Title: Turn Your Heart Around Towards Me
Pairing: Ohno Satoshi/Kanjiya Shihori; in the background, Matsumoto Jun/Inoue Mao
Rating: NC-17 (Real Talk: it’s 97% PG-13 but you know how it is…)
Summary: Some people had “the one who got away.” Shihori’s experience had differed. She’d been the one to get away, and he hadn’t lifted a finger to stop her.
A/N: Hello there, helenmaldon, it was a pleasure to write for you! I saw that you’re a Jane Austen fan, and once I knew Ohno was going to be my protagonist, my initial goal was to rewrite Persuasion for you. Didn’t quite happen, but I had a blast putting everyone’s beloved, curmudgeonly “old man” into a romance nonetheless. There’s no navy captain stuff, no meddling relatives. Instead I decided to just follow the heart of what makes Persuasion so compelling to me: the idea of getting a second chance at love. The title is from Ohno’s solo, Two.
He was complaining all the way back from the restaurant, shifting her bag of manga from one hand to the other. “Don’t they have apps so you can read on your phone or an iPad or something?”
“I like having the physical copies,” she answered, trying to take the bag from him. “If you’re so weak, let me carry it again…”
“I’m not weak,” he complained, keeping the bag out of her reach. He smiled, jostling her shoulder. “I’m stronger than I look, alright?”
Dinner had been…dinner had been absolutely wonderful. He’d never been the type to talk, to initiate conversation himself. Shihori could remember nights where he’d meet her at the train station on the way back from class, they’d go to dinner, they’d go back to his apartment, and they’d even have sex and he wouldn’t have spoken more than ten words total in all that time. Tonight, there had been a different man sitting across from her.
Truthfully, she didn’t understand everything he’d said about this job he’d interviewed for, but it really sounded like something he’d be perfect for. He’d always hated to travel, but he’d been so excited to tell her that the company would send him all over the country - to conventions, to other stores to examine the merchandise selection and make decisions. He’d never struck her as a leadership type, a decision maker type, but she supposed if there was anything Ohno Satoshi was qualified to make decisions about, it was fishing stuff.
She’d watched as his food grew cold, seeing this fire in his eyes when he talked about how much responsibility he’d have, how scary it was to get promoted from a regular old store associate to the corporate office, especially since he wasn’t “book smart.” Regardless of their past, of the Ohno she used to know, she found herself smiling, feeling this sense of pride wash over her, seeing him this way. He wanted this job, whether he even realized it fully yet. He wanted it so badly.
Eventually they’d turned to the food before them, and she’d bit back laughter when he grumbled about his mashed potatoes and gravy being a little cold. Oh-chan had always been cute, but the transformed dinner companion she’d just spent time with, he was handsome. Accomplished. Confident and put-together. He’d always had the ability within him, she’d known it. He’d just never been brave. Seeing a brave Ohno Satoshi was dangerous, at least for her heart.
Because if he took her hand right now, if he said “Shii-chan, do you want to come up to my room?” she had a feeling that she’d say yes, and to hell with everything he’d ever done wrong.
He walked her to the station, and they stood out of the way, watching people go through the turnstiles, listening to the beeping of the ticket machines as people fed cash into them or topped up their transit cards. “I’m leaving from Tokyo Station in the morning,” he said, looking around, taking in the station. It was a far cry from the smaller stations back home.
“When will you hear back? About the job?”
“I’m sure they’re interviewing other people,” he said, moving her manga bag to his other hand. “Within a week, I’m guessing.”
“Will you take it? If you get an offer?” she asked, feeling her heart pound. With the way he’d been talking during dinner, his answer had to be yes. If he didn’t really want it, he’d have never spent their entire meal together talking about it. He was too pragmatic to fantasize about something truly out of reach.
“Do you think I should?” he asked, scratching the back of his head.
What I think doesn’t even matter, she wanted to tell him. She decided to tease instead, play it safe. “Well, if you took it, I could have you carry all my bags from now on.”
His eyes were playful, holding up her bag as his small mouth quirked in a grin. “It would be my pleasure.”
“As your senpai, at least in terms of being an Edo dweller, I’d be happy to teach you the ropes.” She inclined her head, trying to rein in her desire to keep flirting. “Keiko-senpai would help, too.”
“I’d need a lot of help,” he admitted. “My mom would have to have all my stuff shipped here instead of bringing it over herself.”
“Wait,” she said, laughing. “Your mother is still buying all your clothes for you?”
He shrugged. “She likes to pick things out, it makes her happy.”
Well, the brave new Ohno was still a fixer upper. Baby steps, Kanjiya, she told herself.
“I should probably get going,” she said, twisting a bit of hair between her fingers nervously. He wasn’t going to invite her over, and maybe that was wise. “It’s a school night.”
He surprised her then, taking the strand of hair from her fingers and giving it a playful tug before handing her bag of manga back. “Get home safe, okay? I’ll let you know what happens.”
