"Of course we didn't do anything of the sort." Nanase insists, drawing in a breath to calm herself. Honestly, by now, I would've been screaming bloody murder at the laughing face of my blonde friend Yukari who's asking all sorts of weird questions about Nanase getting a boyfriend. I'm seriously lucky that this time I'm not the one being subjected to Yukari Special Relationship Secrets' Drilling, aka YSRSD – don't blame me, it's her own title. At least I would have given a name that made some sense.
(Drilling? What construction site are we talking about here? Oh wait – building castles in the air. But obviously it's a modern castle because there were no drills back in 17th century.)
Even so, this is beyond irritating for me.
Nanase, on the other hand, has been quite patient for the better half of the past hour. But surely even her patience is running quite thin at the moment.
"Oh my, someone's being shy!" Yukari chirps and sends a sly look to our blue-haired friend, then stops short and says something completely off-topic. "Hey, that rhymed!"
I can't blame Nanase for losing it on that one and throwing the shopping bag previously in her hand at Yukari's face. I do giggle, though.
"Ugh." Yukari groans as she struggles with a bag in her hand and the other one with its contents splayed across the floor. I bend down and help her with it – I really can't help the grin on my face, and the blonde frowns lightly as if scolding me for being on the wrong side.
My grin becomes wider, and I find myself thinking that even if I weren't picking 'sides', this was an amusing enough exchange to observe.
"Geez, Yukari. You do get overexcited sometimes." Nanase sighs as I hand back her bag. "Anyway, why don't we go somewhere to have tea or coffee? And cakes, of course."
"Yep, sure," Yukari mumbles with a pout. "But you'll talk about everything! Or I shall not pay for my tea."
I don't say anything; it's obvious enough Nanase knows she got me when she mentioned cake.
A mere two-minute walk to a nearby cafe (not one of my favorites 'cuz it's too far from home to go to on an everyday basis – I don't even recall the name… probably something corny like 'Coffee Corner'… or worse) results in Yukari back to her normal high spirits, Nanase regaining her calm and I deciding how many slices of strawberry shortcake I wanted. Maybe three.
As if it was pre-decided, Yukari takes a seat next to me and Nanase sits opposite to us. It was definitely pre-decided, I guess, how many times have I been the one sitting on the opposite side? It's probably another sign of the drilling session being in process. My sympathies are with you, Nanase, but I'm not helping you out. I just wish Yukari would have a taste of her own medicine. Soon, right?
"So," Yukari begins again after we had all settled comfortably with a cup each, "is this guy good at kissing?"
"Yukari, I will definitely pour this coffee on your beloved hair the next time you ask me that question. It's been five times already!" Nanase calmly says and takes a sip of the said coffee.
While I do find the reaction rather droll, I try not mock Nanase as well. She has a habit of carrying out most of her threats, and I admit my hair is rather beloved to me. And someone else. But that's an entirely different line of thought.
Yukari was not to be deterred. "But it's been six times not five, and including this one time it'll be seven!"
"Shut up and rot."
"Ah! My best friend is going to leave me for that stupid boyfriend of hers just because he's real good at kissing…" Yukari says dramatically.
I really can't resist laughing at the look of horror that crosses Nanase's face at this comment and the way her jaw goes slack while her eyes widen to the size of saucers. In between gales of laughter, I manage to gasp out that it'll be quite unlikely for that to happen.
Especially because of his being a good kisser.
"But I never said he's a good kisser!"
"You didn't deny it either!"
It took me several minutes more to stop laughing manically, and I guess I wouldn't have stopped had some patrons in the shop not been disturbed by my behavior. How shameful for the heiress to the Kannagi clan…
Like it matters much.
"Ahem," I cough, composing myself, and look at Nanase. "No seriously, what are you and he like?"
It's sort of like an unspoken agreement between us girls to not take the name of any of our boyfriends. Yukari didn't have one currently (due to ditching her recent one just a few weeks ago), Nanase's was referred to as 'he', and mine was… whatever he was. That guy. Yes. That's it. He is 'That Guy'.
Nanase looks at me with a pained expression and I try really hard to keep my face straight.
"Of course they're like lovebirds!" Yukari says, pouting; as if she would be happier if Nanase had been single… period.
"Then what are you like?"
Nanase looks lost again and Yukari is grinning with some sort of triumphant expression on her face. I am thoroughly enjoying this, I think as I smile slightly.
"We are… normal. The average couple."
