StilesLong's One-shots - The Secret Santa

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Silentcook
Carelessly Cooking You
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Re: StilesLong's One-shots

Post by Silentcook » Sun Dec 23, 2018 2:56 pm

StilesLong wrote:
Sun Dec 23, 2018 12:25 pm
...something?
Yeah, that was barely worth the electrons expended in its composition.

No violations this time, but still a sterling example of why the "no requesting" sticky exists, really. :roll:
Shattering your dreams since '94.

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StilesLong
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Re: StilesLong's One-shots

Post by StilesLong » Sun Dec 23, 2018 3:17 pm

Silentcook wrote:
Sun Dec 23, 2018 2:56 pm
StilesLong wrote:
Sun Dec 23, 2018 12:25 pm
...something?
Yeah, that was barely worth the electrons expended in its composition.

No violations this time, but still a sterling example of why the "no requesting" sticky exists, really. :roll:
Aw, jeez. Completely forgot about the rules. Sorry, Cook.

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Oddball
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Re: StilesLong's One-shots

Post by Oddball » Thu Oct 24, 2019 12:22 pm

That story with the cat is probably the cutest I have ever seen Shizune written. Wonderful good.

Even in the really short amount of time this story took, you made the shopkeeper into an interesting character and I would have liked to see more of his relationship with Shizune as she got older. Even the little tidbit of Jigoro's new job and not having money raised some interesting questions.
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StilesLong
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From a quiet place

Post by StilesLong » Tue Nov 05, 2019 10:57 pm

Lilly shut her door behind her, closing off the sound of her talking clock announcing ten o’clock. She had to force herself not to rush, to pause before knocking on her hallmate’s door. Inside, there was a stumbling crash, a rush of feet, then the door swung open.

“Oh! S-sorry, Lilly! I was r-ready to go th-then I started brushing m-my hair and lost track of t-time,” Hanako explained in a rush. “Give me... a second.”

She went back into her room. Lilly heard the rustle of plastic and the scrape of metal on ceramic, then Hanako returned and shut the door tightly behind her. "R-ready to go."

"Oh my, Hanako." Lilly was amused and couldn't keep it from her voice. "When you said you wanted to go for a walk, I didn't think you'd be bringing supplies."

"It's just… some tea and s-sandwiches," Hanako replied earnestly. "I also br-brought you a book. It's… th-the same one I'm starting."

"I hope we aren't going far. Is the bag heavy?" Lilly fussed.

"Not rea-really." Hanako seemed flustered by the question. "I'll manage," she reassured her friend, who let it drop.

Lilly and Hanako left the dorms arm-in-arm. On school grounds, Lilly didn't need the guidance but after weeks apart, it was nice to have someone familiar, someone trusted, at her side. She’d also left her cane behind, bringing only her wallet.

"I-I thought we might go… up into the forest and… read today," Hanako revealed as they approached the first fork in the path. "Th-they say the storm isn’t… until tomorrow and it might be a nice c-change of... pace from Edinburgh. I mean…"

She had trailed off because Lilly was hiding a giggle behind her free hand. When she was done, Lilly waved off Hanako's concern. "I wouldn't say wooded hills are a big change from my parents' estate but that sounds like a good plan."

"H-how was... Scotland?" Hanako asked. She kept Lilly talking about her trip as they made their way up the wide, paved trails behind Yamaku Academy.

Eventually, Hanako gently interrupted Lilly. "I d-don't know if you want... to keep going b-but th-there's some tables we can... sit at just up ahead."

"They will do just fine," Lilly said. She cocked her head to one side. "It's very peaceful up here."

There was the slight sound of a person nodding. "Not m-many people c-come up here."

"How did you discover it?" Lilly wanted to know.

"The N-Nurse says Hisao n-needs to get... more exercise a-and we found it on one of our walks," Hanako explained. "We come here w-when it's... nice out to sit and... read a-and talk."

"That sounds nice."

"It is nice." Lilly could hear a smile in Hanako's voice and smiled back.

"I'm glad you've found someone who makes you so happy," Lilly said honestly. She hoped Hanako could hear all the warmth and affection she had for her friend.

"h--thank you," Hanako said in a small voice. For a few steps, Lilly sensed Hanako’s hesitation as she seemed to grope for something else to say. In the end, she returned Lilly’s honesty with honesty of her own. “Th-that… means a lot… from you.”

Lilly was forced to take the compliment silently because Hanako kept going. “Th-the benches are… right in front of you, Lilly. About a half-meter away fr-from your left hand.”

Lilly thanked her friend, got her bearings, and sat down heavily. She was more out-of-breath than she'd realized. More exercise would probably do her as much good as it would Hisao.

A thought struck her and Lilly turned towards Hanako, who was unpacking the contents of her bag and laying them out on the table.

"I must admit I'm a little surprised Hisao didn't come with us," Lilly commented. Hanako sat down across from Lilly before answering.

"H-he had an… appointment today and besides, w-we haven't done anything t-together since you got back," she explained. "I'm… sorry about that."

"You've had good reason to be busy and I didn't give you much time to prepare for my return." Lilly waved off Hanako's apology. "Now, would you like some tea?"

"Yes please," Hanako said. To help Lilly find it, she gently tapped her fingernails on the thermos, then did the same for the teacups.

While Lilly poured, Hanako unwrapped several small curry buns and placed them on napkins. "Th-there's some… buns on the table, if you w-want them."

"They smell good. Where did you get them?" Lilly asked. She might have been away for weeks but she hadn't forgotten about Hanako's cooking.

"I've been… cooking a lot n-now that the dorms are… quiet." Lilly briefly wondered if she'd have the energy to make it back down the hill before Hanako continued. "T-these ones I g-got from the vending machine. Hisao ate a-all of the ones from the last… batch."

"They must have been good." That, or Hisao was a very good boyfriend, Lilly thought. "I might wait a bit before having any. What book did you bring for me?"

“S-something called Wuthering Heights. A... c-classmate recommended it to me. She’s in the… Literature Club so h-hopefully it’ll be good.” Hanako sounded apologetic, as though she didn’t think it would be worth reading.

“That’s a good choice,” Lilly said, hoping to put to bed Hanako’s worries. “I’ve heard it’s an excellent book and I’ve been meaning to read it myself.”

“O-oh.” Hanako seemed surprised, then slid something across the table. “I got y-you a copy in English, too…"

Lilly thanked Hanako and picked up the books. She ran her fingers across their covers, reading the title with a smile. It was a new setting but Lilly had missed reading with her friend.

"I think I'll read the Japanese edition," Lilly decided. She didn't want to fall too far behind Hanako.

"O-ok," Hanako said. After a sip of tea, she opened her book and Lilly did the same. Within minutes, they were both immersed in the story.

Time seemed to become irrelevant as Lilly left Yamaku’s hills for the marshes of Yorkshire. She had to ask Hanako what a moor was but after that, it was easy to imagine the unsteady wind that passed through the trees was actually rustling across swamp-grasses and bracken. Bird-song added to that impression.

The only sounds that didn’t fit into Bronte’s world were the wind-chimes someone had hung somewhere in the forest. They were an unsteady heartbeat, starting and stopping at the wind’s command. Lilly found their halting noise relaxing and to its tune, she and Hanako read steadily.

The whine of a distant bus labouring up towards Yamaku brought Lilly back to reality. It must be around eleven, and she realized she was hungry. Keeping one hand on the book so she could keep reading, Lilly reached for a sandwich. A few seconds later, she heard Hanako do the same

“I think we’ll be able to stay here until we run out of tea and snacks,” Lilly said, smiling slightly.

It took Hanako a few seconds to pull herself from the book and answer. “H-hopefully I br-brought… enough.”

The hours melted away in peaceful, contented silence as the women read. The sandwiches lasted them until the second bus had left and Lilly poured the remains of the tea into her cup as the third bus pulled up.

Shortly after that, Hanako made a dismayed sound. Lilly instinctively turned towards her friend then she heard the empty thermos set back onto the table.

“I’m sorry, Hanako! I just finished the tea,” Lilly said. She had to speak a little louder because the wind had picked up a little.

“It’s… ok,” Hanako replied. “W-we should probably head back in… soon anyways. It looks l-like it might rain a-after all.”

