“Yashiro,” a low voice preens. It’s early Saturday morning and light is filtering through the small high ceiling window of the campus library — illuminating the mischievous, almost cat-like glint in one of her study partners, Amane’s eyes. “If you wanted to be at my mercy all you had to do was ask.”
She blinks, once then twice, processing the weight of his words. The blush takes a few seconds to manifest itself on her face (she blames the delay on morning grogginess), but once it does, it paints her entire countenance red, like a glaring stop sign.
“I-idiot! You know that’s not what I meant when I said I needed help from you!” she snaps, swatting his forearm with the spine of her textbook. Amane retracts his arm, a cheshire grin still playing on his lips, and furrows his brows at her disbelievingly. “Obviously I’m talking about my Biology assignment,” she continues. “Yugi-kun, you’re good at Science stuff so I just wanted you to look over my field report. That’s it.”
Usually she’s careful not to leave any room in her conversations with Amane that could be subject to his suggestive interpretations, but it seems like her tiredness and lagging brain really let her down today. Though his sharpness somehow appears to be unaffected by lack of sleep, as he had (as she expected) pounced on this golden opportunity and is now taking great pleasure in her discomfort.
“Whatever you say, Daikon~”
“Don’t call me Daikon!” she says, picking up her textbook again, ready to give him another hard swing on the shoulder.
“Shut up you guys, we’re trying to study,” a voice admonishes.
Snapping her head sideways, she turns her attention to an annoyed looking Kou and Mitsuba — their other, more silent and respectful study partners — the former of whom had been the one to interrupt their quarreling. “Let’s just keep studying, ok?” The orange-haired boy continues, ever the peacemaker between the group.
Fuming in her seat, Nene settles on just glaring at the dark-haired boy. He sticks his tongue out at her (not unlike a five-year-old), and her mood worsens. He really is too good at getting a rise out of her.
“How are they somehow more annoying now that they’re broken up?” she hears Mitsuba whisper to his boyfriend.
She barely has time to react because Kou does it for her, chopping Mitsuba down on the head, hard. “You’re too loud, idiot.”
“Ow!” Mitsuba whines. He glares as he rubs the top of his head reproachfully, then swivels turning his attention to Amane. “Yug-senpai, I hear you’ve got a date tomorrow night. Is that true?”
Involuntarily, her heart skips a beat at this information.
She turns to survey Amane, hoping to use his reaction for reference, but he only hums a little in what could be interpreted as confirmation, all while continuing to flip through his textbook with a bored expression. Kou however, casts a concerned glance over at her, so she picks up her own textbook, also doing her best to school her reaction into one of indifference.
This is none of her business after all. Even though her and Amane did date (and get along quite nicely at that), that was when they were in their freshman year of university. Now with both of them in their third year of a four year program, it’s painfully obvious that they are still in nebulous territory with each other.
And it’s been like this for quite some time now.
Additionally, they have seemingly reached a silent mutual agreement to never to bring up or acknowledge the time they had spent together romantically. They act as though it never happened. Like they’ve never held hands in the dark before, never whispered promises of forever to each other, or stolen kisses under the covers of his bed while his dorm-mate was asleep.
Which sounds unhealthy, she knows — but they still share mutual friends after all. It would just complicate things. Why bring up the past and make others uncomfortable?
Were there times she let her mind get carried away thinking about the past? Does she sometimes stare at him for a fraction of a second too long? Can she still remember the pressure of his lips against hers? Sure. Yes. All of those things.
But that’s bound to happen.
Maybe she still feels a pang in her chest when he goes out with someone new, maybe she still finds herself comparing her own dates to him — and maybe sometimes the glare from the light catches his eye in just the right way, that it makes his amber eyes appear gold, and she’ll have to stop and stare for a while, reminding herself to catch her breath.
But who can blame her?
He had been her first serious boyfriend after all. She’d never gotten the chance to have a proper boyfriend in High School (having radish legs and all), and then she met him. And before she knew it, he had burrowed his way so deeply into her heart, she couldn’t begin to separate him from herself if she tried.
She smiles sadly, sneaking a furtive glance at Amane. He catches her gaze in an instant and flashes her a smirk. The sight calms her a little.
This is okay , she reminds herself. This is enough.
The smile falters from her face, causing her to look away. Though she still feels his eyes on her while trying to focus her attention back to her neglected books.
Amane had been very different back then. He was shyer, much more reserved and earnest — radiating an almost dorky kind of charm. And he never used to call her Yashiro or Daikon. She had been Yashiro-san and then later Nene . In fact, he’d rattle off her name with a blush and quick scratch of his head in that way that she found so endearing, it made her heart squeeze.
To be completely honest, there’s still a part of her that stills with anticipation every time he opens his mouth to greet her. Of course, she’s later always met with the bitter twinge in her chest when she hears Yashiro leave his lips.
And even though their breakup was probably better for the both of them in the long run, that doesn’t stop her from occasionally missing those nights they spent up on the roof. 2 AM stargazing in the cold, with his jacket hung snug around her, and him lying so close, all she had to do to touch him was reach her arm out.
Back when if she wanted to hear her name, she could just tug on the fabric of his sleeve, then he would look towards her, soft smile on his lips, her name spilling out of him like a promise.
Back when there were stars in his eyes instead of mischief.
Back when he was hers.
The first time she met Amane, they were both enrolled in a first-year philosophy class. In hindsight, this tidbit is rather hilarious because the course wasn’t a prerequisite for either of them, and as they soon learned, neither of them were particularly philosophical individuals (at least not in the sense the course required them to be).
It was a frigid April afternoon. Unseasonably cold, with the cherry blossoms falling from the trees like a heavy downpour of rain. Her scarf had been wrapped twice around her neck to keep her from shivering, and her trusty leg warmers were doing their job of hiding her radish legs from both the cold, and from the prying, no doubt judgemental eyes of her peers.
Some would say that leg warmers were out of fashion, or that they were overkill for this time of year. But not for Nene.
College was a time to reinvent herself. She wasn’t going to be the same boring radish girl from high school. She could be whoever she wanted to be! The world was her oyster, and all that jazz. It was the prime of her life, and this was finally her chance to have a full-blown romance. This was a chance for her to be spontaneous! To dip into something exciting, and maybe even verging on the dangerous side.
But unfortunately her plans for a perilous, thrilling love began with the most boring, droning philosophy lesson known to man.
Her creative writing course (which was actually the course she was most looking forward to) canceled the first session, causing her to already be a little disappointed. And sitting in the back of the lecture hall, she couldn’t help but sigh for the umpteenth time at how anticlimatic her college debut had been thus far.
Professor Tsuchigomori was already rattling off dates for when the midterms and papers for the class would be due and she could just tell he was probably the hard-ass type of professor who didn't believe in deadline extensions.
Nene internally cursed herself for not taking Art History as an elective with her high school friends Aoi and Akane, instead of Philosophy.
She had thought she was making the right decision since Akane-kun was probably gonna spend the entire lecture interjecting between slides of classical paintings with how his beloved Ao-chan was the most beautiful artwork god had created. She didn’t think she’d want that kind of attention to herself by being associated with those two so early on, but maybe a little chaos was better than sheer boredom after all.
Wasn’t the first week of class supposed to be syllabus week? Shouldn’t they be out of class and having fun by now?
Having graduated from shoujo to josei mangas, she’d frequently read about college girls who only sat through about four pages worth of lectures before they were off falling in love in dorm rooms, going to college parties, and taking hot springs trips with handsome potential love interests.
What a bust.
From the corner of her eye she saw that her seatmate was busy scribbling away in his notebook. Oh man, he was really putting her to shame by being such a model student.
Craning her neck to get a better look (and maybe copy some of his notes depending on whether or not she could get away with it), she succeeded in catching a glimpse of his notebook. But instead of it being notes on the lecture, she was somewhat surprised to discover he had not been writing things down at all, and was instead doodling planets and constellations all over the page.
Her gaze flickered over to the stranger’s tall hunched over stature, then to those unkempt dark locks of messy hair — and finally to the concentrated, yet almost dopey look on his face. The sight made her giggle to herself. His tongue was even poking out slightly from between his lips! A wave of relief washed over her, feeling better that she wasn’t the only one finding the lecture boring.
A moment later, amber eyes glided over to her.
When the dark-haired boy realized she was laughing at him, he promptly flipped his notebook closed. A small blush was still apparent on his face as he made a late attempt to look interested in the lecture.
This left her feeling somewhat disappointed. She hadn’t meant to embarrass him. Watching him draw had been the most entertaining part of this class too. Pouting slightly to herself she opened up her own notebook, tapping her pen against the page. Maybe this would force her to pay more attention.
But before she knew it, she found herself absentmindedly tracing those same constellations she had seen from his page earlier with her pen. If she remembered correctly, one of them curved to the right like so, then back over, with stars scattered all about. Tilting her head slightly to the side, she surveyed her work.
“That’s Scorpius,” a low voice whispered.
Nene snapped her head sideways to find her seat partner already staring at her, with his hands laced together, resting against his chin. He darted his eye to her drawing as if pointing to it. “It looks like a hook, doesn’t it?”
She blinked at him, both surprised he had spoken to her, and somehow inexplicably keen for him to go on. “It does look like a hook,” she said at last. She then pointed to a large circle she had copied from his drawing earlier. “And this here is a star?”
His eyes lit up at her question, and he hurriedly opened up his own notebook again, seeming rather excited at the prospect of showing off his drawings now. He pointed to the large circle on his own drawing of Scorpius with the lead of his mechanical pencil. “This is the Antares, it’s the brightest object in all of Scorpius.” He turned to observe her reaction. She nodded eagerly, letting him know she had his full attention and was very indeed interested. “It’s also the fifteenth brightest star in the entire night sky.” A boyish grin spread across his face (this caused her breath to hitch, just a little bit). “Some people call it the heart of Scorpius.”
Nene had never been interested in astronomy. The most enthusiasm she had expressed in the field was occasionally scrolling through a psychic app she downloaded that was supposed to gauge when the stars were aligned for her love life. And yet — she found herself somewhat spellbound listening to this amber-eyed stranger talk about distant constellations she had never given a second thought about.
Maybe it was the way a soft blush settled across his cheeks as he spoke, or the way his eyebrows furrowed with excitement with each fact he rattled off, but it was all kind of adorable.
She smiled softly at him, and he stills for a moment, eyes widening.
“Are you studying Astronomy?” she whispered, careful to not disrupt their fellow classmates who actually were paying attention to Tsuchigomori discussing the early education of Plato. He started nodding, then stopped himself, shifting his gaze downward.
“I mean I’m only in my first year still, so I haven’t declared it yet… but yeah. I want to.” A pause, then he looked up at her with conviction. “I’m going to.”