She fumbled in her purse for her train pass, nodding in her giddiness. She had to wonder how much his decision to move hinged on the fact that she lived here in Tokyo. She couldn’t get her hopes up, though. Nothing was decided quite yet. “It was good to see you, Oh-chan. At least we get a proper goodbye this time.”
He nodded. “I’m glad.”
The train was packed, and she was crowded around one of the poles, surrounded by middle-aged men that smelled like stale beer. But for once, it didn’t bother her. She kept her grip firmly, shutting her eyes as the train moved along, trying to keep from smiling and looking like a fool. There was no way Oh-chan could have remembered, but he’d given her hair a tug just the same way several years ago. There’d been something serious in his eyes then, when he’d leaned forward to kiss her for the very first time.
Maybe it was a sign. Maybe it was the universe, giving them a chance to start over. A chance to make it right.
Half of the rubber ducks had been swapped out, replaced with little fish figurines. Clearly Aiba-san hadn’t counted too carefully, since he had run out by the time he’d gotten to the wall behind his bar, which was still a line-up of yellow ducks. But the sentiment behind it was appreciated.
Ohno had never liked celebrating himself. Birthday parties as a kid seemed tedious, a long slog when they should just eat cake and be done with it. His mother had thrown him a graduation party in junior high, mostly in hopes of getting some cash from relatives. He just didn’t like all the attention to be centered around him.
But the party had been Nino’s idea, since Nino was telling anyone who would listen that Ohno’s big promotion at Everything Outdoor was all thanks to his kindness and generosity. Peking Duck had been rented out for the night, and in just four short weeks Ohno would be leaving Minamichita behind for his brand new life. He’d only been back home for two days when the call came, Ishihara-san listing the details of his job offer. When she’d told him what his salary and compensation package entailed, he’d asked her to read it back again, if only to assure him it wasn’t a joke. They were even paying his moving fees, were helping him find an apartment.
He had to take it. It seemed like everyone in Minamichita was behind him, from the cashiers at work to his mom and dad. His parents were sitting quietly in the rear of the izakaya, and from the odd look on his mother’s face, she’d just tried one of Aiba’s new menu items. Ohno honestly couldn’t remember the last time his parents had looked at him with pride in their faces. They’d grown so accustomed to him coasting by. He’d never felt bad about it before, living life his own way, but when he’d told his mom about the new opportunity, she’d started to cry. At first he thought he’d said something wrong, that she was upset that he’d have to move. But they’d been tears of happiness, for a stubborn son who’d never quite lived up to his apparent potential. Better late than never, had been his dad’s opinion.
Jun and Mao had brought a cake with them, and Ohno was going to miss them terribly. He was certain he’d never find a cup of coffee as good anywhere else, but Jun, with his detail-oriented mind, had presented Ohno with a gift. He’d combed through Yelp reviews and other review sites, compiling a list of Hug Diner equivalents throughout the Tokyo metropolitan area that might suit his needs. And of course, he was always welcome to visit when he came home.
When the party died down and everyone had wished him well, Ohno decided it was time to leave. Nino and his girlfriend were still talking with Aiba, and he bid them a good night, heading down the street full of izakayas, back past the car lot and toward his apartment building. But instead of going inside, he kept walking. There was a breeze, but it wasn’t that cold at night now at all.
He made it to the beach, found a bench, and sat down to listen to the sound of the waves rolling in, hitting the shore. It wasn’t going to be calm like this in Tokyo, and he knew that was going to irritate him. But everyone, all of his friends, had already pointed out so many things he was going to like. The captain from one of the boats he went out with often had already called some of his friends who ran chartered excursions in Tokyo. Ohno had no shortage of boats waiting for him when he arrived, and new waters to fish. Work would keep him busy, but it wasn’t like his hobby would be entirely abandoned. He wasn’t going somewhere landlocked at least!
And, of course, he had his “Tokyo senpai” waiting for his arrival. He smiled in the darkness despite himself. She’d been the first person he’d called as soon as he’d hung up with Ishihara-san. Not that he’d told her as much, but she’d been the first person that came to mind. She’d been so excited, so happy for him. It had given him courage.
“Can I keep calling you?” he’d asked her. “Would that be okay?”
The silence that followed had been scary, but her reply had been better than he’d hoped. “I’d like that,” she’d said, her voice almost shy. “I’d like that, Oh-chan.”
It had been a few weeks now, this calling stage. It wasn’t every night, since he still had work and she had plenty to keep her busy too. But it gave him confidence, knowing she was going to be there, in Tokyo. That she didn’t hate him. That he wasn’t going to be alone when he started his new job, that someone had his back. And in calling her, he hoped she realized he was taking this seriously. That he wanted to know everything he’d missed, every little change, everything that made her tick.