As soon as she said it, Lilly realized the wind had gotten chilly. She could smell rain on it, too. It was definitely time to go so Lilly asked if Hanako wanted help packing.

"N-no," she answered. "I'll… take care of it."

A couple of minutes later, Hanako had everything tidied up and ready to go. She took Lilly's arm and the two started walking.

"You haven't told me how you've been, Hanako," Lilly observed after a few minutes. It had been bugging her since before they started walking but she only brought it up now because she'd enjoyed her time reading.

Hanako nodded, almost inaudible in the wind, but said nothing at first. Then, when she realized Lilly was waiting for an answer, she spoke. "I've been… ok."

A three week absence, exams, a new boyfriend and that's all she's got? "How did you and Hisao do on exams?" Lilly asked.

To her ears, the question sounded plaintive and desperate, probably because it had always been hard to get stuff out of her friend.

"Mutou s-says I did… well on most of t-them." For a moment, it seemed like that was all she'd say, then Hanako kept going. "I d-didn’t think I would on the… science exam."

"Even with Hisao helping you?" Lilly thought she imagined a slight break in Hanako’s steady pace. Wind and shaking wind-chimes filled the silence until she decided she should try again. “Hanako?”

“He… was studying for h-his own exams.” Hanako said it through gritted teeth and Lilly immediately regretted further prompting her. She also couldn’t help wonder why the topic was so touchy.

“I’m glad to hear it,” Lilly replied mildly, then realized what she’d said. “Sorry, Hanako! I don’t mean I was glad he wasn’t helping you! Just that he was focusing on his own future for a change.”

“His… own future?” Hanako repeated. There was something in her voice that Lilly didn’t recognize, something slightly intimidating. It made Lilly feel like she was playing a game she didn’t know the rules to and that she’d already made a wrong move.

“Yes, his future,” Lilly said slowly, trying to think her way out of whatever she’d gotten herself into. “Hisao seemed to spend a lot of time thinking about his past instead of thinking of his future.”

“B-but you said ‘his own future,’” Hanako accused after a long pause. “You meant... th-that he was worrying a-about me and my future instead... of his.”

Lilly frowned, slightly disappointed her misdirection failed. She had a sinking feeling this conversation wasn’t going to go well. “Can you blame him for worrying?” she asked mildly. “You’d locked yourself in your room and you weren’t eating. Hisao didn’t know what to do.”

“I don’t n-need him... to worry about m-me,” Hanako muttered, barely audible over the sweeping wind. “Not unless I-I’m worrying about him too.”

“I know, and that’s what I told him,” Lilly said. She tried to sound soothing but Hanako stopped in her tracks and Lilly heard her companion’s head whip around and felt the slap of hair on her shoulder.

“You c-called him to talk about me?” Hanako sounded shocked and Lilly knew she’d made another misstep.

“No, no! He called me!” Lilly backpedaled furiously, uselessly: Hanako pulled her arm free from Lilly’s and took a few quick steps away.

“What did you tell him?” Hanako asked it quietly but Lilly heard the anger coursing through her voice. She recoiled from it, not understanding where it came from, then Hanako shouted the question at her. “What else did you tell him?!”

Lilly had to swallow hard a few times before she felt she could get words out of her dry mouth. “I-I told him that you were strong than he thought you were and that you’d get through this,” she said quietly.

“W-what else?” Hanako demanded. Her desperation and anger made Lilly want to sink into the ground. Somewhere, a mistake had been made and Lilly suspected it was her fault and that judgement was coming. It scared her.

"I also suggested that he think a little more about h-his future." Lilly's subdued admission was followed only by the wind-chimes' urgent warning.

Then, with a suddenness that made Lilly jump, Hanako swore. "Fuck!"

She started walking away, and snatches of what she said to herself floated back to where Lilly swayed in the rising wind.

"...h-her fault…"

"...know what… she's done…"

"Shit!" Hanako swore again and Lilly realized just how far her friend - were they still friends? - had gotten. She felt a stab of fear and wondered if she was about to be abandoned here, without her cane.

It scared Lilly almost as much as the thought of losing her friend did, but Hanako turned around and started walking back.

"Do you know what you did?!" She was sobbing now as she shouted at Lilly.

"N-no," Lilly answered. She had no idea. She couldn't even start to imagine what she'd done because her heart was breaking for her heart was breaking for her friend.

"Oh my god." Hanako was angry again, walking away again.

Lilly wanted to follow but was rooted to the spot. Raindrops pattered onto the asphalt and onto her face, mixing with her tears. "W-what did I do?" she asked. If this was her fault, she had to know, even if that meant bearing Hanako’s anger again.

But her friend didn’t stop walking, nor did she answer. Lilly stood for a few seconds in the rain that fell hot and hard, wondering if Hanako had heard her over the wind. “Hanako?”

“Exactly wh-what you always do: you tr-tried to fix us. You… tried to make us better. I-I don’t even know if you c-cared about us as you m-meddled in our lives," Hanako said. It didn’t make things any more clear but Lilly couldn't say anything she was so struck by Hanako's rancour and besides, Hanako kept going.

“You probably even th-thought you’d s-asucceeded when you found out Hisao a-and I were together,” she said with venom. “Except you didn’t. You- you almost broke us! We’re together in spite of you, not because of you!”

Hanako’s voice cracked with despair and frustration and a thousand other emotions. Lilly heard her turn away, then slowly turn back around. “I’m going to... walk you back d-down the hill,” she said in a low, thick tone that Lilly strained to hear. “I-I can’t leave you here.”

She didn't have to say what would happen after that; Lilly's aching heart already knew. "I'm-I'm sorry," she said uselessly as Hanako linked arms with her.

Her apology went unacknowledged, adding to the ball of hurt Lilly felt in her stomach. Hanako’s clear unease cut her too. She walked stiffly and as far away from Lilly as she could without breaking contact. There was no warmth in this trusting gesture anymore and Lilly wished she’d been left to find her own way down. It would be easier than putting up with Hanako’s dutiful yet hostile attitude.

Still, Lilly thought, swallowing her tears. I'm not giving up this easily. This is my last chance to show Hanako that I do care. Before she could do that though, Lilly had to calm herself down.

For several minutes, she tried but for once found she couldn’t relax, couldn’t centre herself. Every time Lilly got close, Hanako’s voice, alternatively despairing or raging, came to mind and in would come thoughts of the unknown consequences of her actions.

It took Lilly awhile to realize that her fear of those consequences should be where her pleas come from. She was dealing with a beloved friend, not a stranger. She should be emotionally involved. Lilly took a ragged breath.

“Hanako, I tried to help you because I care about you and I don't want anything bad to happen to you.” She spoke quietly, not caring anymore if she kept the emotion from her voice. “You know that, right?”

Lilly heard Hanako take a few deep breaths of her own. “Th-that’s what my th-therapist says… a-and th-that’s what I know b-but sometimes it… doesn’t feel true!” Hanako admitted sadly. She sounded like she had more to say and Lilly waited for her to keep going.

“A-all you ever do is... protect me and it’s a-all you’ve ever d-done. It's... like I'm not e-even a p-person! I'm j-just an object that can be thrown away when you're done with me. I hate it! I-” Her voice rose in speed and volume until Hanako cut herself off suddenly.

More rain fell as Lilly wondered what had gone unsaid. Then she thought about what was said and felt a terrible sadness building in her. “I can imagine. I-I can be overbearing and I shouldn’t have treated you the way I did and I’m sorry. I won’t do it again if you give me ano-another chance.”

Lilly had barely gotten the words out when she stopped and burst into tears again. These ones flowed freely and Lilly didn’t try to stop them. There was nothing else she could say, anyways. She just had to trust that Hanako believed her because the alternative was too much to bear, though it seemed close, terribly close.

Hanako had let Lilly’s arm go when she stopped and without that hostile contact, Lilly’s world shrank until it was filled by the deadening sound of falling rain and the pain of hurting someone she loved and the fear of being abandoned. She sank into the misery until Hanako’s arms, warm despite the rain, wrapped around her and pulled her free.

“I kn-know you’re sorry.” Hanako held Lilly close and whispered hoarsely into her ear. “I hate th-that I hate not... wanting your help. I shouldn’t... be like this, I shouldn’t... act like th-this when others... want to help me.”

