Hanako was clingy. Nene was aware of that much, of course. As if she could somehow ignore the way he clutched at her when she was threatened by another supernatural. Or the too close chill of him when he pressed in to tease her.
She was well acquainted with the cold bite of his fingertips on her skin. The stinging blanket of winter when he draped himself over her shoulders.
Nene didn't hate the cold, though she did find herself wishing for some amount of warning when he visited her in class. The puff of sharp breath against her ear when he leaned close and whispered his greetings nearly always made her jump and shriek in the beginning. Hanako delighted in the fanfare of it all.
She didn't necessarily care about the strange looks from her classmates, she had gotten them well before Hanako had cannonballed into her life, but she could do without the scolding from her teachers for being disruptive.
Nene liked to think she was getting a little better at hiding her surprise. Her jumping turned to stiffening. Her gasps were swallowed. She managed.
This only seemed to make Hanako try harder to scare her. Cold fingers dragging over the back of her neck, a hand suddenly grabbing her leg, a tug on her hair. He succeeded the first handful of times. He purred his apologies into her ear and nuzzled at her temple and then went right back to scaring her the next day.
Often, he spent full periods hovering around her classroom trying to distract her. He stood on her desk, switched her classmates' possessions while they weren't looking, walked a tightrope on the windowsill. He imitated her teachers' lessons and movements with dramatic flourish, bouncing voice ringing out to only her ears. He asked incessant questions about her classwork, corrected her history book, whined that he was bored and tried to bribe her to skip class.
Perhaps to say that Nene was simply AWARE of Hanako's clinginess was an understatement. Rather, she was the sole target of his koala-like tendencies.
It wasn't as though Nene minded terribly. Her grades weren't suffering irreparably. And it WAS nice to have someone to keep her awake during her more boring classes. She liked writing notes to him to communicate. He was a godsend on hotter days, like her own personal air conditioner.
And maybe she didn't exactly dislike the way his arms felt wrapped around her shoulders, or the way his cheek settled next to hers.
But that didn't bear thinking about for too long. Surely nothing was amiss on her end. He wasn't her type. She certainly didn't spend hours agonizing over the exact golden hue of his eyes, or the way they got so impossibly wide when he was embarrassed. Or the flush of his cheeks. Or the thought of what his hair might feel like slipping through her fingers.
So maybe Nene thought Hanako was a little cute. And funny. And sweet. It DEFINITELY didn't bear thinking about. At all.
What DID bear thinking about, perhaps, was the slight change Nene had noticed in Hanako in recent weeks. She was certain that he was trying not to act any differently at all, but she noticed nevertheless. As attuned as she was to his physical presence, she couldn't NOT notice.
There was a distinct gentleness about him when he handled her that definitely wasn't there before. Of course, Hanako had never hurt her, but he'd been rather cavalier in his contact. He'd scooped her up in his arms so quickly she feared he'd drop her or leaned so heavily into her that she could barely support him. And he jostled her around plenty. His fingers would pinch at her cheeks of prod at her ribs none too kindly.
But now he seemed almost... Shy? When he touched her face, it was feather light. When he wrapped himself around her, she felt barely any of his weight. When he picked her up, she felt secure in his hands.
He seemed to linger with his hands on her more often. Sat a little closer, spoke a little more softly to her.
It wasn't as though Hanako was being COMPLETELY unlike himself. He still teased her to hell and back. And he still had his moments where he nearly bowled her over with the force of how he flung himself at her.
But then sometimes his ears flushed red and he pulled at his hair to try to hide it. Sometimes his grin faltered into something more forced and nervous, and he seemed to want to try and convince her that he really didn't MEAN the joke he'd just made about her, it was JUST a joke after all and he'd never REALLY be that mean to his poor assistant. Sometimes they sounded less like jokes, and a little more little more like something tinged with a desperate sort of hope. Hope for what, she couldn't pinpoint.
It was confusing. Nene had forced herself to admit eventually that she enjoyed it, this soft fragile thing between them. It glowed in her chest and stole her breath. Electricity zipped through the air when they found themselves alone. But she wasn't sure what had changed. Maybe he was realizing how fragile she was, being human, so he was trying to compensate.