They were just phone calls, sometimes a series of longer emails, but it was so easy to fall again. She was funny, warm, wrote out long lists of things he might like to do when he moved (and things he should avoid, because he was ‘a grumpy old man’). She sent him pictures of the life she’d been having without him. Pictures of Keiko’s cat, curled up on their living room floor. Pictures of the chalkboard in her classroom. A picture of a fish market not far from her apartment building, where she’d snapped a picture of a large tuna and captioned it simply: “a friend for Oh-chan.”
He listened to the waves, eyes closed and smiling. He was way too lucky. He was fairly certain he’d fuck up along the way, would fumble his words, would say the wrong thing. But this time he’d own up to his mistakes. She was worth the effort.
He pulled his phone from his pocket. He’d promised to call when the party was over, but it was already after midnight. Then again, it was a Saturday night. She didn’t have to work in the morning. He decided to be bold, giving her a call.
“A bit late, don’t you think?” she answered, sighing a bit (although she picked up on the second ring).
“Did I wake you?”
“I’m reading,” she said. “I’m at a really good part, too…”
“I’ll make this quick then,” he decided, tapping his fingers nervously on his leg.
“How was the big party? I don’t suppose Nino paid for any of it?”
“He did, actually,” he replied, laughing. “I’m sure he and Aiba-san are still arguing about the bill right now.”
“That sounds about right.”
He heard a bit of rustling on the other end. Maybe she was setting down her book.
“Wanna ask you something.”
“Are you drunk?”
He snickered. “Not that much.”
“This isn’t a phone sex call, is it? I charge for that service.”
“It’s not a phone sex call,” he assured her, laughing again. “I’m being serious, you know.”
“You keep giggling, I don’t trust you.”
She was quiet, and he suspected she was only joking with him to hide her nervousness. He was nervous, too. He wondered if she really knew what he was calling for.
“When I get settled in, I was hoping we could…” He cleared his throat, digging his fingers into his jeans. “I’d like to take you out. Properly. I’d like to date you, I mean.”
She didn’t say anything for quite a while, but since he could still hear her breathing, he knew she was choosing her response carefully. He thought these last weeks had gone well, that this was only the natural conclusion. Maybe he was going too fast for her. He tended to make decisions faster than most people - which had obviously gotten him in trouble before. But he was more certain about this than anything. More certain than he’d even been about the corporate position.
“I’m not interested in casually dating,” she said, her voice almost a whisper. “What I’m looking for is something much more serious than that. You understand?”
She was being honest, upfront. She wasn’t going to let him hurt her again, that much was very clear. She was fine with talking to him, with meeting with him, but if it was ever going to be more, it was going to be on her terms. And he understood that. Maybe not fully, since she’d clearly borne the brunt of the pain when they’d broken up the first time. But she’d grown up now. She knew what she wanted and what she didn’t. She wasn’t going to let him slack off this time.
He wondered why he wasn’t afraid, being given such an ultimatum this time around. Months ago, if a woman had made such a demand from him, he’d have bailed without looking back. Now he was petrified in a different way entirely. Petrified of losing this second chance.
“I can’t promise it’ll be perfect,” he said.
“I’m not looking for that,” she replied, her voice wavering a little. As though he was bringing her to tears. Which was, obviously, the last thing he intended.
“I promise that I’ll try my best. You deserve more than that, I know, but…”
“No?” he managed to say, barely able to think.
“I’m not turning you down, you idiot,” she said, and this time there was more confidence in her tone. “I just want you to be fully aware of what you’re agreeing to. This isn’t some easy thing, something to leap into just because it feels right today. I don’t want six months to go by, six years to go by, and for us to have the same conversation we had before. I’m not saying we’re getting married tomorrow and buying a house in a year and having a baby the year after that. I’m not planning your life for you. I just…I just want you to take it seriously or don’t bother at all. I’m turning 30 this year. That’s where I’m at in my life right now. I need someone who wants to have a future. Not someone who’s only interested in today.”
She cleared her throat.
“I don’t want perfect,” she said. “And I don’t want your best effort. I want the future, whatever it holds, with someone who wants to be there with me. Are you that person or not?”
This was not the conversation he’d been expecting when he’d called her. But he knew she was right.
“I think I am.”
“Then I’ll see you in a month, Oh-chan. And you can tell me in person what you think.”
She packed up the equipment, doing her best to keep the cords from tangling as she put them back in the box. But it was when she tried to pick up a buzzer from a desk that wasn’t even there that she could hear Sakurai-sensei laughing at her.
He was putting the students’ scratch paper in the recycling bin, smiling wide. “You’re distracted today, Kanjiya-sensei. Tonight must be the night.”
“Huh?” she asked, blushing and trying not to pick up any other phantom buzzers.
“You should know that Yoshitaka-sensei’s voice tends to carry,” he admitted. “Your secret’s out.”