She was crying too but her tears were bitter and angry and full of self-loathing. “No…” Lilly sobbed. She swallowed hard, trying to clear the lump from her throat. “I think- I think you were right to get upset. I don’t know how my actions hurt you and Hisao but I can hear in your voice that they hurt you badly.”

To Lilly’s surprise, Hanako snorted, then stepped away so she was facing her at arm’s length. “S-stop making... excuses for me,” she said in a surprisingly firm tone. “Getting upset shouldn't... involve screaming at p-people... who care about me.”

“I guess I'm doing it again, aren't I?” Lilly asked as lightly as she could. “It'll take some getting used to.”

Hanako moved to Lilly’s left and linked arms with her. Lilly had a moment to savour the sensation of knowing she was in good hands before they started walking again.

Her clothes were soaked through, as Hanako’s surely were, and water ran from her hair like it would from a faucet but Lilly felt as light as a feather. The terrible future she’d imagined for herself, a future without her friend, seemed far less real than it had minutes ago,.

“I'm sorry... for y-yelling at you. I probably sc-scared you,” Hanako said after a few minutes.

“No-” Lilly started, then thought better. “Yes, you did. I was worried I would lose you.”

“Were you?” Hanako’s surprise hurt, but not nearly as much as Lilly had hurt earlier.

“Of course,” Lilly said emphatically. “You said you felt like I might throw you away but I never would. I love you. You and Akira and Shizune are my family here in Japan.” She smiled at the thought. “Why do you think I came back?”

“O-on bad days, I th-thought it was because... you wanted to f-finish what you'd started with me…” Hanako admitted, causing Lilly to shake her head violently.

“I came back because I missed you,” Lilly assured her. She hesitated a moment, then made her own admission. “My parents… they wanted me to move to Scotland. Permanently.”

“Did they?”

“Yes. I thought seriously about it before I left, too,” Lilly confessed. “I spent a lot of time wishing I had my parents back, like things used to be before they moved.” She paused to think. “Then, when I got there, I realized how… different we were. They weren't used to me the way you and Akira are and I don't think they could get used to me. I still… wanted to stay though…”

Hanako nodded. “We all... want th-the past. We can't... make things the way th-they were th-though. We can only... make peace wi-with it and move forwards.”

“I'm discovering that,” Lilly said. “It's hard though, without people you can rely on.”

“Yes it is.” Lilly heard Hanako’s smile and smiled back. Despite the rain, she slowed down so she could enjoy walking with her friend a little longer. Things would be ok.

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Mirage_GSM
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Re: StilesLong's One-shots - From a quiet place

Post by Mirage_GSM » Wed Nov 06, 2019 12:12 pm

"I also suggested that he think a little more about h-his future."
To be honest that - just like Lilly - I have no idea why this should set off Hanako in that way.
It makes me think that in this continuity there must have been some events we don't know about...
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

My collected KS-Fan Fictions: Mirage's Myths
griffon8 wrote:Kosher, just because sex is your answer to everything doesn't mean that sex is the answer to everything.
Sore wa himitsu desu.

StilesLong
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Re: StilesLong's One-shots - From a quiet place

Post by StilesLong » Wed Nov 06, 2019 3:24 pm

Mirage_GSM wrote:
Wed Nov 06, 2019 12:12 pm
"I also suggested that he think a little more about h-his future."
To be honest that - just like Lilly - I have no idea why this should set off Hanako in that way.
It makes me think that in this continuity there must have been some events we don't know about...
My thought process was that as someone who's mistrustful, Hanako would be very wary of people - especially Lilly - interfering in her life. Unless I'm mistaken, the h-scene in Hanako's good ending comes about largely because Hisao is prompted by Lilly to think about his future. He takes that to mean he should focus on his exams, which leads Hanako to believe he's not interested, which leads to a lot of awkwardness.

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Mirage_GSM
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Re: StilesLong's One-shots - From a quiet place

Post by Mirage_GSM » Wed Nov 13, 2019 10:16 am

Okay, a bit far-fetched but it makes sense for Hanako to think that way, and it's certainly nothing Lilly could think of.
It is however a bit unfair to blame Lilly for that. The advice "think about your future" is not something I would call "interfering with [her] life"... :lol:
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

My collected KS-Fan Fictions: Mirage's Myths
griffon8 wrote:Kosher, just because sex is your answer to everything doesn't mean that sex is the answer to everything.
Sore wa himitsu desu.

StilesLong
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Re: StilesLong's One-shots - SX The Secret Santa

Post by StilesLong » Tue Dec 31, 2019 6:10 pm

The Secret Santa

SX submission for sgtpepper.

Shizune, Misha, and Hisao go Christmas shopping. Misha wants Hisao to help her find something for Shizune, Shizune wants Hisao to help her find something for Misha, and Hisao doesn't want either of them to know he's helping the other. Hilarity ensues.


I take one last longing look at my bed before I close and lock the door. Apparently, I’m not moving fast enough.

“Let’s go, Hicchan~!”

I worry for a second that Misha is going to wake Kenji, but decide Shizune’s knock probably already did that. Poor guy. I hope he wasn’t hoping to sleep in today, like me.

“I’m coming, sheesh. Besides, why are we in a hurry? It’s still really early.”

Misha laughs at that, but with Shizune, my protest falls on deaf ears, literally and figuratively. She starts signing, fast and furious, with Misha translating unnecessarily.

“Because we don’t want to miss out on all the good deals, of course! Because we don’t know how long it’ll take to get everything! And, most importantly, because you shouldn’t be sleeping your Sundays away! Aww, but Shicchan, I would have liked to sleep in too~”

[I know. That’s another reason we’re leaving so early.]

She pushes up the sleeve of her winter coat to check her watch. She frowned at it before chopping the air decisively.

[We need to go. The bus will be here soon.]

Shizune grabs my hand and practically drags me down the hall, she’s walking so quickly. Misha follows, snowpants rustling each step.

By the time we get outside, I’m feeling a little out of breath and when Shizune lets go of my hand to zip up her coat, it takes me a moment to realize she’s slipped a note into it.

She catches my eye, and zips up her coat with a smooth motion that ends with her finger pausing on her lips for a moment. She smiles conspiratorially and I nod to tell her I’ve received the message.

Shizune strikes up a conversation with Misha about something inane, which I recognize as my cue to unfold the note.

Can you help me pick out a present for Misha today? I won’t get much time to look for anything.

Briefly, I wonder how I’m supposed to do that and why she won’t have time to go looking herself. Still, knowing Shizune, she wouldn’t ask if she didn’t need the help and there’ll probably be opportunities throughout the day.

I get Shizune's attention and sign an affirmative as we get to the stop. She smiles back at me, then turns back to Misha, who doesn’t appear to have noticed.

[When is the bus coming, by the way?]

I sign when a break in their conversation comes up a minute later. Shizune glances at her watch, then slowly signs an answer.

“I don’t know~! You don’t know? Why don’t you know?”

Misha looks shocked as she translates both Shizune's response and signs her own question. I can only imagine how hard it must have been for me to follow what was being said when I first met these two.

Shizune fidgets adorably before answering.

[My watch may have stopped again.]

She admits, then regains some of her fire and goes on the attack.

[You two were slow! I’d budgeted extra time for you but apparently not enough!]

[How long do we have to wait here?]

Misha asks slowly, looking at her ungloved hands sadly.

Shizune again consults her watch before launching into an explanation. Apparently it stopped at around 9:40, when they first got to my room, and she didn’t know how long they spent waiting for me – a withering glance – but the buses came every thirty minutes on the 45s and 15s so it could be as long as…

“Thirty minu- thirty minutes?”

Misha looks positively crestfallen at the missed sleep.

[Or five minutes.]

Shizune tries to reassure her friend but Misha takes no notice.

[At least we’ll have lots of time to get our shopping done!]

I laugh at my own joke, then we settle in to wait.

+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+

We must have missed the 9:45 bus because it takes a long time for this one to arrive. In the end, it does and we pile on, kicking dirty snow from our boots. The bus is completely empty and we move to the back, making ourselves comfortable on what will be a long ride.