“I’m in my first year too!” she exclaimed, beaming at him. “Let’s be friends.” She held her hand out to shake his. “I’m Yashiro Nene.”
He reached out to reciprocate the gesture, giving her hand a small shake. “I’m Yugi Amane.”
Chatting with Amane in class quickly became the highlight of that entire philosophy course for Nene.
Every morning she would barely make it to philosophy on time, due to her creative writing class taking place all the way on the other side of campus. But luckily Amane would always save her a seat, and he’d be there to greet her with a friendly smile each time she got there.
And so — they developed into an easy friendship. They would discuss their weekend plans, other courses, and eventually anything and everything about their lives.
Nene slowly built up a mental list of things that she knew about Amane, and it was growing with every single day they spent together. Amane had a twin brother who also loved stars, a caffeine addiction (which he won’t admit to), and had a thing for homemade donuts of all things!
She in turn told him about her old high school crushes, the new dating sim she was playing, and of course, she also told him about her adorable pet hamster Black Canyon.
Though Philosophy was by far still the most boring course of her entire academic roster (man Tsuchigomori-sensei could drone on and on about analytic truths), it was the class she looked forward to the most since she could see Amane.
One particular class Nene noticed that Amane always ate bread from the convenience store instead of getting lunch during his break.
When she asked him about it he somewhat shyly admitted that he didn’t like campus food.
This got the gears in her head turning. Amane had a midterm for his Biology class tomorrow, and in high school she was rather good at making character-themed bentos. Maybe she could make him one, and customize it to say something like, “do your best!” or “you got this!”.
Would that make him happy? Would it calm his nerves a little if she gave that to him? To backtrack a little further — would he even want that? Maybe he’d find it troublesome. Bentos were quite a personal gift to give after all.
Still — she wanted to do something special for him. He was always so kind. He always let her copy his philosophy notes, and even hid her face with his textbook that one time she had fallen asleep during the lecture.
Her resolve harded. She would do this.
And it didn’t have to be a weird thing! She’d make sure of it.
The next night, Nene went home and went straight to her fridge, laying out all the essential ingredients for a delicious bento out on her counter. After two hours of hard work, and an even longer cleanup period, she had her completed product.
Nene was there bright and early that next morning in their usual spot.
She catches Amane showing up, right about to sling his bag off his shoulder, when he spots her there, and his eyes grow comically wide. “Yashiro-san, you’re earlier than me today?” he asked, the disbelief evident in his tone.
She grinned up at him, probably feeling prouder than she should be entitled to, since she cut the last third of creative writing class to get there early. “It was bound to happen eventually.”
“Yeah?” he asked bemused.
As soon as he was settled down in the seat next to her, Nene shuffled closer to him, unable to contain her excitement. He gave her a hesitant smile — one that let her know that her new proximity to him was slightly confusing but not unwelcome.
With another sly smile, she reached into her bag and pulled out his gift, holding it out to him with both hands extended. “Here.”
He blinked at her for a moment, not moving to accept her gift. “What’s this?”
Nene blushed, trying not to fidget as her embarrassment would be too obvious with her still holding out the lunchbox and all.“W-well you said you hate campus food, and Yugi-kun has a midterm today right?” she asked, tilting her head to the side. “You need energy to do well on it, so think of this as a good luck present!”
Amane wordlessly took the bento from her, an unreadable look on his face. He moved to open up the bento and Nene felt her heart accelerate. She hadn’t expected him to open it in front of her! Now she couldn’t help feeling embarrassed.
His eyes shone once the lid was uncovered and he was met with an edible image of the Scorpius constellation. “Yashiro-san,” he said breathlessly, staring spellbound at her handiwork.
“Heehee,” she grinned, scratching at her cheek, pleased at his response. “I might not look it, but I am pretty good at cooking. I made the stars here with nori flakes, and the plum there is supposed to be Antares.” She beamed at him. “It’s the biggest and brightest object in Scorpius, right?”
Instead of replying, for a moment he just stared transfixed at her.
“Is there something on my face?” she asked, reaching to grab a compact from her bag.
“No!” he interjected, stopping her in her tracks. He blushed, shrinking down in his seat after realizing how loud he was. “No — nothing is on your face.” he continued at a quieter volume. “Um, this is...really incredible, I don’t know what to say.” He looked up at her, amber eyes shining with sincerity. “Thank you.”
Somehow his pure adulation at receiving a simple lunch was starting to make her feel just a tad flustered.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said, waving her hands in front of her. “Yugi-kun, you’re one of my closest friends here, so....” An idea suddenly popped into her head, one that would help ease both of their embarrassment. “Ah, that’s right. How about I call you Amane-kun?” she proposed, holding up a finger. “That way it seems more like we’re friends, right?”
He stared at her for just a beat longer, then a wide smile broke out across his face as he nodded.
Looking back it was probably the grin he flashed her in this instant that sunk her.
A week after the bento incident, Amane had shyly asked her if she wanted to go stargazing with him over on the weekend. She had agreed without so much as a second thought because she was free, and she liked hanging out with him.
But after she walked away from the encounter, her mind did start to wander. It would be their first time hanging out outside of school...what if he meant it like a date-type of thing? But that was crazy, right? He had given no indication that he was even remotely interested in her in that way, after all. It was probably just a friendly type of hangout.
They met on the rooftop of one of the older Science buildings. It was after dusk already, and he was waiting for her in an old grey hoodie. She remembers this day perfectly. His hands were in his pockets, and hair was every bit as ruffled as the day she first laid eyes on him. The sight made her smile.
“Thanks for waiting Amane-kun!” Nene said, running towards him.
“Ah, Yashiro-san.” His gaze travelled from her face down to her outfit. She’d been wearing a white pleated dress she bought recently. She had been looking for an occasion to wear it and it was warm enough that wearing a dress shouldn’t be a problem. It might have been hard to tell in the dark, but she swore the colour of his face deepened to a reddish tone at that moment. “No problem.”
“Are we gonna do the stargazing from right here?” she asked, flashing him a friendly smile.
He returns her smile with a grin of his own. “Actually, we can climb onto the shed there,” he said, pointing towards a beat-up old shack on the roof. “It's surprisingly comfortable and I already put the blanket up top.” His grin then faltered a little as if he remembered something unpleasant. “Ah, I was gonna bring my telescope too but Tsukasa borrowed it and I haven’t gotten it back yet,” he admitted, scratching the back of his head, clearly embarrassed.
Somehow she found his embarrassment very endearing. Holding back a giggle, she took a step closer to him. “That’s okay,” Nene said, grabbing him by the hand for assurance. “It will be nice just to lie down and look at some stars.”
A beat of silence consumed them while Amane mutely stared down at their conjoined hands. Finally, he appeared to snap out of whatever trance he had been in. “L-let’s go then,” he replied, suddenly unable to look at her directly (though she noted that he didn’t let go of her hand, even as he led her toward the shack),
“Watch your step,” he called as he climbed up onto the ladder ahead of her. She followed close behind him, accepting the hand he offered her his hand when they reached the top. A flurry of butterflies erupted from her stomach as she caught a whiff of his scent when he gently hoisted her up the rest of the way.
Huh. That was new.
Though she quickly pushed that thought aside once she took in the setup awaiting them on the roof. There were snacks, bottles of tea and cushions all cozily splayed out. It somehow reminded her of a secret hideout. A smile crept across her face.“Amane-kun, you’re so thoughtful!”
“Oh it’s nothing…it’s just some snacks,” he replied somewhat bashfully. But he looked pleased nonetheless.
And it was the strangest thing. She swore she could feel her heart melt a little, like the wave of affection hitting her was evaporating walls she didn’t even know she had up.
It felt kind of...nice.
They settled down onto the blanket. The shack wasn’t very spacious, so there wasn’t a lot of surface area to work with. Due to this, Amane and Nene both found themselves inching towards the centre, closer to each other.
For a while they just stared up at the sky.
Finally, after a moment of contemplative silence, Amane chuckled nervously. “I guess it’s much harder to see stars without a telescope after all.”
“That’s not true! They’re still there. I can see a really bright one, right there!” she said, pointing at a particularly eye-catching glittering element in the sky.”
“Ah,” he uttered, sitting up straighter. “That one is Sirius! It’s part of the Canis Major constellation, and the brightest star in the entire sky. It’s named Sirius after the greek word for scorching.”
Looking at Amane then, she had felt a firm tug at her chest. A yearning she couldn’t quite articulate. It always amazed her how he rattled off astronomy facts so naturally, so assuredly — as easily as breathing air. Would she ever have a passion like that? She wondered. Something that would cause a fire to spark in her eyes, something capable of setting her soul ablaze with an intensity she’d never felt before. Something that would animate her the same way Amane was animated this one beautiful instant, sitting next to her with his knee pressing slightly into her, stars in his eyes.
This was the instant she finally realized how much trouble she was in.
Realizing she was staring, Nene quickly averted her gaze back to the sky before he could catch her in the act. “Uhm...wow, even brighter than Antares?” she asked. The answer seemed obvious, but really she just wanted him to keep talking. Whatever it took to keep him being confident in his natural habitat a little bit longer.
He turned to her, an almost melancholic smile tugging on his lips. “Antares is the brightest star in Scorpius, but when comparing it to all the other stars in the sky, it’s only the fifthteenth brightest.” Pausing, he looked down at the blanket with a blush, then back up to meet her gaze again in a way that made a torrent of attraction bubble in the pit of her stomach. “But lately I think I like Scorpius better than the Canis Major constellation.”
And thinking back to their fateful introduction in that stuffy philosophy classroom, Nene couldn’t help but agree.
So they spent the next few hours chatting, snacking, and occasionally pointing out the few visible stars scattered across the night sky. Amane explained the twelve major constellations to her, mapping out their shape by tracing on her arm with his finger, and they even argued over the accuracy of constellation-based horoscopes for a good amount of time.
But all throughout the night Nene felt her attraction build. It rippled through her entire being with a sense of urgency incomprehensible to her. She might have only realized her feelings for him mere hours ago, but she now knew it with crystal certainty. As certain as she knew her own name. She was Yashiro Nene after all. She never did things half-way, opting to be all in, or all out. In fact her feelings were so all-consuming, she absolutely needed to get them out of her before the night was over otherwise they would crush her.
But dawn was already starting to break, and Amane was now moving to get up from beside her.
Summoning all her courage, she tugged on the fabric of his shirt, pulling him back. He turned around to look at her with an inquisitive look on his face. Her mind drew a blank.
“A-Amane-kun,” she began. Amane politely sat back down beside her, silently urging her to continue what seemed to be an important declaration. “The way y-you like the stars...uh...I am the same way....for you.” She was blushing like a madwoman at this point, with her heart thumping wildly in her chest.