She felt hot, nearly dropping the box as she carried it to the back of the classroom. Sakurai-sensei only offered her a wave and a “good luck!” before picking up the recycling bin and carrying it from the room. Damn Yoshitaka-sensei, she thought bitterly. That was the last time Shihori told her anything!
Tonight really was the night, though. Her first official “date” with Oh-chan, now that they were “together” again. The thought of that still hadn’t sunk in. He’d finally come up to Tokyo a few weeks ago, although they’d barely had any time alone to talk yet. He was going through some intense training at the company and still getting his new apartment in order. They were mostly surviving on messages through LINE at this point, and most of his were various emoji and stickers of sleepy animals.
But tonight…tonight he was all hers, and she was nervous as hell. And now it was obvious that most of the faculty knew that Kanjiya-sensei had a date again after a long dry spell. Ugh!
Once the classroom was tidy, she grabbed her bag and headed home to change. Keiko was there, heading out herself for the night on a group date with some folks from another company in her office building. Keiko had her eye on one of them already, had caught him leaving work in a leather jacket once. Right in her strike zone.
“Should I expect you to come home tonight?” Keiko was asking, in between brushing her teeth and rinsing.
She rolled her eyes, frowning at the state of her wardrobe. “We’ll see what happens. I’m taking this very seriously, you know!”
And she really was. She’d been nothing but serious about this. She couldn’t bear the thought of Oh-chan hurting her again, although there was no guarantee that it would work out in the end. Nobody could predict the future, but at the very least, she knew he was going into this with his eyes open, knowing she had certain expectations. Keiko had actually been impressed with Ohno’s recent burst of emotional maturity, although she had vowed that if things went badly this second time around, she really would kill him. Well, Shihori hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
“I know you’re taking this seriously,” Keiko said, lurking in her doorway, grinning. “But I also know how long it’s been and…”
Shihori plugged her ears. “You stalker, what do you even know?” She stomped her feet, knowing that her blush was giving it away. It really had been a while, so she was going to play things by ear. Not that it was any of Keiko’s business!
Keiko came up behind her, hugging her around the middle. “I just want you to be happy.”
She leaned into it, forgiving her anyhow. “I know you do.”
Keiko leaned her head against hers. “There’s still time to come with me. I think one of them’s an accountant. That’s interesting, right?”
She pushed Keiko away, laughing. “Go away and meet your biker gang leader, why don’t you?”
“Daigo-san has a name,” Keiko teased, heading back to her room. “Looks like you get the apartment to yourself, Bill-chan! What a spoiled animal you are!”
Shihori sighed, shaking her head and laughing. It was certainly going to be an interesting night. She and Keiko lived a few Metro stops north of the SkyTree and Oh-chan’s apartment wasn’t far from Nishi-Nippori Station. It amazed her that after all this time, he was only a half-hour away on the train now. Well, when the trains were running on time.
They were going to meet and have dinner at the SkyTree, if only because it was brand new and exciting for Oh-chan, who hadn’t really been to Tokyo since it had been built. She’d seen him a handful of times since he’d moved, but tonight…tonight would be their first serious meeting. But any seriousness vanished in an instant when she saw him approaching with a bouquet of roses.
He had gone to some effort, was in one of his new suits for work, and it made him look his age in a way that his t-shirts and jeans never had. Instead of a grown-up kid, he looked like a man. Handsome, mature…
He thrust the flowers at her, grinning. Always a kid at heart. “For you!”
She accepted them, thinking it was a little over the top. Their dinner was already going to cost a lot, and now roses? What were they going to do with them in the restaurant? But she still couldn’t help the butterflies in her stomach. She couldn’t ever remember him bothering to get her flowers before. Ohno Satoshi in “serious relationship” mode was something amusing to behold.
“Thank you,” she said, enjoying the scent of the bouquet at the very least. It was going to be hard to get them home, especially if Bill decided to munch on them. But she decided not to say anything about it yet.
They rode the elevator up to the restaurant, and because they were in the rear of the elevator behind other people, he didn’t seem too embarrassed to reach out and take her hand. When he gave it a gentle squeeze, smiling at her shyly, it finally sunk in. They were together. She and Oh-chan. Together for real. She blinked back tears, if only because she’d look like a sad panda if she let her mascara smear so early on in the evening.
Neither of them were fancy restaurant types, and she was grateful they’d been seated at one of the far tables, away from the judgmental eyes of other diners. Their waiter hadn’t even blinked at Shihori’s bouquet, offering to find a vase for it. She had to bite her lip to keep from laughing when the roses were returned and ended up taking up half of the table.
“Maybe I should have held off on buying those,” Ohno mumbled, trying to decipher the set meal course they were about to eat.
The food was excellent, although Shihori suspected that most of the fancy ingredients were lost on Ohno, who seemed to treat every new dish with suspicion. He was more interested in eating the food than in enjoying its presentation. But despite that, he seemed to like everything, which was something Shihori doubted would ever change.