The idea of confronting Hanako terrified her just a little bit. She didn't want to destroy this, or make him feel insecure or unhappy, but she needed to ease the tension on her mind somehow.
Particularly after the odd moment they'd had during her math class earlier that day. Nene had been fighting to pay any sort of attention to the lesson her teacher was scrawling onto the board. Her eyes drooped, cheek pillowed on her palm. She swore she'd never seen this many nonsensical numbers before in her life. It wasn't making any sense, and the heat was making her feel so incredibly sleepy. What could a nap hurt, really? She wasn't understanding the lesson, and she was planning on asking Aoi to share her notes anyway. She drifted, eyes fluttering shut.
"Really Yashiro, you shouldn't be sleeping in class," a soft voice hummed against her ear.
Nene's elbow slipped off the desk, and she smacked her forehead off her textbook.
She bolted upright, clearing her throat, and looking determinedly at her notebook.
Her teacher blinked, "Yashiro, any further disruptions will result in a removal from this classroom. See to it that it doesn't happen again." Shaking his head, he continued to drone on about the equation on the board. Her classmates tittered among themselves.
Nene's shoulders slumped, and she pressed her hands to her flaming cheeks, turning her head just so to glare pointedly at Hanako. He didn't even have the decency to look apologetic, eyes sparkling with mirth, fingers pressed against his mouth in a poor attempt to hide his grin.
"Aw, come on, Yashiro, you're not really mad, are you?" he asked.
Nene's only response was to stop glaring at him, and start glaring down at her paper. She picked up her pencil, and began to write viciously. Hanako floated behind her, peeking over her shoulder to see what she'd written to him, and she nearly felt him wilt when he saw that she was only attempting to solve the equation she had written down.
"Yashiroooooo," he whined, "C'mon I'm sooorrrryyy."
When Nene continued to ignore him, Hanako draped himself across her shoulders again, icy and comforting despite her irritation. She resolutely did NOT lean into the circle of his arms. He grumbled for a moment at that, and then adjusted himself to perch on the corner of her desk instead.
His fingers crept under her chin, tilting her face up to look at him. He did look apologetic now. But there was something else there, something quiet and warm that took root in her lungs and squeezed the breath out of her. His thumb swept over her heated cheek, and he leaned forward. She didn’t dare move, didn’t breathe, caught in the molten honey of his gaze, the soft curl of his smile. It was so unbearably fond, a look that she’d never let herself hope that anyone might actually direct at her.
“I didn’t mean to embarrass you. Really, I’m sorry, Nene. Forgive me?” Hanako murmured, smooth and sincere.
Nene’s breath caught, heart thundering in her chest at the sound of her first name. He’d never called her that before. It was always “Yashiro”, or “my assistant”. Never her given name.
Hanako seemed to realize his slip up, then. He jerked his hand away from her cheek, fingers curling into his chest. His shoulders hiked up to nearly his ears, and his flush crept all the way down to the collar of his uniform. He sat, frozen, staring at Nene in abject horror. She opened her mouth, unsure of what she intended to say, and then snapped it close, remembering she was still very much sitting in her math class.
Nene blinked, tension dropping out of her muscles suddenly. That was... What WAS that? She buried her face in her hands. Wasn’t it kind of intimate for him to call her by her given name? He clearly hadn’t meant to let it slip out. And he was distressed about it.
She really needed to talk to Hanako.
Nene stamped her foot resolutely. "That's it!" she shouted, pumping her fist into the air, "I'm going to talk to him today!"
"Nene?" Aoi questioned, eyebrows nearly at her hairline in surprise.
Right. Nene had been lost in thought. But she was at lunch. With her best friend who had just witnessed her awkward outburst and was bound to have loads of questions. Great.
Aoi was relentless in her interrogation, only letting up when the bell rang to signal the end of their lunch period. Nene was actually a little proud of how well she’d avoided giving a straight answer to any of her best friend’s questions. As far as Aoi knew, Nene just had a crush on some princely upperclassman who she knew nothing about, like usual. Nene may have let a few of Hanako’s traits slip in when she described the fictional guy in question, but she was careful to avoid throwing in anything Aoi could use to try to find out who he might be.