Sneaking a look up at him, she was mortified to find him staring hard at her, a question mark painted across his face.
Don’t spiral. Do not spiral! Go for a different metaphor.
“Ah...what I mean is...i-if I was Scorpius, then Amane-kun would be Antares.”
A quirk of his brow. “Yashiro-san—” he started, but she cut him off. She needed to tell him now. Before her mental capacity was reduced to zero. Bunching up the fabric of her skirt with a ferocity that turned her knuckles white, she drew in a deep breath.
“B-because you said so yourself...that Antares is the heart of Scorpius...so...”
She had been hoping to make a grand proclamation of her newly realized affection for him, instead it came out as not a bang but as a whimper, with her slowly trailing off, sounding unsure even to her own ears.
In fact it was probably the cheesiest slash all around most embarrassing thing she’d ever said to anyone in her entire goddamn life. But the words are out there now, and realistically there was no way to take them back.
Great. If only the roof would collapse and swallow her up whole, that’d be fantastic.
But just when she came to the conclusion that she had succeeded in making an absolute fool of herself and there was no recovery — he laughed.
Loudly and boisterously.
The sound startled her, punctuating straight into the night. He’d always seemed so meek and timid, like he could duck behind a telescope and disappear. But in that moment, staring up at her with literal stars in his eyes, grinning brighter than all those cosmos in those science books of his, he was so undeniably present, so raw in an unrestrained kind of way, all she could think about was how beautiful he was.
She drank him in for a moment, so mesmerized by what she was seeing that she forgot to even be embarrassed by her god awful confession. A few beats passed before she realized he was still staring at her, an arm reached out towards her as if it were an invitation. She hesitated, eyeing the gesture with an almost quizzical look.
Did that mean what she thought it did?
Her eyes darted back to his face, and he raised an eyebrow at her in a, ‘what are you waiting for?’ manner.
And without ado she had launched herself into him, hard enough to nearly bring them both tumbling off the roof.
In hindsight, he probably didn’t have the heart to tell her then that Antares was already a dead star.
Dating Amane was a blur. A beautiful, hazy blur. It was studying in the library after class, doodling on each others’ notebooks during lectures, and stolen kisses in rare moments of privacy provided by the solace of their dorm rooms.
He got along with Aoi and (sometimes) Akane perfectly, and he introduced her to Kou and Mitsuba who were his good friends. The six of them went on to form their own tight-knit study group, which is definitely a highlight.
But what she remembers most about their time together are those lazy mornings waking up sprawled against him, the way he used to playfully knock his shoulders against hers when sitting side by side, or that one time she caught him perfectly mouthing all the lyrics to Mariya Takeuchi’s Plastic Love while cooking her breakfast.
They were some of the happiest times she could recall.
On their 6 month anniversary Amane had insisted they celebrate (though Nene — in a bout of uncharacteristic maturity — reminded him they both had finals coming up). Eventually they settled on having a small celebration on the roof of the old shed where they had their first date all those months ago.
There wasn’t a meteor shower or a full moon, or any kind of spectacle really. And they should’ve known from last time that the light pollution from the city made it rather hard to see even regular stars. But in reality, stargazing was just an excuse for them to cuddle with each other away from the prying eyes of their friends and roommates.
And that’s what they had done for the most part.
Though Nene had noticed Amane was being unusually quiet and introspective for the majority of their date. Any other time, he’d be busy geeking out about both common and obscure astronomy facts, so she’d found his silent demeanor strange.
She pressed a hand to his cheek, catching his attention. “Is something wrong?”
He turned his head towards her, blinking slowly as if surprised by her question. Then, pulling her close against him, he kissed her forehead so tenderly that a swarm of butterflies fluttered in the pit of her stomach and she actually felt her heart melt. “Nothing is wrong. Everything is great,” he said, leaning back to grin at her. “I’m honestly really , really happy.”
She had smiled back at him and tangled their fingers together.
They broke up two weeks later.
It was one of those things. One of those stupid, innane — in hindsight, completely avoidable and idiotic things. And it was completely her fault.
Her only excuse for what she did next is to blame her dumb, underdeveloped adolescent brain, and the trashy cosmo magazine she unfortunately let greatly influence her romantic outlook. Because at the end of the day, she was the one who ultimately pulled the trigger on their relationship.
She had let doubt build inside her. Being with Amane was so uncomplicated, and so easy , she had settled into it without exerting any conscious effort. Sure she loved him in some capacity, But shouldn’t real couples challenge each other? Don’t real relationships take work?
After Aoi and Akane had finally gotten together, their dynamic quickly changed from Akane worshipping the ground Aoi stepped on, to a complicated liaison in which they would be flirting one moment and literally strangling each other the next.
What she had with Amane? It was comfortable, and innocent, but was it that raw, all-consuming, passionate love she had read about in her romance novels? No. And she was still young! What were the chances she was gonna settle down with the first boy she’s dated for the rest of her life? That was absurd, right?
Hadn’t she promised herself a torrid love affair when she first started college?
Just once she wanted to know what it felt like to have her heart set on fire. To be left gasping for breath due to the sheer amount of emotion a relationship evoked.
So she called him up to a cafe on campus.
It was a quaint cafe. Students were scattered left and right, their tables littered with notebooks and highlighters, no doubt having last-minute cram sessions.
She’d been stirring her coffee for the better part of the last couple of minutes — cursing herself for not adding that splash of milk, because now the color too closely resembled Amane’s unruly locks, and it somehow made what she was about to do next even harder.
She could feel his gaze on her.
“What’s wrong, Nene?”
Here goes nothing.
“I think we should break up.”
For a moment he blinked up owlishly at her, as if not quite comprehending what she had said. Then his countenance grimmed and he placed his coffee back on the saucer. The strained silence filled the air with a static kind of tension. He was furrowing his brows so hard, a vein popped up right in the middle of his forehead. Nene had to squash the urge to lean over and smooth it out.
“Did I do something wrong?” he asked then, hurt evident in his voice.
“No, no — Amane-kun, it’s nothing like that.” Summoning her courage, she reached out and grasped one of his hands in hers. He stared down at the gesture with muted stoicism. “I just think it might be good if we took some time apart. We’re still so young and we’re both still navigating this whole college thing, and—”
He twisted the palm of his hand upward, shifting so that he was the one gripping her hand. His eyes were like liquid amber, looking as thick and viscous as lighter fluid, and equally likely to ignite. “Are you not happy with me?”
“Amane-kun! I already said it’s not like that!” she exclaimed, feeling her insides reverberate from guilt. Truth to be told, she was a little surprised he was fighting her on this. She had expected him to be a little taken aback, but this was Amane after all. Easy-going, all good! no hard feelings — Amane. This was not the reaction she had been expecting to say the least.
“I just think...I don’t know if I love Amane-kun like that,” she said gently, hesitantly looking up to survey his reaction. His face was impassive, not giving anything away, so she continued, “I mean, I do love Amane-kun… but lately, I think it might be a more friend-like type of like…of course I still want to hang out with and spend time with you! This isn’t like a breakup! Just a way for us to go back to the way things were before.”
Amane remained still for several seconds, looking at her with a kind of serene calm that promised a very different kind of chaotic energy was pulsating underneath the surface.
“I see,” he said at last, picking up his coffee again to take a sip.
Nene fidgeted, unable to ignore or erase the far off look in his eyes that stayed for the remainder of their cafe visit.
To her credit, Nene realized she had made a huge mistake only about two hours after she broke up with him.
She had gotten one of the marks for her finals back, and even though History had never been one of her stronger subjects, and she was so sure her score would be mediocre at best, she had somehow managed to come away with a pretty decent mark.
Upon this momentous discovery, she realized the first person she wanted to share this happy news with — was Amane.
Her heart did a somersault at the realization.
If Amane heard about her test score, he’d for sure be ecstatic. Probably even more so than she was. She could already imagine the big hug he would give her — his enthusiasm so grand he’d literally sweep her off her feet. How he’d probably ruffle her hair and say, I told you so after setting her down.
And just like that all of a sudden she was restless to see him again.
So what if there wasn’t that sense of passion and urgency romanticized by trashy magazines and Hollywood movies in their relationship?
He was sweet, reliable, and was more than capable of acting like a romantic boyfriend when push came to shove. He pulled out chairs for her, draped his jacket over her shoulders on cold evenings, walked her back to her dorm every night. She thought back to that easy grin of his, and the way he said her name. There was no way she could give that up.
Why had she been so hasty?
So she whipped up a batch of his favorite donuts — the kind she made him after Tsukasa returned his telescope all beaten up. He had practically leapt out of his seat when he received them that time. She wondered if he’d have the same reaction to it now.
Of course, she would also apologize to him properly. Tell him that her doubts were completely benign, and she was being silly. There was nothing that they couldn’t work through after all.
Finishing off the gift bag with a neatly tied ribbon, she set out to go find him at his dorm.
The trek usually took her at least twenty minutes, given that he was situated all the way on the other side of campus from where she was, but she managed to get there in just a little over ten. With sweat dripping down her brow, and heart racing with anticipation, she knocked twice on his door, careful to hide the donuts behind her back.
After a couple of moments the door swung open, and Amane was looking down at her with eyebrows raised. There was the briefest of pauses, a flicker of emotion across his eyes, before he turned stony-faced again.
“Yashiro,” he noted. There was something off about his tone. It sounded flat. An aloofness in there that didn’t previously, and wait — did he just call her Yashiro?
Suddenly, she felt much heavier, like a weight was now sitting on her chest. The atmosphere between them felt different, more strained somehow, but she tried her best to brush it aside. “Amane-kun, listen—”
I want to get back together.
I know it’s only been a few hours but I really missed you.
“I...um, I did really well on that History test! The one I was studying for that day in the library.” She was such a coward.
A beat passed as he stared down at her — surveying her, probably wondering why the hell she came all the way to his place to let him know something so trivial. But then a coy smile unrolled on his lips. Not one of the easy-going grins he wore when he greeted her in class, this was one sly. It sent shivers down her spine due to the sheer unfamiliarity of it.
“Hmmm, I guess even Daikons score well once in a while, huh?”
With just one sentence, Nene felt like she had the wind knocked out of her. Her smile waned significantly as she took a step back. The hurt was no doubt written plainly all over her face. For a moment his demeanor faltered at her reaction. There was the tiniest hitch of a breath, and a flash of concern across his handsome features, but then it was gone. Resting his fist by the frame of his door, he looked away as if unbothered by all of this.
“Was that what you came all the way here to tell me?”
Heart thumping loudly in her chest, she found herself subconsciously squeezing the bag of donuts she was still hiding behind her back. Finally, hiding her immense disappointment, she nodded.
“Yup, that was it.”
And that was how it started.
The change didn’t happen overnight.