Misha plops herself down, unzips her coat, and then tucks her hands into her armpits.

“Aaaaah! I wish I hadn’t lost my gloves~!”

I translate for Shizune, whose face registers no sympathy for her friend

[I told you to put them in your pocket! You’ll have to buy yourself a pair today! And you don’t need to translate what Misha's saying, Hisao. I can read her lips.]

“I know, Shicchan~! I will, but my fingers feel like popsicles!”

To emphasise her point, she pulls her hands out and waves them at Shizune too fast for her to see anything. When Shizune starts to look annoyed, Misha stops and cups her hands in front of her mouth, ostensibly to warm them.

“Sign ‘how are your extra studies going?’ but don’t translate anything else, ok?”

Misha's eyes, peeking out from behind the obscuring shield of her hands, look serious. I do as she says, feeling more than a little guilty. Selective translation feels wrong, like I’m leaving Shizune out. I guess that’s the idea though, and I’m more than a little curious about what Misha wants from me. I’m also worried about how I’m going to hide my lips from Shizune. Misha seems to sense my hesitation, however.

“Don’t worry, Hicchan~! She can’t read your lips as well as she can read mine~ She and I practice sometimes~~ Just turn a bit away from Shicchan and sign ‘Mutou-san says I’m doing much better but they’re soooo tiring~!’”

I translate Misha’s message, then add one of my own offering to help her too. I hope Shizune doesn’t notice how slow I am as I try to keep what my hands are saying separate from my question for Misha.

“What’s with all this cloak and dagger stuff?”

“Wahaha~! I like that, Hicchan! Cloak and dagger! I just wanted to know if you’d help me pick a gift for Shicchan~ I don’t want her to know I need help but I’ve been soooo busy with school.”

I can’t see her mouth but I can tell she’s frowning from her eyes and without thinking, I nod. Misha’s eyes light up with relief, and I feel good about my decision until there’s a loud snap that makes us both jump.

We turn to face Shizune, who’s glaring at me with her arms crossed. It takes me a moment to realize why, then I start signing frantically.

[You didn’t miss anything. Misha just asked if I meant it and I said of course, we’re student council members.]

Shizune is still staring at me and I think I can see suspicion in her eyes but then she smiles.

[That’s right! We’re a team and we need to look out for each other!]

She signs grandly, beaming at Misha and I. If only she knew just how I was looking out for the two of them…

Misha's picked up the conversation which allows me to check out mentally as it starts to dawn on me just what I’ve gotten myself into.

I can’t imagine I’ll get much time alone with either Shizune or Misha today. That means I’ll have to take advantage of Shizune’s deafness while also sneaking notes to her behind Misha’s back if I want to help them out. Hopefully the ends will justify the means because I’m already uneasy about the questionable ethics. I also have my own shopping to do for Misha and Shizune, so this looks like it’ll be a fun day.

By the time we get to the city, the bus is starting to get full so it’s a relief when it finally pulls up to the mall. The feeling is short-lived because everyone disembarks and files into the mall, which is just as packed as the bus was.

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“Wahaha! I guess everyone else had the same idea~!”

Misha tries to laugh but it dies in her throat as she looks with wide eyes at the crowds. She raises and lowers her hands a few times, each time signing a few words like she’s trying to translate everything that’s happening around us.

Before I can ask if she’s ok, Shizune starts pushing her way through the teeming mass of people, forcing Misha and I to follow.

She leads us to a map of the mall not far from where we came in and whirls around. My impression of Shizune, the commanding officer about to address her troops, is strengthened when she starts to sign.

[If we get separated, we’ll meet here. We should catch the 5:45 bus back to Yamaku so we’re back in time for dinner, though the buses run until 11:15 tonight.]

“Shicchan, you don’t think it’ll take us that long to do our Christmas shopping, do you? You know crowds tire me out!”

Misha interrupts, looking slightly panicked at the prospect of being here that long. While Shizune fixes her with a dangerous stare, I wonder if this isn’t why Shizune won’t get a chance to go off on her own.

[Of course I know! I’m just trying to tell you that we have lots of time if we need it!]

[Where do we want to go first?]

I jump in quickly, hoping to head off any further argument. The girls look at each other, then we all hunch over the map.

I see a few places that might have what I want to get for Shizune and Misha but I don’t get a chance to suggest them.

The girls exchange a quick burst of sign, too quick for me to follow, and Misha turns to me, chest puffed up with pride.

“MujiQlo!”

“MujiQlo?”

“Yep!”

Misha is still looking proud, and it takes her a moment to realize Shizune is signing an explanation.

“It's ~the hottest new clothing store! It has all kinds of awesome stuff! Have you seen their MujiYawa yet~?”

I’m about to answer when I realize Misha is asking Shizune, not me. They start talking about MujiYawa - which I think are stuffed animals - as they set off towards the store. The decision, it seems, has already been made.

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MujiQlo is as packed as the rest of the mall but Misha doesn’t seem to mind as she and Shizune explore aisles of brightly coloured clothes, toys, and small household appliances.

I trail behind them at a distance, feeling distinctly out of place in a store clearly meant for a different demographic. Even the watches are colourful and girly. Still, there’s plenty here that might make good gifts for me to give.

In one display, there’s a bunch of plush… things. It looks like someone hybridized two different animals to form a single stuffed toy. When I check the tag, these turn out to be the MujiYawa Misha was talking about.

With one eye on the girls, I carefully dig through the display, tossing aside soft dog-rats, monkey-dragons, and a cat-snake before I find one I like.

It’s pink and purple, with the woolen body of a sheep and the head of a lion. Loud, yet soft, just like Misha. Perfect. I pull the MujiYawa from the pile and stuff it into a plain brown plastic bag I’d brought for just this purpose.

“Hicchan~!”

Misha's voice makes me jump and I head over to where she and Shizune are waiting in line for the fitting rooms. Shizune passes some of her stuff off to Misha to free up her hands.

[We thought we’d lost you already.]

I shake my head and answer that I was just looking at some stuff. Shizune nods, then changes the subject.

[What's in the bag?]

I can see Misha eyeing it curiously too. I probably should have seen this coming…

With both Shizune and Misha staring at him and the bag, I have to think quickly. I strike a pose, the effect slightly ruined when I have to sign my message.

[I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you.]

I make the gestures big and bold, drawing a laugh from the girls. I mutter a silent thanks to Kenji, who’d told me just the same thing yesterday when I caught him sneaking around. Thankfully, both seem to forget about the bag, though I get the feeling Shizune isn’t done trying.

In the meantime, she takes her stuff back then sidles up to me, grabbing for my hand. I feel the scratch of paper against my palm, then Misha demands my attention.

“Hicchan!”

She holds up a sweater like she wants me to look at it, but it’s much too small for her and she’s covering her mouth with it. I already know the answer to what she’s about to ask.

“Do you think Shicchan will like it?”

I slide the note into my pocket and slide my bag up my wrist so I can translate her question as “what do you think?” Shizune puts some of her own clothes down too.

[I think you’d feel more comfortable in a larger size.]

She’s unwilling to meet Misha's eye but Misha, for her part, doesn’t look offended.

“Tell Shicchan it was the only one like it left on the rack, and you still haven’t told me what you think~!”

I use the time I need to “translate” for Shizune to work out how I want to tell Misha the truth because the sweater is truly ugly.

It’s almost blinding, with a pattern that hurts the eyes to look at for too long. Shizune would not like it, and nor would anyone else. Leaving out that last part, I tell Misha as much, then sign an agreement with Shizune’s assessment of its size.

“Thanks, Hicchan! I appreciate your honesty~”

She lowers the sweater and I breathe a sigh of relief. Shizune might have accused me of not caring about her if I’d let Misha get it for her. Misha probably could have sued me for neglecting my duty to help her pick a good gift. That was almost ugly, like the sweater.

As we get closer to the front of the line, I shift Shizune’s note to my other hand, the one out of Misha’s line of sight, and unfold it.

Did you see anything I could get Misha? I’m going to hang around here for her in case she’s done quickly.

I nudge Shizune and give her a nod, hiding my own doubts.

