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12 Year Romance

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Amane is nine years old when he meets the love of his life.

The Tanabata festival had been in full swing and he had to leave Tsukasa at the katanuki booth, for both of their sanity’s sake. 

He supposes it’s fine however when he meets Yashiro Nene, a pitiful high school student who was abandoned by her date at one of the stalls. Poor girl couldn’t seem to catch a break. After being rejected and swindled by her crush, she could only rely on the mercy of the gods and collect colorful wishing tags to pray for a boyfriend.

Which is a shame, Amane thinks. The girl was quite pretty. With soft bouncy hair and large crimson eyes, she’s easily the most stunning girl he’s ever met. 

That jerk was the absolute worst for leading her on like that. It was bad enough he took her money, now the girl’s ankles were swollen too. He didn’t know how good he had it, having a beauty like her and wasting her away.

If Amane were a little older, he’d go out with her and treat her right. He’d show her around the stalls, play games with her, and they’d eat to their hearts content. Although he bought her a ramune bottle and offered the rest of his food, he knows he’d do a lot more to show her a good time. 

But Amane’s not older, he bitterly recounts. With the way she cleaned rice off his face, he’s left feeling like a child. Someone too inexperienced and young to be treated any different.

He can’t be too angry however when he sees her lovely, saccharine smile. One that reminded him of strawberry fields and shooting stars. 

Though he’s hesitant to give her his red wishing slip and explains how he wanted to be an astronaut, he’s surprised to see her giving him her collection, crying about how he deserved them much more. Apparently his selfless act and wondrous dream was enough to move her romantic heart. 

It’s not till the fireworks start that his life changes forever. Illuminated by the bright sparks in the sky, she kisses his forehead, claiming it was a magic spell to help him become an astronaut. It’s the last thing he can remember before she subsequently runs up to two other friends, waving him goodbye as they headed home.

Being an astronaut was the last thing on his mind as he held onto her fragile kiss. One that solidified her place as his first love forever. 

In unpolished, big black letters, he wrote his greatest wish--

 

I wish to meet Nene-oneesan again!

 

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Stupid Tsuchigomori just never knew when to quit. So what if he had a few scratches here and there? That didn’t mean he had to stay put like this. He was fourteen, goddamnit! Bruises were nothing new to him.

‘I’ve gotta go to a meeting,’ the older man sighed. ‘The new nursing aid will come and deal with you.’ 

Whoever the new nurse was, they were late. Five minutes was an awful lot of time to waste on someone like him. If he were lucky, they wouldn’t come at all. 

Clutching the curtain frame, a few tears escaped his eyes. The disgusting, all too intimate feeling of embarrassment made its way down his throat and up his stomach. Only a few sobs could leave him before he stumbled down at his knees, humiliated by his own cowardice.

“That looks painful…” a gentle voice stressed. “What happened?”

No way.

When the curtain parts at just the right angle, Amane’s eyes meet a familiar face. Only this time, she’s older, more grown up than he had last seen her. 

And just as lovely apparently.

He looked down to her ankles, which were as large and bulbous as ever.

Was she still dating shitty men? 

He doesn’t have any time to ask questions. The moment she crouches next to him, he follows her every movement, allowing her to bandage him without so much as a word. 

She doesn’t recognize him. 

It’s a sad thought that stays on his mind as she wraps his arms and patches his cheek.

The melancholy slowly fades the longer she tends to him, worried and frantic over his health. It’s hard to believe, but he’s fallen for her all over again.

This is fate, he tells himself. It just has to be.

 

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“Sorry for leaving you with the brat, Yashiro-san,” the older teacher grumbles. “I know he can be a handful.”

“Really? He seemed perfectly fine to me.” The boy looked really familiar for some reason. Even with his red bruises and delinquent looks, she couldn’t help but think of candied apples and bubbly ramune. “He was quiet the whole time I bandaged him.”

She smiled as she recounted his polite bow and clumsy departure.

“So Yugi really didn’t do anything?” Tsuchigomori asks, dumbfounded by the turn of events.

“No,” she answers. “But when he left, he was blushing.”

 

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Amane never seems to stop getting into fights. Almost every other week she’d find herself scolding him, prodding on about how he should be trying harder to get along with everybody. Even after two long years of getting to know him, she still can’t figure out what he was thinking.

He takes it all effortlessly, opting to flirt with her as she patches him up. As infuriating as it was to see his impish smile, his humor cracked a few smiles here and there. An act that always praises and hurts him all at once. He’s just gotten so good at keeping secrets from her. 

He doesn’t tell her how a couple of bullies were making fun of her ankles, saying she’d be sexy if they weren’t so freakish. He doesn’t tell her about the satisfying collision of his fist when it shot the first blow. 