But it started from that one moment. It manifested from that one sly smirk and the bulletproof exterior he wore to answer the door that day.
She waited for their relationship to drift back in amicable waters after that day, but it never happened.
As time went on Amane teased her more, took things less seriously. Gone were the days she could fluster him with a single tug on his sleeve. These days, he was the one making suggestive comments that sent a scorching blush right up to her eyebrows.
Still — she accepted this new dynamic. She bantered with him, scolded him for calling her a daikon, hell she even went back to calling him Yugi-kun, since it would be less weird if they both take a step back from sounding so familiar with each other — because the alternative is not having him in her life.
And how could she possibly do that?
How could she even begin to separate herself from him at this point?
So even though it hurt, even though some days she felt like her heart was getting incinerated into ashes ( hey — she did she say she wanted to have her heart set ablaze ), even though she would be absolutely lying if she said her heart didn’t twinge a little in sadness each time he made no move to correct her formal address of him, she kept at it.
She stayed close to him.
She was there hanging onto every genuine spark of happiness in his eyes, and every brief flash of excitement when someone brings up something astronomy related. Every moment he’s converted back into his past dorky, donut-loving self, she locks it into distant dark places in the back of her mind, for her to visit alone.
That was the most she could do after all.
And now here they are, years later — still stuck in this dysfunctional rut of a dynamic.
“Oi Yashiro.” She snaps out of her reverie immediately at the sound of his voice, dropping her textbook down in front of her. “What are you zoning out for?” he asks, leaning back in his chair. Then a juvenile spark ignites behind those amber eyes. “Oh don’t me…are you jealous about my date?”
A violent blush paints its way across her face. “You wish,” she snaps back, indignant.
He laughs loudly, crinkles forming by the side of his eyes as the sound reverberates in her ears. The anxiety constricting her chest eases up a little at the sight. Picking up a pen, she attempts to play nonchalant.
“So,” she says after a beat, “who are you going out with?”
Dread zips through her, shooting through her entire body before pooling in her stomach.
Saki-chan from Amane’s Physics class study group. The one who has a major crush on him.
Sure they’ve both dated other people since their split...but this one hits differently. This one really hurts. Saki-chan is smart, pretty, and every bit as passionate about science as Amane is. They’d be good together. Really good. An attractive couple for sure. Saki-chan could do all the things she used to do for him, but better. She could make him bentos, help him study, brush away those persistent fringes from his tired eyes on days he comes back exhausted from lab workshops.
Nene fidgets in her seat. She can hear Mitsuba asking Amane how he managed to pull that off in the background, but her attention is compromised. Because suddenly — suddenly she’s awash with a sadness so profound, she can’t bear to be present in this library a second longer.
Her heart is pounding in her ears. Her thoughts are spiraling so quickly, it’s all just a jumbled, incomprehensible mess. The tip of the pen finally makes contact with the white of her notebook, but she can’t will herself to write anything down. Her eyes zero in on the spot of ink on the otherwise pristine page, hyper fixating on that one detail.
Her and Amane are broken up.
He’s gonna go on a date with his soulmate tomorrow.
At last, he’s moving on without her.
That night Nene finds herself at a bar.
Ever since moving out from college dorms and into an apartment of her own in Sophmore year, she’s always been telling herself she would someday try out the bar just around the corner, but for one reason or another, it hasn’t happened until now.
She’s not much of a drinker, and her alcohol tolerance has always been on the weaker side (she still remembers the ruckus she made that first outing in freshman year, dancing on tables, drunken rambles, the whole shebang), but this is a special occasion.
Tonight, she’s mourning the death of her first love.
For good this time.
Although truth to be told, her first love died that day in the coffee shop when she opened her big mouth, uttered those cursed words, and untethered him from her forever. God how she wishes she could go back to that moment. That one instant before she screwed everything up. Before he looked at her with that expression on his face
Before he went from that shy, thoughtful boy always lost in his daydreams, to who he is now. With his shit-eating grin, notebook devoid of doodles, how he skipped out on the peak of the perseid shower to go study.
The tang of rum hits her tongue in a rather unpleasant manner, but she downs the drink anyway, because the rim of the glass shines the same way Amane’s eyes used to when he told her he loved her.
The dizziness hits almost immediately, but she orders another.
And as the night goes on, soon she loses count of how many drinks she’s had altogether. Once in a while someone will come sit down next to her to attempt conversation, but she’s far too zoned out to make for a good drinking buddy, and most grow bored of her company after a couple of minutes before moving on to the next girl.
Really, she’s so pathetic. What is she even doing?
She’s picking at the Ashashi label on her beer bottle, feeling sorry for herself, when she gets a call from Aoi. Hesitating only a quick second, she slides the answer option, pressing the phone against her ear.
“Nene-chan, are you home yet?”
“N-no I,” she pauses, trying to sound as sober as possible, “I-I took a bit of a detour.”
“A detour? Where are you right now?” Despite her best efforts, her best friend’s voice has now taken on a concerned tone. Honesty is probably her best option right now.
“I just thought I’d try the bar close to my place, heehee,”
“Who are you with? Are you alone?”
“A-Aoi, stop! I’m perfectly fine! I—” She tries to stand up, solely to prove she can, but the dizziness from before hits her ten-fold and she immediately stumbles, grabbing onto the stool for support. “Whoa,” she says.
“Nene-chan, you’re not fine!” Aoi admonishes from the other end. “Stay right where you are.”
With that, she hangs up.
Nene stares at the disconnected phone for a few seconds, then moves to go put her phone back inside her purse. Man, Aoi really likes to worry doesn’t she. Well, truth to be told, she’s not feeling at 100% after all those drinks, so maybe it would be nice to have someone to lean on during the trek home.
She should probably stop causing so much trouble for her friend too.
About another ten minutes pass, and her Asashi bottle is now empty as she lays her head down against the bar counter, hoping the cold marble pressed to her skin will sober her up faster. The bartender already told her she’s cut off for the night — not that she wanted to order anything else — but it still made her a little antsier to hurry up and leave and go home.
She’s mid-sigh when she senses the presence of someone coming up behind her.
Turning around, she plants a big smile on her face. “Aoi~!” But it’s not Aoi, and her heart stops then and there. She freezes in place, expression faltering. “Amane-kun,” she says after a long beat. Her voice is soft, but she’s prouder than she would like to admit at not slurring her words.
“Yashiro…” Amane replies slowly, eyeing the empty beer bottles beside her. His eyes flick back up to her face and she can tell he’s unsure of how to approach her.
But this entire thing is so ridiculous.
She really just wants to start laughing. Or scream, or shout, maybe even cry. Because — of course. Of course it’s him. Who else. Even when she’s actively trying to forget about him, he somehow finds a way to manifest in front of her.
Come on, this really isn’t fair.
And of course he looks perfect. Tall, clean, dark hair and honeyed eyes. Without her meaning to, she extends a hand in his direction. Why was she making such a big deal earlier about not being able to touch him anymore? She could touch him right now if she really wants to.
In a moment of liquid courage, she attempts to throw her arms around him, but severely miscalculates their distance and her arms end up hanging limply between both of them. He catches one of her swinging arms easily, raising an eyebrow at her.
“So you’re calling me Amane, huh?” he says, easily sliding back into his laid back demeanor. “You must be really drunk.”
There’s something about his tone that upsets her. Not that it was condescending, but rather the nonchalance in his voice. How dismissive it was. How he so casually implied that distance between them was always the natural order of things. A cold fury settles in her veins.
“Well that’s your name. Why can’t I call you that?”
He ignores this completely, and even in her drunken stupor she can tell he’s avoiding her gaze, but he does take another step closer to her. “Come on, let’s get you home.”
She huffs in annoyance. “Did Aoi tell you to come get me?”
He clicks his teeth instead of responding, and grabs onto her arm, pulling her forward slightly. “Yashiro, let’s go.”
Irritated at his constant deflection, she shrugs off his grip before turning the tables on him and palming his face with both hands. She pulls him down so their gaze is at level, noting how his breath hitches in poorly contained surprise.
“You used to call me Nene too, you know,” she whispers, and she can see his eyes widen at her words. This satisfies her. “You did, and I don’t know why you stopped.” Nene lets him go then, trying to stare him down with one last look of reproach. She’s trying to channel all that frustration she’s felt for him over the years, and look as tough and sure of herself as she can, so the hurt doesn’t come through.
But all of a sudden, her head is so heavy. It’s been a long day, after all. Allowing her head to hang down for one moment, something wet splashes onto her lap. It makes a star-shaped mark on her skirt.
Shit, is she crying?
How embarrassing. Oh no. Seriously, what the hell. Talk about bad timing.
She burrows her head down further, trying to keep her face obscured with her bangs. Amane inspects her for a few moments before he reaches for her again. “Yashiro,” he says softly. And this time she allows herself to slump against him as he helps her stand up. She’s about to give in to her fatigue for good and surrender herself to the warmth of his embrace, but right before she does so, she catches a glimpse of his expression up close. And through her foggy, alcohol-induced haze, under the harsh lights of this seedy bar she’s chosen — it sure looks like he’s crying too.
But it’s probably just the alcohol.
When Nene wakes up the next morning she doesn’t have a pounding headache as she had expected. There is however, a persistent dull throb knocking against her cranium — making her just uncomfortable enough to give up trying to go back to sleep.
She flips over on the bed to see a glass of water and a bottle of Advil laid out for her on her nightstand. Groaning, she pulls the comforter over her head trying to process the weight of her actions last night.
Just her luck, she remembers everything that happened in the bar with crystal clarity.
How is she supposed to face Amane now? Their relationship is already so delicate and she just totally threw another loop in their tangled, twisted cord.
Her phone rings and she blindly feels around the nightstand for it. Coming up empty, she realizes it must still be in her purse. With a heavy sigh, she sits herself up to dig through the purse haphazardly tossed on the floor by the bed.
“H-hello?” she croaks. Wow, she sounds horrible. Maybe she’s more hungover than she thought.
“How are you doing?”
“My head is a little funny, but I’m okay.”
“That’s good,” her friend says before pausing. A breath later, her tone shifts into something similar to that of a mother lecturing their child “ But seriously, what were you thinking going out drinking alone last night? You have to be more careful!”
She grimaces. “Aoi—”
“You’re lucky Yugi-kun was in the area to check up on you!” Those words cause her insides to do a flip. Because even though she hadn’t forgotten, Aoi’s words served as an affirmation that last night really happened, and it somehow feels a lot rawer to hear about it from someone else. “Is Yugi-kun still there?”
“No, he already left,” she replies weakly.
“That makes sense, he probably has to go get ready for his date tonight.”
Annnnnd there it is.
Her heart slams straight into her stomach. Right. Of course. With Saki-chan. How could she forget?
“Aoi, I have to go. Thanks for checking up on me.”