There were plenty of nice clothes, but judging from the pile of stuff Misha is carrying into the changing room, she won’t need anything else for a while. I also don’t want to suggest a MujiYawa like I’ve picked for her. This could be tough, but walking in, I’d seen some little plastic cutesy baubles. I wonder…

[I’ll be right back. I’m going to go buy this now so you two don’t peek later.]

“Aww, I wouldn’t do that, Hicchan~”

[You wouldn’t peek, but Shizune might.]

With that quip, I give Shizune’s hand a squeeze, pressing the note back into it before I turn and leave. Hopefully she’ll understand.

I make my way to the front of the store and join another long line. It snakes through several baskets full of the sorts of trinkets I can imagine Misha enjoying.

There are little pens with ducks on the end, cute erasers shaped like airplanes, stickers with cartoon-ish versions of the planets, headphones with designs on them, and rainbow-coloured gloves but there’s nothing big enough to count as a gift by itself.

Still, I jot a few things down on a piece of paper Shizune clearly tore from one of her school notebooks. By the time I get to the front, I’ve got a decent list. Hopefully she’ll like something from it.

By the time I get back to the girls, Misha’s in the change room. Shizune is hanging around outside, and she sets her bundle of clothes down on a nearby bench.

[Did you find anything good?]

[It’s all up by the registers, so I’m not sure how you’d buy any of it without Misha noticing.]

I tell her as she reads the list. Shizune shoots me a look, as though to say she’d make it happen if she wanted to. Which, apparently, she doesn’t want to.

[I don't know if I will. I was hoping to get her a single, nice gift.]

I resist the urge to roll my eyes as she hands the list back to me.

[When were you going to tell me that?]

[You never asked and I just did.]

I shake my head and smile.

[You’re too much sometimes.]

Shizune has plenty she wants to say but I just pull her into a hug before she can sign anything else. She doesn’t resist at all and I hold her tight for a moment before releasing her, though I don’t take my hands off her waist.

The warmth of her soft body matches the warmth in her eyes. Times like these are the only ones I wish she weren’t deaf because I can’t say anything to her without letting go and I don’t want to.

“I love you, Shizune.”

If she doesn’t know what I’ve said from the careful, slow movements of my lips, I’m sure she’ll be able to read it on my face. All I can feel for her right now is affection and that must show; I know it does for her.

The moment stretches out for several seconds, then I can see a store worker hovering nervously nearby. Shizune must have noticed the flicker of my eyes because she pulls away. I move to translate but she disdains me, instead pulling another scrap of paper from her pocket.

There’s a brief exchange of notes, then Shizune disappears into a changeroom. Moments later, Misha emerges. She looks around nervously, then spots me. She rushes over, talking even before she arrives.

“I’ve been thinking, Hicchan~ I don’t know if I want to get her clothes, after all.”

“That’s probably a good idea. She has a lot of stuff in her closet she never touches.”

“Wahaha~ And here she is, buying more~!”

“What do you want to get her?”

I’ve learned from my experience with Shizune. Misha laughs nervously though, which doesn’t fill me with confidence.

“Haha~ I’m not sure, Hicchan~ I think I’ll know it when I see it!”

Great.

“How about you? Do you need help picking stuff~?”

“I think I’ll manage, thanks.”

After her sweater choice for Shizune, I’m not sure if I’d trust Misha to help. Besides, I can’t say I’ve got a better idea of what to get her than Misha does. This is the first time I’ve bought a girlfriend a present and it’s a little intimidating.

I get Misha talking again, hoping she’ll settle on something. I’m also hoping she’ll give me inspiration for my own gift for Shizune but I come up blank on both fronts, though I do give her the list I’d made for Shizune.

“Thanks, Hicchan~ There’s some stuff here she’d really~ like!”

I think about telling her to go get some of it, but Misha wouldn’t like the crowd and so we keep waiting for Shizune.

Twice, she comes out to ask our opinion on something. Both times, Misha tells her she looks great. Only one of those times is she right to say so.

Finally, as the line behind us is starting to get intimidatingly long, Shizune wraps up. She’s got an armload of clothes which she hands to the fitting room attendant. Misha's already given hers to the woman so we leave for the cash registers

Despite her proclamation at the fitting room, Misha doesn't get anything from the bins full of baubles while we're waiting in line. She doesn't ask me either, so I can only assume that she's changed her mind. Whatever.

After the girls have paid, the kid at the cash looks at me expectantly.

“Are you buying that?”

“I’ve already paid for it. I’ve got the receipt here.”

I pull it free and he takes a look at it, then licks his lips nervously.

“I’m uh, sorry sir. I’m going to have to check in your bag.”

Shizune and Misha are both watching me with undisguised glee. Shizune pushes up her glasses, adjusts her bags, then starts to sign very primly.

[If it’s not for either one of us, what’s the problem with showing the cashier while we’re here?]

I can see a way out of this situation, but I’m not happy about it. Shizune has seen it too, which is no doubt why she looks so smug.

[Why don’t you two go ahead? I can catch up when I’m done.]

I tell Shizune, whose smile only widens. I feel like I’m playing the final moves of a chess game when I know mate is coming.

[I think Misha and I will want something from you if you’re going to deny us our curiosity.]

[That’s only fair. What if I carry your heaviest bags until lunch?]

Shizune’s response is instant, and the cashier, who’s been following the action like a fan at a tennis game, gasps even though he can’t understand what’s being said.

[All of them. For the rest of the day.]

I had known she’d ask for that, but maybe checkmate isn’t inevitable…

I turn away from Shizune, “coughing”.

“Misha, I won’t be able to help you if I’m carrying all of your bags.”

Her eyes widen and, just as I’d hoped, she turns to Shizune and joins the conversation, pleading with her to recant. It’s my turn to smile now. Sometimes, the pieces move unexpectedly.

I let Shizune struggle with Misha for a few seconds, then step get their attention.

[I’ll carry your heaviest bags until lunch. Final offer.]

Reluctantly, like a woman whose victory has been snatched from her, Shizune nods. Per the agreement, the girls leave me their bags and leave.

“What just happened?”

The cashier, who I’d almost forgotten about, seems stunned. I laugh and swing my bag up onto the counter.

“Just your average day.”

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By the time lunchtime rolls around, I still haven’t bought anything for Shizune. I wasn’t sure I wanted to, either. She must have felt cheated because she insisted that we go to a bookstore next, where she loaded up on heavy things for me to carry.

My appeals to logic had proven useless - she hadn’t cared that she’d have to carry the books later, after lunch, nor was she receptive to going shortly before we leave the mall later.

[Isn’t the Nurse always telling you to get more exercise?]

[I don’t think this is quite what he meant.]

Shizune had just smiled, then she’d turned to breeze into the bookstore, almost knocking over a display of portable whiteboards on her way.

We’d made one more stop -a shoe store - before coming to the food court. The girls have gone to get food while I guard our table and even as I’m massaging my aching arms, I have to admit that the morning was productive.

Before leaving MujiQlo, I’d grabbed some more little trinkety stuff for Misha’s gift, which I feel is ready. I’d also noticed that Shizune was staring at a pair of earrings on display in a little jewelry kiosk we’d passed on the way to the food court. All I have to do is get away from the girls long enough to buy it for her...

Despite my own success, I hadn’t found anything for Shizune or Misha to get each other - or at least anything they wanted to get each other. It wasn’t for lack of trying, however, and we still have lots of time.

When Misha and Shizune arrive with lunch, I do my best to get them talking. At first it's like trying to start a fire with wet kindling but eventually, I get a conversation to catch.

While the girls chat, I wolf down my own lunch, then excuse myself to go to the bathroom, making a point of bringing my brown bag with me.
I walk calmly till I'm out of sight, then I start to hurry. I figure I've got about five minutes before they start to get suspicious.

When I get closer to the kiosk, I'm surprised to see the crowd's subsided. Maybe everyone's gone to get lunch? Then, I see a lone figure browsing and think maybe I know the real reason it's deserted.

I contemplate turning back for a moment, but I can't; I need to get Shizune a gift. Besides, as soon as the thought crosses my mind, the person at the kiosk turns and somehow picks me out of the crowd, raising a hand in greeting.

"Sup, Hisao?"

Kenji, who shouldn't be able to see a thing from this distance and yet here he is, defying his limitations in the most ridiculous way.