Nene heaved a sigh once Aoi was out of sight. She did have to confront Hanako. She couldn’t spend another night tearing her hair out wondering if she was reading too much into everything.
The thought put her on edge regardless. She was going to cut crescents into her palms if she didn’t unclench her fists. Her leg jiggled incessantly through the rest of her classes. The clock ticked relentlessly toward the final bell. Every passing minute set Nene’s teeth clenching harder.
It was going to be a long couple of classes.
When it’s finally time, Nene sets off toward Hanako’s bathroom on wobbly legs. Slowly. Buying herself time to try to figure out what to say. Best to be direct. She can’t beat around the bush with Hanako, or he’ll tease circles around her until she’s miles away from where she started the conversation.
Far before she’s ready, Nene finds herself standing in front of the bathroom door. She takes a deep breath, shakes her head, and steels herself. She smooths the front of her dress down, pats at her hair, making sure it’s in place, and pushes the door open.
"Hanako?" Nene calls softly, "Can I ask you something?"
In an instant Hanako is approaching her, half translucent against the setting sun that frames him and glowing with playfulness, reaching for her.
For a moment she finds herself breathless, nearly speechless. He’s beautiful and unattainable and so effortlessly frustrating. She's sure that whatever he's saying is some sort of dirty joke about how she wanted to get personal with him.
"Why have you been different lately?" Nene blurts out.
Ah, that was less tactful than she’d intended. And there’s no going back from that.
Hanako freezes, eyes widening a fraction for a split second. He stays hovering in front of her, stock still, and seems to consider her. It's the only tell of his surprise. "I'm sure I haven't been," he says carefully.
Then all at once, he softens, dropping into an overly casual reclined position, one ankle crossed over his knee, arms behind his head. "Paying an awful lot of attention to me, aren't you, Yashiro? Reading into things that aren't there?"
"See that's the thing," Nene ignores his remark, "I'M sure that you have been different. And you've been trying really hard to not ACT different. Which just makes you seem like you're acting MORE different!"
Hanako crosses his arms in front of himself, fingers tapping restlessly against his bicep. He fixes his gaze on the wall behind her, frowning. "Fine then. How?" he asks, tone clipped.
"Wha- how what?" Nene stutters.
"Different how?" he fixes her with a cool gaze, eyebrow quirked.
Nene freezes under the intensity of his stare. She hasn't seen a look like that on his face in a while, cold and haughty and so determined to have the upper hand.
Different how, indeed. There's no way to explain this without utterly embarrassing herself, even if she is right. Particularly if he's this defensive. It makes her a little sad, to have Hanako throw up such a wall at her. She thought they were past that.
"I'm waiting," he drawls, stretching lazily. He flips, gracefully as always, now upside down, one hand pinning his hat to his head.
Nene reaches for him, mind made up. She can't use words, obviously. So she has to show him, to try to get him to understand what he’s been doing to her. She pulls Hanako's hand from his hat, taking it from his head and setting it on the sink nearest to her. She moves to pull him upright by the wrist, and to her surprise, he lets her. He still watches her carefully, feet just barely off the ground, frown set onto his face. One arm wraps around himself in a facsimile of protection.
There's silence when she reaches up to press her palms against his chilled cheeks, broken only by his harsh whoosh of breath at the contact. He goes tomato red immediately, and Nene is sure that she's not much better. She lets her thumb swipe over his cheekbone, below his eye, and she catches him leaning into it despite himself. He drifts almost imperceptibly closer, eyelashes fluttering just barely. She hears the tap of his shoes meeting the floor. One hand hovers over her waist, as if waiting for permission.
"This," Nene breathes, "This is different."
Hanako catches her gaze, solemn, and then looks to the floor. It’s the same position he’d put them in earlier, and she can see that he knows it. In that moment, everything about him spells defeated. "And what if it is?" he asks just as quietly, just this side of unsteady, half a step away from terrified.
Nene is quiet for a moment, curling her fingers into the hair behind Hanako's ear. She takes him in, the soft frailty of him that he shoves beneath the bravado. The bits of vulnerability that have seeped out into her hands. She remembers, the press of his cheek against hers, his arms around her waist, fingers laced through her own. She's made her peace with it.