After hanging up from that phone call, Nene spends the rest of the afternoon lounging around her apartment feeling sorry for herself. Despite deserving everything that’s happened, it is a particularly insidious kind of awful to have an ex-boyfriend be forced to babysit you for a night before they take off for a much hotter date.
She even tortures herself by imagining what Amane and Saki-chan might be up to on their date. He didn’t say where he was taking her, but it’s no doubt somewhere very romantic.
Amane had always been very romantic with her. It’d make sense he’d do the same for his other girlfriends. Maybe he’d take Saki-chan for a picnic out on the grass followed by a nice stroll by the water. Or perhaps some window shopping. They could hold hands while eating ice cream. How enviable.
They could even end the night with stargazing, just to be cliche. She could see it now. Amane and Saki-chan, out on the rooftop, his jacket hanging off her shoulders, their hands inching closer and closer towards one another, and then—
The doorbell rings at this moment, thankfully jolting her from that particularly unpleasant thought.
Hmmm, she doesn’t remember ordering takeout. But maybe it’s her elderly neighbor here to complain to her about the youth of today again.
Swinging open the door, Nene is (for the second time in a row) instead face to face with the very person plaguing her turmoils. Who else could it be but the devil himself, Yugi Amane, here to rip the air clean from her lungs.
“Hey,” he says casually, as if it were just an ordinary Sunday afternoon, and him showing up at her apartment is a regular occurrence.
Now the sensible thing would be to let him in. She should make him some tea and offer a sincere apology for her behaviour last night, while reaffirming their status as not-so-friends. However, she’s still having an incredible amount of trouble believing her eyes, and the disbelief results in her just gaping at him for a long stretch of time.
Finally the awkwardness of the whole situation seems to dawn on him and his lips slowly slope downward as he starts fidgeting. She recognizes this earnest look on his face, it’s an expression the old Amane would have. This detail manages to rouse her out of these pervasive thoughts, and open her mouth.
“I thought you had a date?”
“I canceled,” he says, with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I just thought you’d miss me too much.” Well, earnest Amane is gone, once again replaced by that cocky grin and mooned eyes. He pushes past her, entering her apartment when he realizes she isn’t moving to let him in.
“Are you feeling unwell from last night?”
Well, she is, but not physically at least.
“I’m fine,” she mumbles.
He surveys her for a moment. “You know, you should be very grateful you have a friend who cares enough about you to cancel his date and come here instead.” It’s obvious he’s trying to lighten the mood and ease the tension between them, but she’s already so tired of this routine, and opts to stay quiet. He apparently doesn’t get the cue and prods further. “Seriously, I might’ve even gotten lucky,” he says, raising a suggestive eyebrow at her.
“Who says you can’t get lucky here?” she shoots back, challenging him. She doesn’t know what’s gotten into her, but she does catch the way his eyes darken at her words.
He sighs deeply, turning his gaze away from her.
“You shouldn’t make jokes like that.”
A smile tugs at the corner of her lips. “What are you really doing here?”
He scratches at his head, still not looking at her. “Have you eaten at all today?” he asks instead. His tone is conversational, but she can hear the concern lurking in his voice. This realization somehow makes her sad.
You’re too nice Amane-kun , she thinks, and she feels as though her heart is caving in on itself.
When she doesn’t respond, he brushes past her to make a beeline for the kitchen. Within moments, he’s made himself at home and is rifling through her cabinets and the fridge. After dumping a bunch of vegetables from her fridge onto the counter, he pulls out a cutter board, and a peeler from the drawer. Catching her looking at him from the hallway, he gives her a small smile.
“I’ll make you something, just hang on.”
Her entire chest constricts.
You know, maybe she’d finally be able to get over him if he just leaves. If he just wasn’t so damn kind at the end of the day. But she knows he won’t leave. He never does. He might tease her, and snark at her, and probably hate her. God knows she deserves it. But he will never leave. Because he's Yugi Amane.
Space-enthusiast, burnt his tongue on hot coffee but barely noticed it because he was too busy talking about stars — Amane. Waited four hours in line to buy her a new kpop album on the launch day because she once mentioned it in passing — Amane. Blew off a big date to come make dinner for his pathetic ex-girlfriend, super big idiot, it’s not even a close call, why did you do that, why are you here, are you insane? — Amane.
Before she realizes it, her feet are moving on autopilot, slowly making her way towards him, as if pulled by an invisible string. Then (after hesitating for just a ghost of a second), she wraps her arms around him from behind.
His breath hitches and his entire body stills — the knife in his hand now halted in midair as he had been peeling a potato.
“Thank you for coming,” she says into the fabric of his shirt. She’s not confident her voice won’t waver so she presses her face further into him, trying to muffle herself. “Thank you for being here.”
“Of course,” he says, his voice thick.
Nene opens her mouth — ready to pour her heart out about her feelings, sing him a ballad of all the reasons he should be with her again, or maybe even chide him for being a big idiot, for being so nice to people who don’t deserve it.
There’s so much she wants to say to him. So much.
But instead what comes out is —
“Can you stay? Just for tonight.”
The apartment is silent for a couple of seconds, and Amane is as still as a statue. It’s a good thing she can’t see his face, she thinks because she doesn’t know if she can handle it. Then a second later, he starts peeling the potato again as if unfazed, despite a rigid energy lingering in the air.
“Okay,” he says at last, his voice soft.
And it’s all Nene can do not to weep with relief.
She nuzzles him from behind, trying to show him without words, just how much she appreciates his presence. She may not understand what possessed him to say yes to her selfish request, but the least she can do is not take it for granted. Most likely, he’s just humoring her, and said yes purely out of a sense of polite obligation, or idle loyalty. But maybe, just maybe , like her — his own self-restraint is shaking, and he too wants to stay.
She smiles sadly to herself. How nice would it be if that were the case.
Without turning around, he reaches a hand back and squeezes her arm. The action sends a rush of heat through her, and she soaks in the feeling, reveling in the warmth.
So maybe for now she won’t question his motives, or ponder his temporary lapse in judgement. No. She’ll let all of it go, because — what’s important is that he’s here by her side again, right within arms reach, like she wanted. So she’ll let herself hang onto him shamelessly for just a while longer. She can spend the night pretending he feels the same way she does — she’ll even let herself believe the squeeze from earlier was a romantic gesture.
That’s okay, right?
The vibrations from him chopping run through her like a current. It’s oddly soothing and somewhat cathartic, almost like a nostalgic dream. The rhythm is steady, pounding in time to the beat of her heart. If she just closes her eyes she can even imagine the face he’s making. Him with his eyes squinted in concentration, tongue poking out from between his lips, the same expression he had when she caught him doodling in his notebook in the lecture hall all those years ago.
The image makes her want to snort, but it also causes something deep within her to ache.
But Nene brushes those feelings aside — because hugging him even tighter, she lets herself imagine that somehow there is still a chance for them after all.
And really that would be enough for her.
It’s Sunday night.
There’s soup cooking on the stove, a wooden spoon placed atop the pot to keep it from boiling over, and dinner on the table as Nene and Amane sit facing each other, their eyes downturned and postures rigid.
There’s no natural disaster, nothing is on fire, and the world certainly isn’t quaking — but somehow everything feels different. Everything is off just a little . The scene currently playing out is off-kilter, misaligned. A charged energy permeates in the air like a scene from a hazy daydream instead of reality.
Amane’s feet are planted firmly beneath him on the ground while Nene’s shorter legs swing back and forth, brushing against the soft carpet as she digs into the meal he’s prepared. He’s made curry, and she knows this dinner, knows him to be more specific. Knows that he put a cube of chocolate in the sauce to sweeten the flavor, knows that he purposely cut the potatoes into misshapen chunks because it reminds him of meteorites, knows that he knows that curry is her favorite pick-me-up dish.
And in a different timeline she’d no doubt tease him about it. Yes, in that alternate universe she’d hold out her spoon to him, asking him to take a good look at the potatoes he cut up and whether or not he believed those were an acceptable shape for food to be. Though knowing Amane, instead of answering her question, he’d probably just bend forward and eat the potato clean off her spoon. Slowly , making a big show of licking his lips. He’d then lean back against his chair, so cheery and self-assured it should’ve been criminal, flashing her a signature grin while she tries desperately to fight the blush spreading across her cheeks.
Ah, but then she’d realize some curry got smeared on his cheek from his suave little operation just then. Maybe in her haste to clean him off, she’d forgo the napkin and instead brush the sauce off with the pad of her thumb, and then it’d be his turn to blush.
Nene knows this alternate universe, she’s lived it.
Lived through these Sunday night sleepovers — waking up with his drool on her face, and their legs tangled up together like the ivy currently curved around the old chemistry building. She’s lived through the obnoxious Monday morning phone alarms, lived through him accidentally bashing his forehead against hers in his scramble to switch said alarm off.
How she envied the alternate universe version of herself.
Sneaking a furtive glance up at him, she catches him pushing a carrot around his plate, eyes sunken, and gaze downward. Maybe he’s now realizing the mistake in agreeing to stay the night. Or maybe he’s wondering what Saki-chan is up to.
The thought causes something nasty to twist in her stomach and finally give her the courage to open her mouth.
“Where were you guys gonna go?” she asks, after a long strain of silence. Amane looks up at her, his face blank.
“You and Saki-chan. Where were you guys gonna go on your date?”
Nene tries to keep her expression impassive, but something must’ve given away her anxiety because the furrow of his brows is telling as he looks back down at his own plate.
“Oh, a movie probably, we were gonna figure it out once we met up.”
“A movie. That sounds nice.”
Unwittingly, her mind flashes back to one of her and Amane’s first dates (also at a movie theatre). They’d gone to see Hamster Galactic Wars , a cute CGI summer blockbuster she’d seen the ad of on her phone. In fact, her half of the matching keychains they bought as souvenirs is still sitting in the first drawer of her vanity, the paint on the hamster astronaut figure now peeling slightly from all the times she’s turned it over in her hands while reminiscing.
Does Amane still have his keychain? It’d probably be inappropriate to ask him that.
She’s so occupied thinking back on that date of theirs, it takes a while to realize his eyes are trained on her.
“Were you jealous?”
He doesn’t ask this in that sly, impish persona she’s now come to associate with him, but in a genuinely curious tone. Somehow it would have been easier if he was smirky, douchey Amane again.
“No,” she lies.
Amane gives her a look she can’t quite place but doesn’t press her on the issue, and she’s somehow both relieved and disappointed. Taking a deep breath, he folds his hands together instead, like he’s gearing up to say something important.
“Are you okay?” he asks at last. The words roll out of his lips hurriedly, like he had to get them out before he could change his mind. “You know...like yesterday. You — you said some stuff. Do you remember?”
Remember? How could she forget?