"Hey, Kenji. What are you doing here?"

I’m half-dreading the answer, but burning curiosity compels me to ask and Kenji looks… surprisingly sane today. Maybe it's because he's ditched the scarf...

"I'm practicing my stealth techniques, of course. Oh, and I'm getting a gift for my sister too."

Trust Kenji to have a weird answer - wait, sister?

"I didn't know you had a sister."

"I thought I'd told you about her! She's really cool, man. You'd like her.”

I want to ask him more questions but the image of Shizune and Misha, waiting at the table, pops into my mind.

“You’ll have to introduce me to her someday then, Kenji. Anyways, I’m actually here to pick up a gift too and I’m in a hurry so I’ll have to talk to you later.”

“Yeah, I’ll catch you later!”

I peel away from Kenji, leaving him to press his nose to the display cases. I go around the kiosk to where I’d seen Shizune’s earrings but where I get there, the case is empty and attendant is wrapping something.

“Excuse me, uh, Eiko? What happened to the earrings that were here?"

"Oh, the butterflies? The gentleman over there just bought them."

She's pointing at Kenji. Shit.

“Do you have any more?”

“No, I’m sorry. That was the last pair.”

Shit again. I guess I’ll have to get them from Kenji somehow.

I walk back to where my hallmate is standing, trying to come up with a way to broach the topic.

“Hey, uh, Kenji…”

He turns to me, concern written across his face.

"You ok, man? What did that feminist agent say to you? If they've got your parents, we'll get them back, I promise!"

I wave a hand to dispel the crazy.

"No, nothing like that. She was just-"

Kenji leans in close and lowers his voice conspiratorially.

"You can tell me the truth. I thought Eiko was trying to lead me on earlier and I guess I was right: she is a feminist agent. Don’t worry, Hisao, her threats will be nothing but empty air by the time we're through!"

His noise is attracting curious - and concerned - looks from passers-by. I hush him, then an idea comes to mind.

"Kenji, it's nothing like that. She's on our side."

"You mean…?"

Kenji's fixed me with eager eyes and I nod, confirming whatever he's thinking. Hopefully it's not too crazy.

"Yeah. She's one of my agents."

"Why didn't she give me the employee's disco- oh! She didn't want to give herself away! You're a smart guy, Hisao. I'm glad I took you under my wing."

Under his…? Whatever.

"So am I. Now, here's the thing: you know those earrings you bought? I need them f-"

"Why?"

Kenji interrupts, instantly suspicious. I guess his delusions don't extend to his wallet. Still, I’m committed now.

“I need them for an op. Eiko shouldn’t have sold them to just anyone, so now I’m worried that she’s been turned somehow or that you’ve been blown. What did you say to her?”

My own fake concern is mirrored on Kenji’s face and he stammers out an explanation.

“W-we talked about a whole bunch of stuff. I was here for a while. E-eiko’s really nice-”

I cut him off before Kenji launches into a full summary of his conversation.

“Did you say anything about the weather?”

“Yeah, it’s part of my stealth protocol, winter weather-”

“What exactly did you say?”

“I’m getting there, man! My memory is almost picture-perfect! I said that it’s a little more chilly than normal, and she said she’d hoped I’d bundled up, and I said that I had.”

I pretend to breathe a sigh of relief even as I’m counting off the minutes since I left the girls.

“That explains it. That was the pass-phrase. She must have thought you were here to make the pick-up for me.”

“Excuse me? Kenji?”

It’s the kiosk attendant, Eiko. How long was he here that she knows his name?

“Here are the earrings. I hope your sister likes them.”

She smiles at him warmly and her hand seems to linger on the gift longer than it needs to when she gives it to Kenji. What did he say to her before I got here?

“It looks great, thanks. Keep up the good work.”

Kenji snaps off a salute and Eiko blushes a little.

"Have a nice day!"

"You too, Eiko!"

Kenji and I walk away from the kiosk, making our way slowly to the cafeteria. I want to ask him about Eiko but Kenji has something else on his mind.

“What do you need the earrings for?”

"I ordered them custom-made for the deep-cover op I've been running on the Student Council President, Hakamichi."

He nods seriously.

"You're a brave man, you know that, Hisao? I don’t think I tell you that often enough. Here. I think you'll need these more than me."

Kenji hands me the bag, much to my surprise. I hadn't expected it to be this easy. Maybe I'm too used to Shizune but I have to ask...

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, brother. We men have got to stick together and besides, I still owe you money for stuff."

I’m surprised he still remembers.

"Thanks, Kenji. You just saved my life."

He claps me on the back.

"Not for the first time and not for the last."

I'm about to walk away when I think of something else.

"What about your sister? What will you get her?"

"Now that I know she's on our side, might go see if Eiko has any suggestions…"

Kenji is shy and nervous about it, and I realize he's seeking my approval. A vision of him, talking to Elko about something she knows nothing about, comes to mind.

"If you do, don't mention me, ok? I wouldn't bring up the war against feminism, either."

"Why not?"

"She knows better than to admit to being on our side to a complete stranger."

"But I knew the pass-phrase!"

"That's not good enough and you know it."

Kenji looks forlorn for a moment, then brightens up.

"You could introduce me! You're her handler, so she'll know she can trust me!"

"No dice. I have to maintain operational security."

"What else will I talk to her about?"

Kenji looks aghast. Another flash of inspiration comes to mind.

"Why don't you practice your stealth protocol some more? Both you and she could benefit from it and besides, it was going well for you before you knew she was one of us."

"You think so?"

"I know so. Now, get over there and remember, don't mention me, or feminism."

"Thanks, man."

"No problem, Kenji."

With that, I send him on his way, not bothering to tell him about the pamphlet for a feminist rally I’d seen behind the counter. I wish I could stay and watch the fireworks, but I see a flash of pink in the crowd. Misha.

I quickly take the earrings out of their bulky paper bag, which I stuff into a nearby garbage can. The earring box vanishes into the bottom of my bag, then I wave to the girls.

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The next few hours go by in a flash. We stop in at shoe stores, clothing stores, appliance stores, stationary stores, toy stores, and more, but nothing appeals to the Shizune or Misha, who grow increasingly frantic with each visit. We're whipping in and out of stores, with Shizune passing barely-hidden notes to me while Misha talks to me in plain sight, sometimes all at once.

Part of the way through the day, Shizune must have run out of note-paper because she starts using the backs of her receipts before giving up and switching to sign.

If I’d known how much of a hassle this would turn out to be, I would have said no. Shizune wants me to go scout out good stuff for Misha so she can get it for her. The only problem with Shizune's plan is Misha, who constantly wants my feedback and so tails me everywhere. I can’t even spend a moment with Shizune, can barely hold her hand.

"Hicchan, what do you think of this~?"

Is there anything Misha would like here?

“I found this~ but I don’t know what Shicchan would think of it.”

[I wanted to get her something nicer than that.]

Finally, as we’re coming out of yet another store with the girls hanging off of me and without any presents, I snap.

[Both of you go back to the food court. I’ll meet you there.]

“But why, Hicchan?”

[Why?]

Shizune and Misha look both confused and puzzled but I don’t answer the questions they're really asking. Not directly, at least.

[I've got some stuff to pick up for you.]

Realization dawns on two faces, one after the other, and they nod surreptitiously. I want to laugh because they're both so focused on being sneaky they don't notice what the other is doing.

[I’ll meet you at the map-board at 5:30. If I’m not back before it’s time to go, leave without me.]

With that, I turn and leave. Taking a glance at a TV in a storefront window, I notice that it’s well past four. That gives me about an hour or so to come up with something to buy for them.

It occurs to me briefly that if Shizune and Misha failed to find a good present for their best friend, I would too but I push the thought aside. Maybe I’ve spent too much time around Shizune, but I’m not going to fail.

I find a bench - out of sight from the food court, of course - and take a seat to think about it and to rest my tired arms and legs. If the girls couldn’t find anything they thought the other would like, maybe it’s time to start thinking about what they need.

As soon as I have that epiphany, I leap to my feet and race back to MujiQlo. If anything, it’s more packed now that it’s late in the day but I still manage to grab everything I want: headphones, gloves, and a watch.

“Can I get a separate bill for the watch, please, and can I get separate bags too?”