And he especially doesn’t tell her how he’ll glare at men who look her way. He never talks about how he always prayed that he was older, more qualified to be taken seriously.

No, he never tells her anything.

 

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“Aw, but Yashiro. Won’t you kiss it better~” he jokes. He’s eighteen now, but his jokes never seem to let up.

Over the past couple of years, Nene’s grown used to his prodding, but she never fails to shove it aside, reminding him to be more careful. He’s stopped getting into fights, he just hasn’t stopped coming into her office to flirt with her.

“Maybe get a girlfriend to kiss it better, Amane-kun.” She put away the bandage kit in her desk. “That Harada girl seems really interested in you! You should start dating and live out your youth.”

Ah, that word again. Youth.

He deflects her entirely, aiming to look away with a slight pout on his lips.

“You know you kissed me before,” he began. “I don’t see the problem with it now.”

Nene sighed again. She doesn’t know what vivid dream he had, but there was no way a school nurse like her should be kissing students like him. Even if they were only six years apart in age, it just wasn’t right. He’d always been like that with her, she just never knew why. 

All she can do is tell him not to joke like that. That he should be focusing on girls his own age and not women like her.

It doesn’t do much however as he marks down each day on his calendar, more than ready to seize his moment.

 

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Being confessed to right after his graduation was unexpected, to say the least. Nene had just packed up the last of her office supplies when she found Amane waiting for her at the infamous Confession Tree, holding a gorgeous bouquet of pink camellias.

“I love you, Yashiro,” he proclaimed, looking straight at her with unbridled, youthful determination. “Please go out with me.”

Youthful, she notes.

As red as she was from the raw, heartfelt emotion of the confession, it pains her to see someone with so much potential waste away for someone like her. 

Nene can’t even look him in the eye as she answers him, smiling sadly at the prospect of lost time and faded beauty. It’s all she can do as she whispers her sorries and clutches the bouquet he insisted she keep. 

If he’s crying, she doesn’t notice. All she feels is the steady brace of arms as he holds her and never lets go.

“Then please, wait for me.”

 

I’ll get older.

 

I’ll get smarter.

 

I’ll be good enough for you.

 

Just wait for me.

 

She doesn’t say much, she only hugs him back, remarking on how tall he’s grown when her head seeps into the crook of his neck. Boys like him shouldn’t look this weary. They were much too young to carry the heavy burdens that came with love.

But as the petals of the bouquet start falling, dwindling away at the clutches of time, she finds herself rooting for the young boy, hoping that maybe, just maybe, he can prove her wrong. 

 

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“Hello, everyone! I’d like to introduce Amane Yugi! He used to go to Kamome a few years ago and now he’ll be a teaching aid!” 

The women in the staff room are quick to flag down the handsome teaching assistant, undoubtedly taken in by his charm and good looks, much to the chagrin of their male coworkers. Tsuchigomori is as stoic as ever, but even he has a hard time fighting off his amused grin.

Nene is too stunned to react in all honesty. She had come in late as a result of giving a fellow student ginger ale to treat her stomach aches. The last thing she ever thought she’d see was Amane Yugi surrounded by an onslaught of flirty teachers. It had been a whole two years since he had gone off to university, promising that he’d come back to sweep her off her feet. Her garnet eyes were wide at how professional he looked with his lab coat and button up shirt. Incredibly different from the scrambled mashup of black and blue from the high school uniform. 

With how persistent her coworkers are, she wonders if he can even see her over the crowd. He’s even taller now, but she’s sure that she was lost in the sea of brown and black hair. 

When she’s brave enough to look up from her desk, she finds that he’s been looking at her the whole time.

To the detriment of her heart, he winks.

 

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After working with Amane for a month, she’s glad to note that he hasn’t lost his love for outer space. Instead of trying to be an astronaut like before, he’s determined to be a science teacher, hoping to teach the next generation about the stars and the world beyond them. 

Still as flirtatious as ever, Nene finds herself victim to Amane’s constant smirks and suggestive brows. She should have been used to it, considering how often he did it as a teenager a few years ago.

But it felt different this time. Instead of passing it off as juvenile pretenses, his affections were more confident. More profound and steady.

By the time she locks up her office, he’s already waiting to walk her home.

And like always, she can never deny him.

 

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Nene gets sick one day. As the school nurse, she should’ve known the flu would catch up with her someday. Being around sick children all the time should’ve prepared her for the worse. Nose stuffy and eyes blotchy from unshed tears, she had to stay home and spend the weekend in solitude. She’s used to being home by herself, but she can’t help feeling a little lonely now that she’s alone with her thoughts.

Which is why Amane coming in to take care of her opens her eyes.