"Oh, so now you're acknowledging yourself as a couple!?" Yukari cries in mock horror. And all my composure flies out the door.
"Then what else would I call us?"
"Ohh now there's an 'us'!"
"Stop it, Yukari!"
Yukari leans on me and pretends to be mourning – or something.
"You've put her in the mood to kill," I whisper jokingly to her. "Us or him, I'm not sure."
Nanase takes another dee-eep breath and then sighs. "We're normal, honest. We're casually dating. And there's really no chance of me leaving you, of all people, to be with him. And shut up now."
"Well, you could've just said so earlier." Yukari says; looking surprised as she shot up from my shoulder. I chuckle again.
"Alright, alright you win. Now give me a break, for god's sake." Nanase waves a hand dismissively and that, for some reason, reminds me of my half-eaten cake sitting in front of me. How could I have neglected the pure, sweet, strawberry, cake-y goodness?
A bite into the cake and suddenly I'm on the other side of the interrogation.
"Going right along Ayano, what are you and Kazuma like?"
I try not to choke and instead chew agonizingly slow, very much aware that my cheeks felt warm. But then something else crosses my mind.
"Hey!" I point at Nanase with my fork, hurriedly swallowing the morsel in my mouth; "You violated the agreement of not taking names!"
"What agreement?" Yukari says, appearing confused. "Oh I get it! You're just dodging the question aren't you? Too bad, you're not – and I mean not – getting away with it just like that!"
The confused look is replaced by a sly smirk and I really want to bash my head against the table in front of me. I can't, however, and so I settle for scowling at both of them by turns.
Nevertheless, this question really has me thinking about what Kazuma and I are like. Nanase says she and her boyfriend (what was his name again? The agreement made me forget) are completely 'normal'.
Then again, what was normal like? Whatever it was, we're both certainly not normal, I bet.
Our first meeting had me trying to kill him, for gosh sakes.
And anyway, I can say I'm not normal because I admit to some psycho tendencies in me, and he's just plain messed up. That's not his fault at all though; it's Armagest's and Uncle Genma's. Or most of it is, anyway.
None of the things we do are normal, either. And I'm not just talking about the freak youmas we exterminate on a regular basis. Take, for example, the time I confessed to him.
Yes, I did. That idiot would still have been pretending he's involved in a nice, safe, platonic friendship or partner-in-crime relationship with me even if all the signs of feelings deeper than that had been parading right in front of his eyes, wearing top hats and singing Christmas carols in military formation. Not so safe, considering Enraiha is summoned more than it should be, but you get what I mean. Safe in the fact that no one would get hurt, because there was nothing to get hurt over.
Oh, but that was just another illusion he was clinging to. His ideal was the girl who is his friend, incidentally 'partner', and who doesn't make heavy emotional demands on him.
Where do we get from there? Nowhere, usually; the exception would have been if one of us had some kind of uncontrollable telepathic powers which just served to make things a lot easier. (How I wish that were the case, but I have a feeling I wouldn't like anyone listening in to my thoughts, especially now.)
That was where he was wrong. Positively and absolutely wrong. I was already attached, and he was too – even if he acted like he wasn't. We were going around in circles. I don't even know clockwise or anticlockwise. It just served to push me over the edge. Quite literally.
What happened was that there was a mission in the mountains, near some flaming cliff. Grade 'A' youmas, to be exorcised as soon as possible. Just when I thought there wasn't a single one left, and let my guard down one of the creeps had to attack me from behind. I lost my balance and ended up being flung down the said cliff.
I wasn't really scared. I don't know why. I just felt like I had to do one last thing to be satisfied with life and die in peace. Cheesy, I guess, but you don't care about stuff like how you would sound thinking or saying that when you're falling down to the depths of nowhere at breakneck speed. I'm pretty sure it was not me hollering, "Kazuma, I love you; so come save me if you do too!" but the voice sounded suspiciously like me. What was that?
I thought I was being quite mean – not giving him a choice like that. I regretted it in that moment, but I don't think I regretted it afterwards, after that day. Ever.
Because he did save me, and he did yell at me for being an idiot, like I thought he would, but he also said something else that caught me unaware.
"Well, I'm flattered; but you didn't have to pull a stint like that to just break the record for the silliest confession ever. And if you were testing my reflexes, you'd be wise to know I'm pretty fast." He said, and I don't remember if I even replied to him, or if I just thought what I wanted to say next.