Unlike their last dinner together, the family restaurant in Akiba, she discovered that they were both a little too nervous to talk. Instead they went through an entire bottle of wine, making small talk here and there about work in between glancing out at the lights of Tokyo far below them. She saw Ohno’s eyebrows spike upward when the bill came, but he didn’t voice a complaint, simply pulling out his wallet. She knew he was making a lot more money now, though she hadn’t asked just how much.
She reached for her purse, and he gave her a dirty look, wiggling his finger at her. “Your money’s no good tonight.”
Roses, reservations at the fancy SkyTree restaurant. Didn’t he know she wasn’t looking for that sort of thing? Then again, she never had, back then. Maybe he thought he owed it to her to try something bolder. To prove his commitment, his interest in her.
The vase vanished from the table, and the roses were returned, wrapped up once again, although not as neatly as the florist had done. “I really should have held off on buying those,” he grumbled, and she laughed out loud at that, grateful they were back in the elevator and leaving the restaurant by then.
They made it to the ground again, and she wondered what else he had in mind. What she didn’t expect was for him to turn to her, sighing in exasperation. “That food was good but I’m still hungry. You wanna get some ice cream?”
She adjusted the wrapped up flowers in her arms, gaping at him. “Ice cream? We just had a dessert course…”
“We don’t have to,” he mumbled. “I just…”
She smiled in realization. “You thought we’d be at the restaurant a lot longer and didn’t plan anything else, did you?”
He scowled at her, though it wasn’t meant seriously. “You know me too well, it’s scary.”
She stepped forward, running her fingers across the lapels of his suit jacket. “It was a lovely dinner. Thank you.” She grinned. “I’m not used to seeing you look so well-to-do. You’re so cute.”
He looked annoyed. “You were like this about that stupid tuxedo too. I don’t like these things.”
She slid her hand inward, brushing against his tie. “Ooh, I think I’ll like it even more now that I know it annoys you.”
He shook his head. “What a brat you are.”
She stepped back, taking another smell of her roses. “Changing your mind about me already, Oh-chan? How fickle.”
He didn’t seem to care if anyone saw, because he reached for her then, putting his hand around her waist, pulling her to him. “The last thing I plan to do is change my mind about you.”
She could feel the palm of his hand, warm and insistent against the small of her back. “So cool,” she whispered, only joking a little bit. She liked this new Oh-chan, in his suits, with his willingness to touch her. An Oh-chan who could say things like “the last thing I plan to do is change my mind about you” with a straight face. And actually mean it, too.
He probably hadn’t intended to be so forceful, and he had a hard time meeting her eyes now. It had been a very long time since they’d been close like this, and Shihori knew where things were headed now. They’d been flirting, over the phone and through LINE for a little too long to not follow through. And though Shihori hadn’t truly anticipated it happening so soon, feeling the press of his body against hers again after so many years felt too good to ignore. She’d gotten the impression that he hadn’t been with anyone in a while either.
“Come back with me?” he asked. All she could do was nod. So much for the SkyTree now.
She felt like she was floating when he released her, but took hold of her hand. They walked to the train, and he only let her go once they boarded the car. Her roses at least gave them a barrier from being smashed together with the other passengers.
He took her hand again when they got off at his stop. She was in heels, and he was walking a little faster than she’d like, but she couldn’t bear to slow down. It was Oh-chan, the sweet Oh-chan who’d always stroked her hair and kissed her nose, falling asleep with her on his couch. The Oh-chan who made her a sleeping bag fort and gave her beef jerky to eat. But it was also a new Oh-chan, who wore suits and held her hand in public. The Oh-chan who’d turned his life upside down, the Oh-chan who was falling in love with her all over again, and right before her eyes. And god, she wanted him so much.
They were maybe a block away from his new place, away from the main road, when he finally stopped pulling her along with him. He stopped them under a street light, and he turned around to look at her. There was none of the usual sleepiness in his eyes. He was looking at her like there was nothing else that mattered. “Shii-chan, I swear I wanted to do this right.”
Her feet were throbbing a little, now that they stopped moving. “It’s okay, there’s no right or wrong.” She took a deep breath, looking up at him. She was glad she hadn’t worn her stiletto heels. They’d have made them the same height, but at what cost to her feet? “We’re only human, right?”
“I’ve missed you,” he whispered. “I’ve missed you, Shii-chan.”
It felt so perfect when he took her face between his slightly rough, but gentle hands. He stroked her cheek with his thumb and smiled. “I’m so glad you came home.” Home. Minamichita. If she hadn’t gone, she’d never be here, in Tokyo, standing here with him under the street light’s glow.