Summoning all her courage, she looks up and holds his steady gaze, taking in his fidgety hands and earnest expression. Is it guilt that led to him sitting across from her? She wonders. Trying to debate what her best course of action would be, Nene sets down her spoon.
“I remember,” she finally says hesitantly. “Listen — Amane-kun, erm,” she pauses to see if he will correct her casual address of him, but he doesn’t, so she continues, “I’m sorry about last night. I shouldn’t have gone drinking by myself.” Amane’s still looking at her as if waiting for her to elaborate, so she goes on, hoping to find the right words he wants to hear along the way. “And, thank you for helping me get home last night.”
It might’ve been her imagination but he looks a bit put out, like he’s not quite satisfied by her response. Nevertheless he leans back in his seat, releasing a good natured sigh.
“God, you were a mess. You kept swaying back and forth when I was trying to steer you in the right direction.”
“—And then, when we finally got to your apartment, you just threw your keys at me. It hit me right in the face.”
Unable to help herself, a giggle escapes her at the mental image, she even chortles a little as she tries to compose herself.
“Sorry, I’m — um, really sorry Amane-kun.” But she can’t stop the smile from spreading across her face (he in turn, also flashes her a hesitant smile). Picking up her spoon, Nene digs it into the sauce, feeling her appetite miraculously rejuvenate. “So did I manage to injure you any other way once we finally made it inside?”
“Actually you were surprisingly docile after we got you inside and you could see your poster of Jungkook again.”
“Hey, you remembered his name!”
He rolls his eyes. “How could I forget?”
“You never liked him.”
“I just think it’s egocentric to go by first name only, like he’s Beyonce.”
“Hey!” She goes to point her spoon at him in an accusatory manner but ends up flicking some curry up to her face, some of it even lands on her clothes.
A beat passes as she stares down at her ruined blouse in muted regret.
Amane however, laughs loudly at the sight — it’s a full laugh, one that catches her by surprise. The kind of laugh that causes his eyes to scrunch up and makes him look years younger. It reminds her so much of the night out on the roof when she gave him that god-awful confession that it makes her whole chest constrict.
And this is what solidifies the whole thing for her.
Looking at the boy in front of her, this ruffly-haired, curry-eating, donut-loving boy — she realizes, oh wow, oh wow , it’s really over isn’t it? Of course, in reality it’s been over for a long time now, years really. He hasn’t belonged to her in that way since freshman year, and he never will again.
But oh, it’s different knowing it for real. And as surely as she could tell that night out on the roof that that was the beginning of something, she can tell this is the end of it.
It’s funny, she’d thought last night when she was knocking back glass after glass, that was signaling the end of them, but really, it’s this moment. It’s them sitting together, talking and laughing over a home cooked meal, their love a ghost hanging between the two of them, unspoken.
So she’ll give herself tonight. She can make constellations out of the stars in his eyes for one more night, but no more beyond that. Tomorrow morning she will watch him walk out the door and out of her life like a big girl.
Because — he deserves to be let go. He deserves to spend his time walking home other girls, cooking them dinner and tucking them into bed. He deserves bentos, and handknit scarves, and stargazing on chilly evenings that are perfect for cuddling. She just hopes that whoever he does end up, they take care of Amane-kun too. They make sure he doesn’t spend all night grading papers for Tsuchigomori-sensei, and that he doesn’t have that third cup of coffee while insisting it’s only his second. Oh, and they need to know that he hates campus food. Won’t touch it. That’s right, whoever he ends up with needs to know that he must have bread purchased from the convenience store (preferably a yakisoba bun) tucked away in his school bag, otherwise he will go the whole day without eating. He’s done it before.
Seriously, what a handful this guy can be.
A sad smile twinges on her lips.
Wiping away the curry on her face, Nene focuses her attention back at the still grinning idiot she’s so in love with and scolds him goodnaturedly (“What are you looking at? Is this funny to you?) , like she’s supposed to. And the two of them flow back into easy conversation, the kind she didn’t know they were still capable of.
There’s no charge in the air, he doesn’t make any inappropriate comments, or call her a daikon. It’s comfortable. Normal. Like a scene out of that alternate reality she had been fantasizing about earlier.
Maybe because he knows this is the end too.
Later on, dinner is all finished, and the dishes are stacked up high in the sink. Nene pulls an apron over herself, doing up the ribbon.
“Do you want to take a shower first?” she asks him.
“I can help you with the dishes.”
Amane settles beside her, drying the dishes as she cleans them, and then placing them on the drying rack. The two of them are silent for a couple of moments, the only noises coming from the clink of dishware and cutlery.
“So…” he says eventually. “About that field report. Do you still need help with it?”
This catches her off guard.
He blinks back at her, his expression innocent.
“Yesterday at the library, you asked me to read over your field report right? If you’re free sometime this week then we can go to the library and—”
“—You don’t have to do that,” she says quickly.
Whatever she had prepared herself for, it wasn’t this. She’d thought they were on the same page regarding the termination of their relations after this night. His casual dismissal of all her mental buildup catches her off guard and sends her spiralling in seconds.
“Help me. You don’t have to be so nice to me.”
“Okay,” he says, but he looks uneasy. “It’s just that yesterday you asked for help, so unless you miraculously managed to finish it by yourself, which no offense, but I highly doubt—”
She shakes her head firmly, cutting him off. “No, that’s okay.”
This is the other thing about Amane that drives her crazy. Every time she thinks he’s gonna be mean to her, every time she actually deserves the rude snide remarks he drops on the daily, he just turns around and is nice instead. It makes it that much harder to send him out the door.
Still, she needs to hold her ground this time.
“You can go after today.”
Setting down the dish he had been drying, Amane turns to face her properly, his expression not quite angry but definitely a practiced patience that’s wearing thin.
“And where am I going?”
“I mean, I’m gonna let you go. Me.” The grief fills her like a flood, and her gaze falls to the cleaned pile of dishes on the drying rack, as she tries desperately to look anywhere but him. Stubborn tears prick at her eyes. “I’m done holding you back, making you cancel dates, needing you to walk me home, and all of that stuff. Just — I’m letting you go,” she flashes him a sad smile, “you’re free now.”
For a moment he just stares at her then his countenance darkens.
“Let me go?” he parrots, and for a brief second, his whole face contorts in rage. She’s not used to seeing him like this and she’s momentarily disoriented. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
Though he’s trained his features so they’re impassive and lacking in emotion again, a very serene anger is clearly radiating beneath his calm veneer, and despite herself, she’s reminded of that day in the coffee shop when she broke up with him.
“Amane-kun—” she reaches a hand out. She wants to touch him on the cheek, or on the shoulder maybe. Anything to calm him down, however he catches her hand before she’s able to do so, and holds it between them.
“That’s the thing about you, Yashiro,” he says, and his eyes are flashing the way warning signs do when signaling dead ends. “You always just do whatever you want, and you don’t even think to consider anybody else.”
The accusation stings and she can’t help the involuntary gasp that leaves her mouth.
“Amane-kun,” she tries again, this time trying to shake off his grip. But he only tightens his hold on her, fingers now so tight around her wrist that it almost hurts. And it’s alarming, unfamiliar, completely uncharted territory for the two of them.
At the start of their third year, Amane had somehow managed to become a TA for Tsuchigomori-sensei. The same Tsuchigomori-sensei who had taught that droning Philosophy class where they met all those years ago funnily enough, and though Tsuchigomori had taken to referring to Amane as ‘that brat,’ showing nothing but outward disdain for him, he did end up spending a lot of time with Amane (and Tsukasa by extension).
She remembers one particular day, she’d stopped by sensei’s office to drop off a textbook Amane had forgotten. But instead of catching Amane, she instead came across the exhausted Philosophy professor hunched over a pile of paperwork, who — after sensing her presence — looked over his shoulder at her, pipe lit and dangling from his mouth. His eyes had flickered in a way that seemed to imply he knew exactly who she was. It was a look that said ‘oh, you’ve gotten yourself in trouble with that one.’
Still, he’d made nice and let her sit and wait, letting slip a snide remark about the Yugi twins’ bad tempers. And sure, she’d seen that of Tsukasa, yes. Hyperactive, destructive Tsukasa, who radiated a sense of chaotic intensity that was begging to be let loose. She’d seen the beaten up telescopes, the temper tantrums, the calculating obsidian eyes when things didn’t go his way.
But not Amane — never Amane. She’s used to his sweet soft smiles as he stared fixated at the moon, she’s even used to that long lazy a rrogant bastard grin he so often donned after their breakup, but never this snarl, never this darkness in his eyes she can’t articulate. It makes her stomach coil in not quite fear , but something dangerously akin to it.
“What if I don’t want to go, hmm?” he asks, breath hitting her face, before he leans in even closer to her, glaring. “What if I don’t want to be let go?” The anger is so raw and unrestrained, sitting there bare on his face, her whole throat runs dry, and she is absolutely incapable of coming up with a rebuttal — which is good because he doesn’t give her a chance to. “You say you want to break up and stay friends, so we did that. We broke up. We’re friends .” The word ‘friends’ passes his lips with a snarl, like it leaves a bad taste in his mouth. “But then you—you do all this other shit. You show up at my dorm, you tell me to call you Nene again, you tell me to stay the night, and—”
“—And you’re just done with me now then? Is that it? You decided somewhere between all of this that I don’t fit in anymore? Like I don’t even have a say in the whole thing?” He swipes at his bangs in frustration, sounding so crushed , so utterly helpless, that she forgets how to breath for a moment. “Do you even care how I feel?”
His words hit her like a proverbial gut punch. She just wants to cry, and she kind of already is, and he looks like he might be about to too. Blinking back tears, Nene takes another step closer to him.
“Amane-kun, I can’t give you what you want. You—you want someone reliable, someone who is just as passionate about space as you are,” an image of Saki-chan flashes through her mind and entire chest contorts in pain, “someone who can actually understand your science jokes, and is good at all the things you are.”
“When have I ever said I wanted that?!”
It’s what you deserve! She wants to scream, but instead she says, “It is what you want,” hoping to convince him. “It’s what you want!”
“Don’t tell me what I want,” he snaps, looking so genuinely angry it sends her knees buckling and all the blood rushing to her head. He glares harder, but there’s a sadness underneath his anger, and oh god, she wants to reach up and palm his face with her hands, she almost does actually, but remembers he’s still holding onto her with bruising force.
Amane takes a breath to compose himself before speaking, his voice now deceitfully steady. “What do you want then, Yashiro?” The grip around her wrists finally loosen, and her arm falls slack down at her side. “You really want me to go?”
“I don’t know,” she replies, but she does.
“I think you do,” he says, eyes weary with the burden of extraction . “What do you want?”