I shove everything into my brown bag, then get moving again. I have another stop to make, this one at the bookstore, where I pick up a mini-whiteboard and a pack of markers to go with it.

"No bag, thanks."

Once I'm out, I take a minute to organize everything. The watch, markers, and whiteboard go into one MujiQlo bag for Misha's gift for Shizune. The gloves and headphones stay in their bag - Shizune's gift for Misha - and I consolidate the MujiYawa with the pens and erasers I'd bought into single bag.

Done, Finally.

I’ll have to think of a way to transfer things to the girls later but for now, I have to get to the bus-stop; I’ve already missed the 5:30 rendezvous.

By the time I arrive, the bus is already loading, but I still manage to catch up to Shizune and Misha. The pink-haired girl notices me first.

“Hicchan~! You made it~ Woah! Are you ok?”

I nod, then take a few seconds to catch my breath and to steady my heart. Too much running… When I recover, Shizune is looking at me fiercely, though I can see concern mingled in there too.

[You shouldn’t be running in your condition. You could injure yourself.]

[I made it, didn’t I?]

I answer with shaking hands.

[Anyways, it’s time to hop on.]

It’s crowded on the bus and Shizune looks like she’s about to demand someone give up their seat for me. I manage to talk her out of it, grateful that I don’t have to explain to a complete stranger why I, a healthy-looking young man, need to sit.

We wind up standing near the middle of the bus, holding onto the straps on the ceiling with our bags at our feet. It effectively makes sign-language conversation impossible, but I can still talk to Misha as long as I’m careful to look away from Shizune so she doesn’t know I’m saying anything.

“I picked you up something for Shizune, Misha. Make sure Shizune can’t see you talking.”

She obeys, turning her head uncomfortably to look out the window at the grey buildings outside.

“Thank you, thank you, Hicchan~ What did you get~?”

“Just some things I thought she could use. They’re in the first MujiQlo bag in the bag at my feet. I’ll push it over to you so you can grab it while I distract Shizune. Just don’t look in the others, ok?”

“Don’t worry~ I won’t~”

Shizune is staring out the window of the bus too, though she turns quickly what I tap her on the shoulder. She looks tired, but visibly brightens when we make eye contact. Adjusting her hold on the straps, she starts finger-spelling.

[ARE YOU SURE YOURE OK?]

It takes me a moment to remember how to finger-spell, but I sign an answer to Shizune, who immediately starts giggling.

[YOU JUST TOLD ME YOU ARE FIVE.]

I shrug and smile at her, then reach out to touch her smiling face. Dimly, I’m aware that Misha’s pushing the bag back over to me, but that awareness seems less and less important with every second I stare at Shizune. We didn’t get much time together today or, for that matter, the past few days.

She must feel the same way because Shizune wraps an arm around me, then lays her head on my chest. The contact is nice, but the bus hits a bump and the bag at my feet shifts slightly. I tap Shizune’s back, then gently pull away from her.

I check to see what Misha is up to and find that she’s turned away from Shizune and I, presumably to give us as much privacy as we can have on a packed bus. Perfect.

[I PICKED SOME STUFF UP FOR YOU TO GIVE TO MISHA.]

I jerk my head downwards and Shizune’s eyes follow the motion. She frowns.

[WHICH ONE?]

Suddenly, I can’t remember what I did with the earring box. Did I put it into my bag loose, where Shizune might find it, or did I put it into the first MujiQlo bag, the one with Misha’s gift?

I shake my head emphatically. I can’t risk it now that there’s space in my bag.

[ILL GIVE IT TO YOU LATER.]

[DOES THAT MEAN YOU’RE COMING WITH ME TO MY ROOM? IVE MISSED YOU.]

She looks me straight in the eye as she makes that confession and I nod. I’ve missed her touch as much as she’s missed mine, I realize. Exams seasons aren’t good for relationships.

“Whaaaa~ How can the elevators be out in a school like this?”

Neither Misha nor I have the hands to translate - they’re full of bags - but it’s pretty obvious what she’s saying. Shizune, for her part, doesn’t seem fazed at all by the handwritten sign that’s been taped to the elevator door.

I can’t say I’m too thrilled that the elevator is broken, but I’m not surprised at this point. The day had been long and tiring and I’ve resigned myself to whatever else comes my way so when Shizune points to the stairs, I follow dumbly.

She wants to make a race of it but Misha and I watch her disappear up the stairs, then start climbing at a slower pace. Even at that pace, I’m out of breath by the time we get to the second story.

“Have I ever told you..., Hicchan, that I hate... stairs?”

I nod in mute agreement; right now, I’m hating them too. My heart feels like it’s going to hammer its way out of my chest and I place a hand on it, thumping myself in the stomach with bags I’d forgotten I was holding. My heart lurches and the world seems to twist a bit.

Shit.

“Did you say something... Hicchan, are you ok?”

Not really.

I thought I'd kept that thought to myself but Misha again answers, this time with startling austerity.

"No, you're not. Sit down, Hisao."

I obey, setting my bags down on the landing as I try to calm my heart. Did I take my meds this morning? Probably not, which explains this little episode. God, how scary is it that a missed dose can do this?

I put on a brave face for Misha, who’s dropped her tough-girl act and is now looking at me like she’s scared I’m going to die.

“I’m feeling a bit better now, M-misha. I guess today’s taken more out of me then I thought it had.”

Misha grins at me.

“Wahaha~ It was a busy day for you, Hicchan~ but you helped me out big-time and I really appreciate it.”

“It’s like Shizune said, right? We’ve got to look out for each other.”

“You’ve got that right~!”

After amother minute or two, I get to my feet and start gathering bags.

“Let’s get going before Shizune starts to worry.”

“OK~”

We wind up beating Shizune to Misha's room, somehow, and it isn't until we've unloaded Misha's bags that Shizune turns up, looking irritated.

She's got less bags than before, which leaves her hands free to sign at us with swift, cutting motions.

[Where did you two go? I just got back from my room because I thought you'd gone there first.]

Misha and I both start signing, though she stops and lets me explain.

[I had an episode coming up the stairs. Misha waited with me until I was better.]

Shizune's face goes from angry to guilty and concerned, then back to angry.

[You shouldn't have been rushing around so much earlier.]

If looks could kill, Shizune would be a bigger threat to my health than my heart ever was.

[You're right, but I had stuff to take care of. If we take the next flight more slowly, I should be fine.]

I'm right about that and we get up to Shizune's room without any further issues. We drop everything off, then Misha sighs.

"Aaaaaah~ I'm so tired~ Will I see you two later, for dinner?"

[Yes. We’ll see you at eight in the cafeteria?]

Misha nods and Shizune waves at her friend who sets off towards the stairs. Once Misha is gone, Shizune turns to me. There’s a look in her eye that immediately gets my attention.

[I’ve been waiting all day to get you to myself.]

She grabs my hand, pulling me gently back towards her door, but I resist.

Shizune frowns at me, lets my hand go.

[What is it?]

[I forgot to take my medication this morning.]

I admit hesitantly. Shizune’s frown deepens.

[Is that why you had your episode on the stairs?]

[Probably.]

[You should be more vigilant about taking care of yourself.]

I laugh at Shizune’s earnestness.

[I normally do, but someone was rushing me this morning.]

She puffs up indignantly, hands dropping to her hips before returning to slice the air with renewed vigor.

[You can’t blame this on-]

Shizune doesn’t get to finish what she’s saying because I hug her, pinning her arms to her sides.

She resists slightly, then relaxes in my grip. After a few seconds, Shizune twists free.

[You interrupted me.]

I wave dismissively.

[I don’t blame you. I was kidding. Now, let’s go get my medication so I can relax for this first time today.]

Hand-in-hand, we make our way back down the stairs before heading into the boys dorm. The coast is clear, so we duck into my room where I make Shizune wait outside while I down my piles and hide the bag of presents, minus the one she’s supposed to give to Misha.

I bring it with me to the door to show Shizune, but when I let her in, she isn’t interested.

[Show me later. I want to be close to you.]

With a shrug, I set the present down on the desk. I’m ok with this.

By the time I turn around, Shizune’s already ditched her coat, which she’s tossed unceremoniously on the floor. She’s about to take off her pants when she pauses.