She didn’t care as much about her mascara now. He kissed her and though she’d spent the last several weeks remembering what had been, what they’d done, what had been so special to her before, she was ready to embrace this new chapter. Why compare with before? This was good. This was better. He was so warm, so close, and if she wasn’t holding the silly roses, she’d throw her arms around him. He kissed her like it was just the two of them in the world. Not like they’d planned, waiting out the zombie apocalypse at Everything Outdoor. A new feeling entirely, her at the center of his world, and when tears trickled from her eyes, met his thumbs, he only kissed her harder.
“Come on,” he finally said, pressing a soft kiss to her temple. “Come on.”
He held out his hand, and she was already missing him, licking her lips and knowing everything was just beginning.
He’d known it was hopeless as soon as he’d walked up to her with that bouquet, seeing her in her sexy purple dress. It had been a difficult meal to get through, and not just because the portions were bizarre and he didn’t know what half the fancy ingredients were. Because he’d had to sit there for an hour and watch her bring food to her mouth, over and over again while he thought about something that wasn’t food-related at all. As soon as they’d gotten back to the ground, he knew he was going to try and bulldoze any plans she’d had for how things were going to progress between them.
She’d been a virgin when they’d gotten together the first time. He’d been all too happy to wait until she was ready. He’d wanted to do right by her. But there was nothing innocent about her now, not with the way she’d been poking at his suit jacket, prodding at his tie. They were both adults now, who knew what they wanted.
Kissing her, feeling her soft mouth against his own again, had felt so right. She was crying, but this time he knew it wasn’t because he’d done anything wrong. If anything, he was finally doing something right. His building was three stories, and he was on the second floor. “Wait,” she was saying before he started racing up the stairs. “Just…wait, let me take these off.”
He grinned, watching her take off her shoes, holding them in one hand and the stupid bouquet in the other. She followed him up the stairs, and he was shaking as he got his new keys out of his pocket, still learning just how things worked. But he managed to get the door open. He held it open, letting her slip inside. She dropped her shoes in his genkan with little grace, walking a little gingerly into his living room and setting the flowers down on his table. The place was still kind of a mess. He still had shelves to put up, clothes to unpack, kitchen stuff to put away. But at least he’d taken out the trash before heading to meet her, had put fresh towels in the bathroom, and had put new sheets on the bed. Just in case he’d gotten this lucky.
But they didn’t leave the living room for a while. He didn’t even turn on the light, pushing her back against the wall and kissing her again. Now that she wasn’t burdened with the flowers, she was letting him know once again that she liked him in boring salaryman clothes, slowly undoing the buttons of his jacket, tugging him closer by yanking on his tie. Had she always been this aggressive? He was so lost, so involved with letting his tongue slip into the heat of her mouth that he couldn’t even remember.
When she’d had enough of his tie, she yanked on the knot, pulling it off and throwing it aside. He let his fingers tangle up in her hair, trying not to laugh when she put her hands behind him and squeezed his ass. She’d always been a fan. And he had always been a fan of her breasts. He’d spent half their dinner that night trying to sneak a look. Now he was fairly certain he’d get to replace his memories with the real thing. The longer they were like this, the more dangerous it was becoming. His body was switching from some semblance of reason into instinct mode, and if they didn’t slow down, he was going to just pull her dress up and see if she’d object to having sex right there, right in the middle of his living room in the dark.
But Shihori’s logical side saved him from doing anything so rough, and the palms of her hands pressed gently against his chest, pushing him back. He could only hear her in the darkness, her heavy breaths as she collected herself. “Okay,” she exhaled, gathering her wits. “Okay okay okay.”
“Here, the bathroom’s this way,” he managed to say. He led her to it, and the both of them groaned a bit when he turned on the light.
She turned around, putting her back to him. “Unzip?”
She held her hair up, exposing the soft, pale skin of her neck. He wanted to kiss her there, feel her shiver. It took every ounce of willpower he had to just concentrate, to get his fingers to gently tug on the zipper on the back of her dress when what he really wanted to do was yank it down, move things right along. He behaved himself, letting her take a quick shower without his impulsive interference.
He paced his bedroom floor, trying not to second guess himself. This was happening. She came out, wrapped in a towel and looking even more nervous than he felt. All he could do was gesture to his bed, smiling nervously. He showered quickly, begging himself to relax. Being with Shihori, it had always been so easy, but there was more to it now. She deserved his full attention.
She was still in the towel when he came back out, looking a little lost. He hovered in the doorway. “We don’t…we don’t have to…”
She looked aside, blushing. “I gained weight…not a lot but…I mean, I don’t look like I used to.”
He didn’t dare laugh, walking over to the bed and sitting down. He didn’t exactly have the same body he’d had seven years ago either. “Shii-chan, believe me. You’re beautiful. I wouldn’t lie about that.”