He used the spare key she gave him to let himself in. Nene doesn’t even need to blink before he hurries himself to her kitchen, prepared to cook her some chicken soup and ginger tea. He even bought the ingredients and medicine himself. As Nene eyed him down to take in his uneven tufts of hair and the sunken gray lining his amber eyes, she knows he rushed himself over to her house.

It was a little humiliating to have him feed her, but she doesn’t mind in the slightest. Not when he was sprinting left and right to change her head towel and get her tissues. Not when that bright smile of his was able to make her forget about her worries.

“Isn’t it funny,” she weakly chuckled. “I used to bandage you all the time. Now you’re the one taking care of me.” 

Amane blushes when she reminds him of the old times. It’s nothing he’s ashamed of. Getting patched up by her was always his favorite part of school. 

Still, he can’t resist himself as he leans against his propped arm and grins. “So do you see me as a man now~” he teases.

He likes being her caretaker. He likes seeing her cute face as she tilts her head and softens her eyes. It’s something he wants to keep to himself forever. 

The anticipation and hope built up in his chest, masqueraded by the controlled, confident quip of his lips, eyes wide open for what was to come.

The bubble that strained his heart and mind pops when she gives him her answer.

“Yes.”

 

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Nene had finally fallen asleep after watching a few movies with Amane. Once he noticed how she dozed off, he tucked her into bed and was prepared to leave.

But not before he had the chance to admire the Sleeping Beauty in front of him, the one who had finally started seeing him as a man.

She smiled sweetly. ‘I guess you're not the same little kid anymore. Your feelings are more sincere now.’

He clenched his thigh at the memory.

'Idiot,' he thinks. 

She just didn’t get it, did she?

Leaning over her sleeping face, he took in the flush of her cheeks and the length of her lashes. Even when she’s asleep, she's incandescent. He just wishes she'd realize that. 

Laying a gentle kiss on her forehead, he can't help but murmur the next few words that leave his mouth. 

 

“I've always loved you.”

 

He’s barely out of the room when scarlet eyes shoot up and trail over to the door, heart affixed by the raw honesty of his words.

 

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They start dating a few weeks later. As bashful as Nene was to be the one to ask him out on a date, the way he nearly jumped out of his seat was worth the momentary embarrassment. She had become the envy of nearly all the women at work when their relationship came out. She didn’t miss their disapproving looks or harsh gossip, it was something she had fully expected.

Though as she cuddles into Amane’s strong arms, she finds that she doesn’t really care. In all their dates together, he was always the first one to pay and pick her up, treating her like a princess in his own mischievous way. He’d never be as romantic as the men in her magazines, but that’s just how she likes it-- how she likes him.

 

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It wasn’t till a gentle night of lovemaking that Amane popped the question.

“Please marry me, Yashiro,” Amane whispered, confident and out of breath. He knows this isn’t how it’s usually done, but he needs to tell her. “I don’t want anyone else. I just want you.” He kissed her fervently, desperate to feel the wondrous ache of her pink lips. “Choose me and I’ll give you everything you ever wanted.” His bangs brushed against her forehead. “You just have to choose me.”

Had they been a little younger, Nene would be more hesitant in believing him. More in denial of such naive and hopeful feelings.

But as she bore herself to him and allowed herself to be vulnerable in the face of carnal urges, he kissed away all her doubts, looking at her as though she was the most beautiful woman in the world. And for those sweet moments, she felt as though she was. For all the boyfriends she’s had— both casual and serious, none had ever looked at her with the same amount of love or sincerity as Amane.

Her palm cupped itself against his sharp jawline, eyes shaky and full of thought. “You really love me, don’t you?” 

He nodded graciously, smiling as he stroked her smooth back.

“It’s either I marry you or no one. I decided that a long time ago.”

She wants to ask him how long. She wants to know how and when he came to that conclusion. She wants to know how someone as young as him could be so mature about something as fleeting and difficult as love.

Nene doesn’t prod him any further. Instead, she curled herself into his chest, admiring the lean muscles he’s built up. Though a bit slender, the feel and sight of his body reminded her that he’s not the same scrawny teenager who picked fights with schoolyard thugs or the anxious young adult who waited for her at the Confession Tree.

Right before her was an undaunted and selfless man. A man who had chosen her over and over again. For many years on end.

Reaching over to the center of his head, Nene brushed aside his bangs and laid a gentle kiss. One so familiar and earth shattering that the roar of fireworks is all he can hear. It’s the only sensation he can seem to feel as hope pumped through the torturous organ he called a heart. 

“Then let’s get married,” she hushed. “Let’s make that wish of yours come true.”

It takes every nerve in his system not to cry as he swept her up, overjoyed by her kind return of love.