As if ignited by his words, the weight on her chest collapses for one second, and she springs up on her tippy-toes, grabbing his face and kissing him hard.
And yes this. This is what she wanted all along.
A startled intake of breath slips from his mouth, but she swallows it immediately. Amane recovers from his initial shock and finds his footing quickly, returning her kiss with a fervor, as he presses into her, his arms snaking around her smaller frame.
Just like that, his arms are tight tight tight around her, and she can feel all of it. It’s though she can taste his anger, his sadness — all those knitty-gritty, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it expressions that grace his countenance daily. They’re all there.
They’ve never kissed quite like this before, all tongue and clammy hands. In fact, it’s more fighting than kissing really, but somehow that’s okay. It’s alright. She’s realizing she’s willing to settle for a lot less than her romantic fantasies if it means she can have Amane even just a little bit.
Nene’s always read about these kinds of kisses — read about the all-consuming passion that numbs your brain and everything else around you. So it’s weird to her that she has time to think about all these little things, like the curve of his lips, or the placement of his hand on her waist, or how she can smell his hair and it’s astounding to her that he still uses the same shampoo even after all these years.
And then they’re stumbling into her bedroom, shirts flying off and moral compasses veering off-base.
He tips her over the bed — arms caging her in on each side — and they’re both breathing heavily as they stare at each other. Nene reaches out to stroke his cheek, and he lets her for a moment, leaning into her touch for a heartbeat, then two heartbeats — before taking her hand in his and bringing it up to his mouth. His eyes are the color of the whisky she had last night as his lips brush past her knuckles, then each individual finger.
She’s barely had time to process the pleasure when Amane leans down and begins to drop kisses in the hollow of her throat. And oh, this is bad. This is really bad. They should stop. They really should. So why can't she help the soft sigh that escapes her? Why is her hand now tangling in strands of his choppy hair?
Scraping her nails over the scalp of his head, she tugs firmly, and actually feels him shiver against her. This makes her stomach churn in excitement and ignites something deliciously dark inside her. Suddenly she can’t help it as her hands fold their way around him, or as she nips at his ear, his face, any part of him she can reach.
He finally pulls away from her neck, gaze cloudy. The reality of what they’re doing finally seems to catch up to him, and for a moment she’s afraid he’s gonna pull away. But then he careens into her, kissing her hard, his hands everywhere all at once, liquifying her wherever he touches.
His kisses are not exactly romantic — what they are is needy, sloppy, and warm, so warm , but coupled with the weight of his chest crushed against her, it stirs up all sorts of desires she’d forgotten she’s capable of. She’s so overwhelmed with his touch, his smell, his taste , it feels like her soul is caving in on itself.
Is this what it’s like to be devoured? She wonders. Or perhaps this is something else entirely. She’s been without him for so long, to suddenly have him like this — to have all of him, so much at once — is it possible to overdose from a person?
She’s only vaguely aware of her bra hitting the floor, and before she knows it, he’s slipping off her leggings too and planting himself between her thighs. She has the brief inclination of fighting him at least a little, just for show, but can’t bring herself to do so for fear of him actually stopping.
Spreading her legs further apart, Amane’s finger slowly traces over the nub of her clit, over her underwear — leisurely, tantalizingly. Nene whimpers, her voice coming out as a soft whine.
He smirks down at her, his middle finger already beginning to inch its way inside her folds.
“Hey, that day at the cafe. When you said you didn’t love me that way, are you sure about that?”
All at once, his finger plunges straight into her, causing her to cry out from the suddenness.
“Ah~! I-I... Amane-kun,” she rasps, panting heavily — now grasping desperately at the bedsheets underneath her.
Another finger goes in, and her mind blanks entirely.
“Tell me Yashiro,” Amane continues, his eyes hooded but his stare firm. “You said you just wanted to be friends. You do this with all your friends?”
She tries to shake her head, but one flick of his wrist sends her into a spiral of pleasure she’s never known before. Still, she holds his stare, looking at him with a reserved kind of shyness he hasn’t seen for a long while.
“What is it?” he asks, concern lacing his tone.
Summoning all her courage, she palms his face with both hands, pulling him down so he’s right above her and they’re eye to eye. “I want you to call me Nene,” she says.
His eyes widen at those words and his fingers still inside her.
She blinks back up at him determined, trying to hold her ground. But after a few more moments of silence, she grows unsure. Did she just ruin the moment? After trying and failing to read him for a few more seconds, she falters, eyes drooping slightly in disappointment. “Is that no good?” she asks, a sad smile on her face.
Amane’s completely frozen, staring at her for a long while. Then the darkness in his eyes from earlier returns ten-fold. He pulls her legs forward, causing her to land flat on her back with a soft ‘oof.’ The mattress creaks beneath them as he tears off her underwear, his boxers coming off soon after. She’s just about to try and sit up again when Amane pushes his cock right up against her folds.
“Oh my god,” she sighs, head falling back in pleasure. His hips push forward, the underside of his length rubs up against her again, and her entire body jerks as she tries to stifle her moans.
“Is that what you want, Nene ?” he whispers, voice gruff. It just about sends the eyes rolling to the back of her head — because yesyesyes , this is exactly what she wants. This is what she wanted for so long — but she also wants so much more. And he’s relentless as continues the action over and over again, halting by her entrance each time. It’s somehow too much and not enough all at the same time, and she’s this close to begging when his breath hits her ear, a delightful groan escaping him. “You were really gonna cut me out of your life, huh?”
Her only reply is whimper.
Amane sighs, and this time, when he repeats the same thing, he makes sure to pump himself against her slick folds slowly and deliberately, easing her in like he’s about to enter her at long last, only to pull away once again when she’s practically trembling, panting up at him, completely helpless. Unable to take the torture anymore, Nene grabs onto his arm, looking at him with desperation plain across her face. She doesn’t even care about how pathetic she probably looks, because she can’t talk, can’t think, can’t breathe. All she can think is moremoremore , as she pulls him closer, trying to tell him with her eyes exactly what she wants from him.
And for a moment, staring down at her with his expression hazy, it looks like he’s about to oblige, but something snaps him out of his reverie last second, and he hesitates suddenly, eyes growing wide.
“I’m on the pill,” she assures him, thinking that was the reason for his sudden reservation
But Amane shakes his head. “I’m not gonna do it,” he says then, noting her surprised intake of breath with grim resolution. “I don’t want this to be just another thing we did.” And she’s surprised that she understands what he means almost immediately, and it finally occurs to her, just how fucked up their relationship really is at this point. Flirting, fighting, fucking. All while hardly even being friends. Maybe this is cosmic retribution for all her stupidity. She deserves to be this naked, half-sobbing mess in front of him, begging for a release he will never grant her.
Serves her right.
Nene’s about to lie and tell him it’s ok before he continues hurriedly, “I’m not gonna do it unless you say that we’re together. You need to say that you’re mine again.”
“I’m yours,” she says quickly, breathlessly, tugging him close again — desperate for him to continue. Amane however, shakes his head again, as if unconvinced by her tone. He pushes away from her slightly, and she almost cries from the absence of heat.
“Tell me you’re mine,” he says again, eyes boring into hers.
Finally understanding, she sits up, reaching for his hands. “I’m yours,” she repeats, voice firm. He’s looking hard at her, as if contemplating whether or not to believe her, so she crawls closer to him. “Yours.” As if moving on autopilot, she climbs onto his lap, the fringes of her hair now sweeping across his face. One of his hands comes up to cup around her cheek, and the action is so gentle, so tender, she thinks he’s gonna kiss her.
Instead, before she realizes it, her back has hit the mattress again, and his weight — his wonderful weight is looming over her, though she barely even has time to revel in this amazing turn of events because then he’s inside her, and it’s all she can do not to scream.
A ghost of a smirk flashes past Amane’s lips before he pulls out and slams back inside her. It hits a wonderful spot inside her, one that makes her belly coil in pleasure, and she hisses, throwing her arms around him. A rhythm is established quickly. Then they’re sighing and moaning, each other's names tangled in their throats, and it’s beautiful, wonderful. She can see all those stars they charted that first night they went stargazing, trace galaxies out of them, can hear symphonies inside her head, feel the vibrations of drums pounding in time to the beat of her heart.
His eyes are the color of obsidian as he thrusts into her again and again, but oh god, if she doesn’t want him more than ever. All of him. The rotation of his hips, the way his breath tingles in her ear before traveling down the nape of her neck, and his hands — his hands are all over her, and so is his mouth, all while he’s pulsing inside her. And how did she go so long without this? How did she go so long without him? And more importantly, would she be able to do it again?
Who was she before this moment? Where is she gonna go from here?
“Mine,” he affirms, snapping her out of her thoughts. He growls a little before dipping down and taking one of her nipples in his mouth. Her eyes screw shut and she has to bite back a moan.
“Yours,” she assures, and as soon the words pass through her lips, she’s aware that it’s the complete, god honest truth.
“God Nene, you feel so good.” His head drops into the nook between her face and shoulder. He plants one kiss, then two, then his hand travels down south to rub her clit, creating more friction as he thrusts in and out of her. She’s nearly sobbing as he does it again and again, before bringing up his hand to thumb at her cheek.
Amane traces along her skin with his rough calluses, and before she’s rationalized what she’s doing, she’s turning her face, shifting so his finger slides easily into her mouth. His eyes widen comically for one second, then his features soften, wry smile on his lips, and something akin to sadness sweeping the curve of his crow.
“You just do whatever you want, don’t you?” he says, leaning his forehead against hers. “You know you ripped my heart out, you did.” Something about the tone of his voice causes her to pause with concern, so she tries to say something, anything. She needs sentences, phrases, word s — but god, they all die in her throat at the sight of him, and all she can do is pull him even closer, pressing his chest flush against hers.
She kisses him softly, inhaling through her nose as she feels him relax on top of her. When she pulls away after a few seconds she can see the amber return to his pupils, and he’s so so beautiful it causes something deep inside her to ache.
“I love you,” she says, and she means it.
She loves him when they’re 18, library dates, legs knocking against each other under the table, innocent glances, demure smiles. She loves him when they’re 19, bulletproof exteriors, trained indifference, bickering in the hallway on their way to class. She loves him now that they’re 20, whiskey confessions, ruined dates, burnt curry sitting on the stove.
And she’s gonna love him when they’re 21, 22, 23… 100.
She loves him, loves him, loves him.
Her words spark life into his eyes, and then he’s pushing back up, shifting so he’s holding his own weight again. One of his hands fumble until grabbing hold the headboard, and then he buckles into her, hitting her so deep, her back arches and her mouth hangs open.