She was lying down, shaking a little. “I don’t…I wish I wasn’t self-conscious…it’s not an easy habit to break…”
He reached his hand out, brushing his fingers along her bare shoulder, along her collarbone where the tips of her hair just about reached. She shut her eyes, inhaling sharply at his touch. How long had it been since anyone had touched her? Not that he wanted to imagine it…
“Here,” he mumbled, finding where her hands were still holding the towel closed. She relented, and he slowly pulled it open. He didn’t have one complaint about what he found. And he discovered that her body was so much better than what he remembered. He bent down, feeling her shiver when he pressed his lips to one of her breasts, happy to reacquaint himself. Her nipples hardened the more he paid attention.
He didn’t rush, much as he wanted to. If she wasn’t confident, he decided to prove that she was perfect in his eyes. He kissed her once, twice, before moving down, eventually kissing his way past her breasts, down her abdomen, around her navel in soft, little pecks that made her sigh. She hesitated a bit when he moved between her legs, but he pressed a kiss to her thigh.
“It’s okay,” he murmured, enjoying that the way her body was shaking now wasn’t so much from nerves as it was from what he was doing to her. “It’s okay, I want to.”
And though Shihori had always been a talkative person (well, to Ohno, everyone was talkative), she’d always been quiet when it came to voicing her pleasure. Most of the time she actually put her hand over her mouth, muffling the sound as though it embarrassed her. That much hadn’t changed, and it made him smile. So instead he listened to her breathing as it grew heavier, delighted in the little gasps and sighs she couldn’t manage to keep in. And when he finally moved his mouth inward, from the soft, perfect feeling of her thighs to her center, she even let out a gasped “Satoshi!” in surprise.
First names. Well, he must have been doing a good job. It was everything he remembered and even better, the taste of her on his tongue and the scratch of her fingernails across his scalp as she rested her hand on his head, probably fighting her need to push his head down, to beg for more and more. It didn’t actually take long before she was coming, muffling the sound needlessly with her hand. One of these days, Ohno decided, one of these days he’d have to be so good she’d forget to hide it. He wanted to hear her just give in and scream.
She seemed surprised that he wasn’t finished quite yet, moving to lie alongside her but keeping his hand between her legs, slowly sinking a finger inside her. She was so warm, as good as he remembered, and he stroked inside her, knowing she hadn’t been with anyone in a while. “You don’t have to keep your eyes closed the whole time,” he teased her, and she looked over, still flushed from what he’d done to her.
“You’re being…” She bit back a sigh, eyes widening when he quickened his pace. “You’re being very…gentlemanly tonight, Oh-chan.”
“I wear a suit now,” he reminded her. “I’m all about that gentleman stuff.”
This, at last, made her laugh, and she kissed the top of his head. “I love you, you know.”
This warmed him, from head to toe. Words like that, they used to scare guys like him. But hearing it from her, it felt good. It felt amazing. He finally gave in, crawling across the mattress to his nightstand, where he’d stuffed a new box of condoms, feeling hopeful for tonight. When he was ready, he stroked her cheek, tugging on a strand of her hair. “I love you too, Shihori.”
As soon as he was inside her, he knew there could be nothing better. He took it slow, for her sake more than his own, and though she was tense at first, readjusting to the sensation, she was eventually able to relax.
“Okay?” he whispered, pressing a kiss against the side of her neck.
“Okay,” she agreed.
Shihori wasn’t the only one out of practice, and to his irritation, he didn’t give the world’s greatest performance. All it took was a gasp from her at one particularly hard thrust, her hands pressed to his back, the slightest raise of her hips in time with his own, and he had to give in. Well, thank god he’d started by getting her off first, sighing as he lay there, breathing hard and just hoping it wasn’t a total letdown.
She stroked his back, humming a little. “Missed that.”
“You missed that?”
She chuckled, a low and satisfied little laugh that made her shake a bit under him. “You know what I mean.”
He finally gave her a break, moving off of her to clean himself up. He waited in the doorway and definitely didn’t miss the way she was checking him out appreciatively, the bedsheets pulled up and over her body, hiding it away again. “I definitely missed your butt,” she said, smiling at him.
He turned, letting her enjoy the full experience. “Just for you.”
He grinned, not feeling self-conscious at all. It was easier than he thought, falling back into this rhythm with her. “I’ll be in my usual place.”
She sat up a little, holding the sheet against her. “The couch? Still?”
“Mattress is new, you enjoy it.”
He closed the door anyhow. He wanted to know if she’d still try. If she still remembered.
It took a few hours, because he fell completely asleep, but before too long he felt someone tugging at the blanket. He moved easily. It was like muscle memory, letting her lie down with him. He adjusted the blanket to cover them both. When he moved to touch her hair, the way he always had, he instead found her fingers pressing one of the condoms from his drawer into his hand.
This woke him up, considerably. “You serious?” he whispered, voice groggy.
She turned, a little awkwardly given the amount of space they had to share. When she kissed him, she ran her hand down his side, tickling a bit until she reached his hip, rubbing in time with her kisses.
“Very serious,” she whispered.
“Gotta work in the morning.”
