time now."
"Really? Then I guess cooking gives me an edge on Kawamishi." Takumi smiled back at her, more than a little amused. "Since he's decided that me dating you means it's fate that he'll hook up with her some day."
She raised an eyebrow. "That guy needs to get his head checked."
"Maybe you're right," Takumi said agreeably.
"Of course I am." Akira straightened the bag on her shoulder, and her gaze turned from him towards the school. She looked about as optimistic as he could remember seeing her. It was enough to make him feel pretty good about their last year in junior high.
Or maybe just the future in general.
Takumi reached over and linked his fingers with hers.