He’s groaning into her hair, her neck, every exposed crevice of her skin, and chanting, “Nene, Nene, Nene…”
And she’s chanting right back “ I love you, I do, I do, I do, ” in time with each thrust — in time to the beat of their hearts. The whole thing could be an intense fever dream if not for the vivid sensation of his nails digging into her skin, or the bruising force of his pelvis buckling into hers. He’s so rough, he’s filling her so perfectly, it’s too much and she screams as she comes undone.
Her orgasm triggers his, and soon he’s moaning as he spills inside her — and this must be what all those romance novels are talking about when they speak of completion. It’s so good she has to fight the urge to bury her face in her hands and sob.
Amane soon collapses beside her with a soft exhale. The two of them lie on their backs for a long while, staring up at the ceiling, shallow breathing slowly easing back into the quiet rising and falling of their chests. A wave of exhaustion hits her all at once, and she finally realizes how spent she is.
After cleaning up in near silence (and shrugging back on some of their discarded clothes) they climb back inside her bed and pull the duvet up to their chins. Tomorrow is probably, definitely gonna be awkward, what with this brand new wrench they’ve just tossed into their already nebulous relationship. Despite all this however, for the first time in a long while, she feels good about it. About them. A serene sense of calm envelopes her as she’s drifting off to sleep, and she smiles, feeling as though everything is falling into place.
Just before she dozes off, she thinks she feels Amane press a kiss to the side of her temple, though she can’t be sure.
There’s sunlight on her face and a weight over her chest when she wakes up the next day. The feeling is somehow both foreign and nostalgic at the same time, and Nene ends up nuzzling closer to the source of warmth without even meaning to.
It’s nice not having to wake up to an alarm. She must have forgotten to set one last night after her and Amane finished eating dinner, and after they...after they — her eyes fly open. Rolling over, her suspicion is confirmed when she now sees that the weight across her chest had actually been Amane’s arm draped over her.
Oh . That’s right.
Taking a strangled breath, she lies back down beside him trying to collect her frenzied thoughts. Okay. Alright. So maybe he’s lost mind a little. Maybe she underestimated how difficult it would be to get him out the door. Maybe absolutely nothing about their relationship made sense anymore — and call her naively optimistic, but maybe that’s somehow okay?
Nene turns on her side to face him, listening to the sound of his deep, even breathing, watching as his chest rises and falls. It hits her how surprisingly relaxed she feels. That’s the thing about being in nebulous territory with someone for so long. Sooner or later every mistake, every wrong turn you take starts to feel natural. Every single bad decision just begins to blur into one big, beautiful chaotic mess.
She gives herself another couple of minutes to enjoy this moment. To commit to memory the way he looks with his eyes closed in peaceful slumber, with his mouth slightly agape, and soft features illuminated by the light creeping in from the crack of curtains. Then she snuggles out of his grip, careful not to wake him as slips on her slippers and her way into the kitchen.
She’s cracking a second egg into the frying pan when she hears the bedroom door swing open. Seconds later, the sound of footsteps shuffling across the carpet.
“Yashiro?” Amane calls.
He waddles through the door frame and into sight, navigating her apartment like a sleepwalker. His hair is ruffled, his eyes are hooded, and he just looks kind of lost like he’s sifting through a disoriented haze. Relief floods his face at the sight of her.
“I thought you left,” he murmurs under his breath, more to himself than for her to hear.
“I live here,” she says amused, “besides, why would I just leave?”
He opens his mouth, looking like he maybe wants to take a stab at answering her question, but judging by the darkness lingering in his gaze, she can assume the answer is not pleasant to admit. Instead he stalks closer to her, changing the subject entirely.
“What are you doing?”
“Making breakfast. You still like your eggs scrambled, right?”
Amane’s eyes widen ever so subtly before he nods. There’s a nervous energy in the way he knits his hands together, though she doesn’t dwell on it for long as he soon sits himself down at her dining table like an obedient child. Nene pours the eggs out onto two plates, scooping out two bowls of miso soup from the pot on the stove next. She passes him a pair of chopsticks and they dig into the meal.
His chopsticks have barely touched the eggs when he looks up at her, his expression surprisingly earnest. “So last night...”
Oh, diving right in, is he? Okay. Now’s as good a time as any, she supposes.
“Last night…” she echoes, setting her utensils down on the table.
Amane looks at her then back down at his hands, before up at her again. “I’m sorry,” he says hurriedly, in one quick breath, like he’s been holding it in for a while.
She blinks back at him, blindsided. “You’re sorry?”
He nods, looking uncomfortable. “Yeah. I shouldn’t have — I shouldn’t have...” He breaks his gaze again, eyes sad.
Her blood runs cold at his words. The dread zips through her so suddenly and violently she has trouble catching her breath. He regrets it. He regrets them . While she was busy daydreaming about the way the light catches his eyes, picturing imaginary puzzle pieces falling into place, he was treating it as a mistake. Here he is in front of her, twiddling his thumbs in anxiety, apologizing for things that happened between them. And she knows what this is. She knows too well. This right now is the brush off. The ‘thanks for a good time, but let’s not do that anymore, mmkay?’
It hurts all the more coming from him.
Tears prick at her eyes, and she shifts her gaze downward, trying to keep her face as impassive as possible.
“Amane-kun, you don’t need to apologize.”
“No, I do,” he says, voice firm as he digs into the eggs she made. “I’m sorry for how I acted, I was just mad when you said, well... ” This time when he looks at her, she can tell he is just as terrified as she is. “Did I scare you?”
He was apologizing...for scaring her? Could it be he didn’t regret what happened between them last night?
She shakes her head mutely and he visibly relaxes at this.
Nene watches warily as he polishes off his breakfast. He seems calm, satiated now that he’s gotten the apology off his chest. And this is the Amane-kun she knows, the one she envies. So simple. Straightforward. The kindness in his eyes so uncomplicated she feels her heart clench. It’s this sight of him that makes her want to take a stab at being more honest too.
“I’m sorry too... for being selfish,” she manages. “It’s like Amane-kun said. I do things without thinking sometimes and...I ended up hurting you.” She holds his gaze carefully, not hiding the shame in her eyes. “I just thought it’d be easier if we took a break from each other, that was what I thought when I said that...but...I don’t want you to go.”
His eyes flash, like he’s waited his whole life to capitalize on this one moment. “And why is that?”
Here comes the moment of truth. She inhales deeply.
“Because I — because I like you like that.”
As soon as the words pass her lips, it’s like a rigid tension in the air is lifted. The entire atmosphere heaves around them, and Amane releases a sigh that’s a mix of relief and exhaustion.
“Give me a second,” he says, rubbing his face with both hands. “Hang on,” Amane takes a deep breath as if she’s wearing him out before talking again, “but you broke up with me. You said you didn’t love me like that.”
“I know,” she says grimacing slightly, “that was... a mistake.”
“How long have you realized it was a mistake?”
“Since right after I broke up with you.”
A beat passes then two. He looks like he’s fighting in internal war with himself, and honestly she can’t blame him. Saying the words out loud, she realizes she must sound like the biggest idiot on the whole planet.
As if confirming her suspicions Amane starts to shake his head, muttering himself under his breath. “You’re an idiot. A big dumb idiot.” Then he turns to her, raising his volume. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because! When I went to see you, you were...aloof! And intimidating! And I didn't know what to say.”
“Well excuse me for not greeting you with open arms after you ripped my heart out.”
She winces at that. “Sorry.”
For a moment they just stare at each other — the weight of both of their confessions looming over them. Amane is trying hard to give her a somewhat reproachful look, but she can tell his heart’s not in it, and after a short while, he drops this look completely in favor of an almost playfully haughty demeanor.
“Go on, say it.”
“Tell me how you feel.”
A scorching blush colors her cheek. “I already told you.”
“Say it again. Right now.” This time his eyes are serious, and she knows he won’t take no for an answer.
So swallowing her self-respect (it’s not like she has a lot of that left anyway), she summons all her courage and says in the most honest tone she can muster, “I love you.”
An easy grin breaks across his face and he leans in closer to her, voice teasing. “Was that so hard?”
Nene doesn’t dignify his question with an answer, instead she starts stacking up their finished plate and bowls, hoping the dishware succeeds in covering up the pink of her cheeks.
Amane watches her, practically jubilant as he slides his arm to rest on the back of the dining chair beside him. “Then again, I guess I should’ve known you loved me, since you were pretty vocal last night.”
She’d heard enough. Grabbing the pile of dishes, Nene storms into her kitchen, huffing loudly. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” she says as she tosses the pile into the sink. “Besides Amane-kun, It’s Monday. You have to TA for Tsuchigomori-sensei today, don’t you? Shouldn’t you get going?”
He checks his phone that had been laying face down on the table. “Oh, I guess I should get going soon. Dammit.”
She gives him one more scornful look through the passthrough kitchen window before beginning to scrub away at the dishes.
“Hey Nene,” he says then, and she’s so surprised to hear her first name coming from him again that her head snaps right back up, almost giving herself whiplash in the process. The grin on his face is sloppy, so crooked and earnest that she finds it absolutely impossible to doubt its sincerity. “I love you too.”
And right there. At long last. She feels the three-year knot in her stomach finally loosen. She wants to cry. Scream with joy. Strip down naked and go dancing on the streets. Instead she gives him a watery smile. “Okay, don’t be late now. Don’t give Tsuchigomori-sensei another reason to hate you.”
Amane rolls his eyes, getting up and shuffling his phone into his pocket. “He’s just a grump,” he says. Doing one quick scan of her apartment for anything else he may have left behind, he smooths down the ruffles in his hair with both hands before making his way to her front door. “Alright, we’ll talk later then.”
“Ah! Wait, Amane-kun!” she calls, chasing after him. Nene grabs the item sitting on the kitchen counter, shoving it into his grip before he has a chance to unlock the front door.
He blinks down at the wrapped package in his hands.
“It’s a bento,” she says quickly, trying to conceal how nervous she is. “I made it while you were still sleeping. I thought maybe…” the sentiment hangs in the air, lingering. She’s unsure if she’s just crossed another unspoken boundary. Maybe this is too intimate for them. Too familiar when they should be treading lightly.
However, when she braves a peak up at him, Amane looks like he’s about to cry over this simple gesture. This is how she knows her efforts are well-received. It’s comforting, satisfying and somewhat cathartic.
When his gaze finds her again, his eyes are dry as he flashes her a warm smile. And it feels like coming home after spending a lifetime away. So, maybe they’re still kind of broken, only haphazardly glued back together. Maybe he’s a little more wolfish than he was three years ago when she first met him, but maybe that’s okay. Maybe he’ll let her discover first-hand all these other parts of him she never knew existed. She’d really like that.
She returns his smile.
Amane pulls her close, pressing his lips against her forehead so tenderly, a swarm of butterflies erupt in her stomach.
“I’m off then,” he says.
“Have a safe trip,” Nene replies softly, knowing this time with absolute certainty that he’ll be back.