“Gonna blame you. When I’m tired.”
“You bought me roses,” she said quietly. “That gets you two times, I think.”
“Damn, I’ll remember that.”
“Ssh, come on.”
Didn’t take much more prompting. Though his bed was certainly more comfortable for all involved, it seemed she wanted to rechristen their old couch ritual. Or more like she wanted to enhance it, adding sex to the equation. And who was Ohno to turn down a pretty woman who liked his butt? He lay on his back, and it felt so good when she got on top of him, guiding him into her. It was so good, even with the more limited range of movement his couch afforded them. He liked the weight of her on top of him, the way she took his hands, guided them to her hips, to hold her while she rocked against him. He squeezed gently, biting his lip as his body responded more and more.
“Satoshi,” she was whispering, “oh Satoshi, please.”
Before too long, he was giving in, moving his hands up to her breasts, squeezing. She liked that, gasping the more he did it. When she collapsed against him later, breathing hard but giggling, he hugged her. He loved her, and he really loved how much she wanted him.
He held her close, knowing he had to get up, but not wanting to leave her just yet. “Wow, I’m so glad I moved here.”
“Mmm, me too.”
“Next time, let’s skip the expensive dinner.”
“Sounds perfectly reasonable to me.”
He smiled. His new job was hard, moving to a new city was hard. But was it bad? Not really. Especially when he had her by his side. Change wasn’t scary, Ohno decided. Change was very good.
Six months later
The ride to Mihama was nerve-wracking, if only because she was driving Mao-chan’s car, and it was a stick shift. Oh-chan had spent most of the ride complaining about her terrible driving. Well, he was the person who was nearly 35 years old and had never gotten a license. Who was he to pass judgment on her ability?
Their arguments ended, of course, when they pulled into the parking lot. Even though she moved to unlock the door and get out, he grabbed hold of her hand, squeezing. “You sure you still want to do this?”
She nodded, more sure than ever now that the lighthouse was in sight. “I’m certain.”
They’d taken the train down for the weekend. To visit with Mao and Jun, to have some strange snacks at Peking Duck with Nino and Aiba. And for this, though they hadn’t told anyone else about it.
She popped the trunk, and she grabbed the clippers that Keiko’s mother had let her borrow. The official story was that she and Ohno were doing some work in his parents’ garden. Instead they had actually come to say goodbye to the past, as lofty as that sounded.
He walked behind her, and the wind whipped her hair around. It was autumn now, and as different from her last visit as it could get. She found it far more quickly than she had on her last visit to the lighthouse, crouching down and holding it out for Ohno’s inspection.
He took a look at it, smiling. “I can’t believe it’s still here.”
“We don’t need it. I’d rather not rely on outside forces any longer.”
Initially he’d thought she meant to attach a new lock. But then she’d told him she wanted to cut it off. “You’re breaking up with me?” he’d asked, eyes wide. She’d shaken her head. No. She just didn’t think they needed it. They had something new, something special. It was a lot more work than it had been when they were younger, their relationship, but in a way, it was more rewarding. They didn’t need a lock on a fence to strengthen their love. They just needed each other, and the will to try.
He held it steady, and she clipped through the U-shape of the lock, detaching it from the fence. She turned it over in her palm, setting the clippers down and tracing over their names. They’d been naive back then, uncertain. Eager to let fate, luck, all the forces of the universe influence where their relationship was going. They didn’t need it. Clipping away the old Ohno and Kanjiya, she knew she could truly embrace the new chapter of her life. The better one, where her eyes were open and so were his. Where they faced everything together.
She got to her feet. “What are you doing?” he called after her.
“Throwing it in the sea!”
“That’s pollution, isn’t it? Throw it in a garbage can!” he complained.
“There’s no drama in that,” she complained, turning around and walking back to him. “You’re no fun.”
“I guess not,” he mumbled, moving over and tugging her close. There was a gentle love in his eyes when he pushed her hair out of her face, tucking it behind her ear. She closed her eyes, wrapping her arms around his neck when he kissed her, with a forcefulness that still made her weak in the knees.
But he was still Oh-chan too. She felt his arm go up, reaching behind his head for her hand. He pried the lock from her fingers and broke away before she could even react. She watched him take off running.
“Sucker!” he called.
“Oi!” she shouted. “Oi, no fair! I was going to throw it!”
“My arm’s stronger! I’m going to throw it all the way to Kyushu!”
“You’re an idiot!”
She watched him bring his arm back, saw the lock go flying off into the air. She stopped running, shaking her head and laughing. It was gone, lost under the waves. How petty! He came back, looking rather satisfied with himself.
“You’re going to be 35 years old.”
He shrugged. “It was fun.”
This time she kissed him, not letting go until she heard the sound of another car come rumbling up the gravel drive toward the lighthouse. He took her hand, squeezing tight.
They walked off together, hand in hand, into a future they’d shape by themselves.