"I don't mind," she whispers.
His eyes go so impossibly wide, snapping up to search her face. His disbelief is evident, it makes him bashful. She can practically hear the insecurity, the questions that are zipping around in his head.
"But," his voice is hoarse, and it shakes, "But do you WANT...?" he trails, but Nene understands nevertheless. Does she want him too, or is she settling?
So Nene smiles, draws him that much closer, holds him as tenderly as she can muster. His answering exhale is ragged, and his eyes slip closed briefly. When he's looking at her again, she nods. "I want," she says simply, and the way she smiles at him leaves no room for argument.
His hands do settle on her waist then, cold even though the thick fabric of her dress. Goosebumps burst over her arms. “Nene,” he murmurs, nearly reverent in his intensity, and that makes her shiver. He leans in, leans his forehead against hers, watching her carefully. Every movement is achingly slow, painstakingly careful. As though she might rip away from him at any moment, as though he shouldn’t be allowed this.
So Nene presses in, chest coming flush against Hanako’s own. His heart hammers hard enough for her to feel it where her fingers brush his neck, and it’s horribly endearing.
“Hanako,” Nene whispers, and he’s so close that it makes her skin tingle, “Kiss me?” She asks simply.
Hanako sucks in a sharp breath, and he looks like he’s been hit over the head. He doesn’t seem to believe her, stays still, as though she’ll take it back.
So she closes her eyes, sighs out a breath, and strokes her thumbs across his cheeks. She’ll let him make the final move. She feels his hands shake against her waist, fingers curling nervously.
She waits, for a handful of breaths, for hours, she’s not sure. Feels him inch closer, just enough for his lips to brush hers and for a shudder to wrack through him at even just that bare hint of a touch.
Then all at once, his hands are splaying over her spine and his mouth is pressed to hers urgently. Then Hanako moves, and their lips slide together, and Nene is sure that she’s going to faint. Hanako whines, and the sound shoots right up her spine, and his hand comes up to cradle her cheek. He kisses her desperately, like this is the only chance he might get. Like he’s got to show her that he’s worth it so she won’t take it all back. Nene wraps an arm around his back, keeps him close, tries to make him understand that she’s not going anywhere. She gets an almost violent shudder for her efforts, and he leans heavily into her.
This is what they talk about in books, Nene thinks dazedly. All the longing and the heat culminating into something that leaves her breathless and heady and spiraling. She waits for him to pull back, doesn’t want him to take it as a rejection if she does it herself. And when he does, he looks absolutely wrecked. His eyes are glazed and too bright with unshed tears, cheeks stained pink and mouth red. He glows, absolutely shines with happiness and disbelief.
Nene can’t help but lean in to press a kiss to the corner of his mouth, and he makes a choked little sound at that. That alone gives her the confidence to do it again, and again, dropping kisses across his cheek. She moves up the slope of his nose, onto his forehead, to the corner of his eye where he blinks back tears. He falls apart in her hands, all trembling fingers and stuttering breaths.
She stops when she thinks his knees might actually give out. Her own aren’t doing much better. She pulls him into a hug, hooking her chin over his shoulder. He buries his face in her shoulder and breathes. They keep each other upright, clinging tightly to the fragile, tenuous thing they’ve discovered.
Nene isn’t willing to let him go first, and Hanako seems to feel the same way. Nene wonders, a little forlornly, when the last time someone hugged him had been. He holds on as though she’ll disappear if he let's go, and he melts a little more when she rubs a hand over his back, and that makes her think it’s been far too long. She wants to hold him more often, wants to watch him relax and sink into her arms and smile.
“I’m not going anywhere, Hanako,” she murmurs. She wants to ease his anxiety.
He nuzzles against her shoulder, and then he pops his head up suddenly, smiling widely. It’s different than usual, so bright and so sincere. It actually meets his eyes, crinkling the corners.
Hanako laughs, loud and unrestrained, tears still shining in his eyes. He presses his cheek to Nene's and squeezes her tightly, then draws back to look at her like he can’t believe his luck.
Maybe he can’t.
Nene can’t believe hers either.