I thought that in that moment I wanted to say something as a manner of last will and testament, and I wanted him to know how I felt. Maybe the adrenaline rush gave me courage enough to say something I wouldn't have dreamt of saying to him in such a bizarre fashion even in my wildest dreams.
I didn't say it, I guess, but he knew anyway. Or maybe I'm just deluding myself to think that I didn't, because I wanted him to do what he did next without any words of explanations uttered between us.
He had kissed me then, and I was simply glad that there wasn't Elixir involved this time around.
After that, we were dating and even though that 'I love you' from Kazuma has been a long time materializing, it only seems worth the wait now.
It didn't before, I think.
Before we celebrated our own Valentine's Day on Halloween because he found out Dracula scared me to death and I found out that he avoided carved pumpkins like the plague. Sticking a red heart on an orange pumpkin, that was what the day was like.
Before I found out that despite his general romantic clumsiness – actual romance, that is, not the Casanova façade he built as a shield – he can surprisingly come up with sudden phrases, sincere compliments that sound as if the angels had a hand in helping him with them.
Before I got Easter eggs (made of cake!) on Christmas because of some weird joke and strange sense of humor, and spent the eve enjoying strawberry… and lots of chocolate.
Before I found that he could forget our dating anniversary, but give me a couple of emeralds on a random dinner date and jokingly say that he wished they were pretty little seashells.
Before he had woke me up on dawn on the day of my birthday, to see the sunrise in the sky from a place where the world seemed beautiful.
Before I had him blow candles on top of a cupcake I baked for his birthday on top of the Ferris wheel to make that day just a little special for him. And as payback – he couldn't be the only one who kept doing cute little things, you know.
But of course, the wait didn't seem worthwhile before I actually found out what his love was like.
Tender and inspired, with a vague elusive quality about it, like a half-remembered song. I could hum the melody, but the lyrics keep slipping away.
It's no use trying to pin him down – it would be like trying to stuff a spring breeze into a closet or confine the winter gale into a bottle. It can't be done, and I wouldn't want to try. Who the hell in their right mind would? Like his element, the wind, his mind and body must both be free, and jealousy isn't really his cup of tea. Besides, jealousy wouldn't be needed anyway. I am his, he is mine.
So what if he would be going away for a couple of months or even a year to finish of Armagest, all by himself? I would go if I could, if I hadn't the responsibility of my clan, but it's alright. He would come back.
He would, or I would just have to track him down and drag him back wouldn't I?
"Ayano?" Yukari's worried voice breaks into my thoughts, none too gently I may add, and I realize I have been stirring my coffee absent-mindedly for the past few minutes.
"Yea? I was just thinking." I say, smiling, hoping I hadn't spaced out for much time.
I guess I haven't because she is all smiles as she reminds me that I haven't answered her question yet.
What are we like? I frown a bit.
A tad strange, and a little bit magic. Unique, maybe. Just plain crazy. Abnormal through and through.
"We're different," I say, stopping to stir my coffee and starting on my cake, not frowning anymore. "We're not like Nanase and her boyfriend, or Ren and Kanon, or even anyone else. I don't know how to explain what we are like."
I have been looking down at my cake while I spoke, a soft smile playing on my lips.
That was right, I guess, we were different. We are different. From each other, from others, anyone and everyone. And it worked pretty well.
Even if we stayed apart for a length of time I don't think there will be any sort of huge wide crack in our relationship. I'm not scared of him going away anymore.
It was inevitable from the start, and really, I think it will just make us stronger for each other.
This day makes me gladder than any else that I haven't been replaced by a ghost. That Lapis is dead. Bernhardt killed her himself, because Tsui-Ling's essence seemed to be taking over, according to Kirika. It's plain luck none of us saw her behaving like Tsui-Ling.
I guess we're as happy as can possibly be.
I finally look up as I impale my fork into that cake I no longer have any appetite for, and from the other side Nanase is looking at me bemusedly.
"What?" I ask indifferently as I put the fork in my mouth.
"Nothing, nothing much. I think Yukari should accuse you of being lovebirds."
I frown as Yukari sticks her tongue out at her.
"It's alright, isn't it?" Yukari says. "They both deserve being all lovey-dovey."
"We're not lovey-dovey!" I cry, thinking only if that were true. (Her only reply was a big "Awwwwww.") But of course I wouldn't tell Yukari that I'm lying because I hate being teased.
And anyway, we both do deserve it.
PS - I'm pretty sure most of you got what Ayano meant by enjoying 'lots of chocolate' on Christmas ;)