[Can you grab me some pajamas?]

I pull a pair from my closet and toss them to her. Shizune changes quickly, then makes herself a nest out of my pillows and blankets while I watch, smiling.

[What are you smiling about?]

She asks. When I don’t answer, Shizune looks like she wants to press the point but doesn’t. I wait until she’s made herself comfortable, then tell her what I was smiling about.

[You’re beautiful.]

I’m rewarded with a blush that she tries to hide with a brazen attitude.

[I know. Are you going to join me?]

[Yes, but are you still going to want to meet Misha for dinner later? You look pretty comfortable.]

[I am comfortable, and I’d be more comfortable if you joined me. I’ve been waiting for this all day.]

She holds her arms out to me and I grab my other pair of pajamas. When my parents sent me with two sets, they probably didn’t expect the Student Council President would be wearing one of them.

Would they be proud of me, I think as I pull on my shirt. Probably. I can see my mom and Shizune getting along, once they get past the language ba-

Bang, bang, bang!

I jump, fumbling the buttons I was trying to do up. Quickly, I finish buttoning my shirt, then I catch Shizune’s signed interrogative as I’m about to answer the door.

[Someone knocked.]

[Who is it?]

Shizune looks surprised and annoyed.

[I don't know; I wasn't expecting anyone.]

[Go answer it.]

Whoever’s there knocks again, more insistently this time, but I can’t resist.

[I was going to, but you wanted to know what was happening.]

She scowls, then signs again for me to go answer the door.

I position myself to block Shizune from view, then crack open the door.

It’s Kenji, bouncing on his heels impatiently. His face looks flushed and his jacket is dusted with snow - he must have come straight here after getting back from the mall. Before I can ask him what’s up, Kenji starts talking in a voice that’s fast and tight.

“I need to talk to you. Can I come in? It’s about Eiko.”

No, you can’t come in but who’s Eiko? The girl from the jewelry kiosk?

“What about her?”

Instead of letting him in, I slip out into the hall, closing the door behind me. Kenji is so excited he doesn’t notice. For a moment, I think he’s too excited to speak, but then he blurts out his news.

“She and I are going on a date!”

I stare at him for longer than is polite before I remember that Kenji is waiting for an answer. Even when I do, I’m so surprised, all I can do is repeat the only words I understood.

“A date?”

“Yeah, man! Next week, Wednesday. We’re going to get dinner and see a movie or something like that.”

For the second time today, I get the feeling he’s seeking my approval so I give it, wholeheartedly.

“Congratulations, Kenji! You really must have made a good impression!”

“Of course I did! My stealth protocols are masterfully crafted. I just wanted to say thanks for you advice.”

What advice was that? Those moments by the jeweler’s kiosk seems like days ago now.

“I didn’t believe you at first but I guess you knew that part of her cover was as a feminist activist. She would have to turn me down if I’d brought up my own position!”

Right, I told him not to mention the war on feminism. I guess that turned out better than anyone could have expected.

Adding to my surprise, Kenji sticks out his hand and I shake it after a moment’s hesitation.

“We’ll name our first-born after you.”

Kenji declares without a hint of irony, then starts walking away. I want to call after him, but I decide to let him go. I’ve already done more than enough so I duck back into my room.

[Who was that?]

Shizune has pulled the blankets up to her chin so all I can see is her face. Normally, I’d be thinking about how cute she looks but all I can think about is what Kenji just told me.

[Just my hall-mate.]

[Kenji Setou?]

She wrinkles her nose and I stop thinking about how dating Eiko will change Kenji. I know she’s had run-ins with him in the past as part of her duties as the President of the Student Council.

[Yes. He just came by to tell me something.]

A moment after I finish signing, I realize I shouldn’t have told Shizune anything: curiosity is flaring in her eyes.

Before she can ask me about the conversation, I bend to her and kiss her. I feel a twinge of guilt that I’m distracting her like but it doesn’t last long; I was going to kiss Shizune whether Kenji came by or not.

When Shizune pushes me away, she seems to have forgotten about Kenji’s visit. She lifts the blankets up to let me under and I press myself against her body, soft and warm and inviting. Quietly, I curse Mutou, all the other teachers, and the entire education system in Japan for using exams as a wedge to keep me from Shizune.

Tap, tap, tap.

I sigh, then poke Shizune’s shoulder. The look on my face must have given it away because annoyance flashes across hers as she frees her hands.

[Again? If it’s Setou again, I’m going to give him a piece of my mind.]

[No you won’t, because that would be hard to explain. Stay there.]

Once more, I position myself to keep Shizune out of sight, then open the door. There’s nobody there, so I stick my head out into the hall.

At its end is Misha’s pink hair, bobbing away from me and I shout to get her attention, then step out of my room.

“Oh, there you are, Hicchan~ I’m sorry I interrupted your nap!”

She rushes back and in her hand is a MujiQlo bag. Misha gets close enough for me to smell her shampoo and whispers, even though we’re alone in the hall.

“I think I got the wrong present."

Misha opens the bag and she’s right: she’s got the headphones and the gloves.

Shit.

I can't tell her they're Shizune's gift for her for obvious reasons so I'll have to lie…

"Oh, that's awkward. Those are my presents for you."

Misha's mouth forms a perfect 'o' for a moment, then she gushes an apology.

“I’m sorry, Hicchan! I didn’t realize-”

I cut her off.

“It’s ok, Misha. Just act surprised on Christmas.”

“Wahaha~ I’ll try. I think it’s a great gift, by the way~ Why are there headphones?”

“For crowded places. You won’t be thinking about all the other stuff that’s being said.”

“Oh. You noticed?”

She seems a little crestfallen.

“It’s fine, Misha. You’re just trying to keep Shizune in the loop.”

“Yeah… It’s hard when everyone is talking all at once~! Thanks, Hicchan~!”

She hands the bag to me and we stand awkwardly in the hall for a few seconds.

“C-can I get the right present, quickly? Then I’ll leave you to your nap, I promise~”

“Oh, uh, yeah. Give me a sec.”

Back in my room, Shizune is giving me another inquisitive look that I’m struggling to answer.

[That was… Kenji again. He came back to say he might be going away before Christmas. This is his present for me.]

Shizune eyes the MujiQlo bag eagerly and I’ve made the same mistake twice. Shit.

[He says I can’t open it in the presence of females. Sorry.]

Shizune is unimpressed by my excuse but I ignore the look she’s giving me.

[I’m going to give him his present quickly.]

I grab the bag with the whiteboard and the watch, then I tuck the brown bag and “Kenji’s present” onto the top shelf in my closet, where Shizune can’t get it easily. I catch her eye and shrug.

[Can’t be too safe.]

I duck out of my room, grinning while Shizune signs uselessly at my back.

“Here you go.”

Misha, unsurprisingly, looks in the bag right away.

“This is really good too~ She’s been saying she should get herself a new watch and everything! You’re good at this, Hicchan~”

“Thanks. Anyways, I’ll see you at dinner.”

“See you then~”

Misha positively skips down the hall and I go back into my room to where Shizune is waiting impatiently. She’s less cute now that she’s scowling but I can’t help but smile when I see her.

[Is that it for unexpected visitors?]

[I think so. Do you want to see what I got you to give to Misha?]

It’s plain she doesn’t, but Shizune humours me regardless.

[Let’s see it.]

I fish down the MujiYawa and keep it hidden behind my back until I’m close enough to Shizune to hand it to her with a flourish.

She turns it over in her hands and from the delight on her face, I suspect I should have bought her one too.

[MUJIYAWA. She’ll like this.]

[It’s supposed to represent her.]

Shizune thinks about that for a second.

[Because it’s soft and pink?]

[And because there’s a lion’s head.]

Seeing her bemused expression, I add that it’s because they’re loud.

[That’s clever. I like it. Thank you for all your help. Come keep me warm.]

As I climb into bed, I can’t help but laugh. I really am a great secret Santa.

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sgtpepper
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Re: StilesLong's One-shots - From a quiet place

Post by sgtpepper » Tue Dec 31, 2019 8:00 pm

I feel bad for Kenji's sister, she probably ended up getting one of Kenji's pamplets on feminism or something for Christmas.

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