A/N: This story (more of a sketch really) was indirectly commissioned for a White Day story exhibition sponsored by the RAOSC (Role Play, Anime, Own Stories, Continued) Manga Forum here on FP. It was too long to share in-forum, so I'm placing it here.
Silver circles sigh
The young maiden waits
Kagome resisted raising her wrist to check her watch, it would only show the same slow passage of another 5 minutes that the last few times had. Where was Nao-kun? He had never been late before. Even the few times she had been unable to show up, he would have been there, sketching, or detailing the canvas.
Why, of all days did he choose today to be running late? Grandfather would be furious if she waited much longer. But...this was Nao-kun. Grandfather would just have to be angry.
In the distance the scream of wheels announced another train approaching disturbing the birds on their guard-rail perch. Above, petals from an early blooming sakura tree floated down, shaken off by a bird taking flight.
She tried to still her mind, to reacquire the habit of No Mind, as she had been taught, but she had never been very good at those sort of lessons, though she tried to hide it from her grandfather. Her thoughts on this day especially though, simply refused to rein themselves in, and she found herself worrying: worrying that he had changed his mind, that he had forgotten, that his mother had kept him home -this last worried her especially- he had been getting a lot of fevers recently. A whole year they had spent together while he painted..something. she scrunched her hands on the pleats of her red hakama, and tried to watch everywhere at once, and not at her watch.
Nao struggled to open his eyes, and look across the room at the silhouetted picture on the frame easel. He could hardly believe that that a full year had gone by since he had started on what he liked to think of as their mutual project of understanding. But that was over now, unless his courage held out.
One part at least, was finished. He had worked at such a pace the last month and a half, stealing moments here and there in between studies, scrimping for the proper colors (why did paint have to be so expensive!). He knew he lacked the talent of some of his peers, but that didn't matter in this case. All that mattered was Kagome's acceptance or rejection of the gift.
He glanced over the alarm clock, and jerked fully awake. That late! Kagome-chan would be waiting at their usual tree! He threw the covers off, and forced himself to get up. His mother chose that moment to enter with a washbasin and towel, clearly displaying her intentions.
"Oh...you're up? Good. Let me rinse you off, and then you can have something to eat, and we'll check your temperature again."
Nao did something then that he rarely ever did, he talked back to one of his parents. "I can't mom. I can't stay in today."
"Whatever for? You're running a fever, you know," his mom replied, sitting the basin on his nightstand and looking down on his rumpled pajamas and bedsheets.
"I have to go. I have something I must do, someone to whom I must give.." He insisted with anguish in his voice, looking across the room in an attempt to forestall her ministrations.
She followed his eyes to the panting on the easel and sighed. "Such unreasonable demands my son makes. You'll catch your death of cold if you go, but I can see that you won't cooperate if I forbid it. Off you go then." She picked up the washbasin and left his room, leaving the door open a crack. Once out of his mother's gaze, he leapt up and pulled off his pajamas, throwing on his seifuku as he hopped around the room.
Moments later he was out the door, and on his bicycle. He pedaled furiously to make up for lost time, the large package strapped to his back causing wind drag. Every so often the wind would push back the edge until it reached the end of it's short tether and come crashing back against the edge of his blue school jacket with a snap.
As he rode, Nao couldn't help but hope she was still waiting for him, even now. He still remembered his first glimpse of her, over a year ago, resting against a bicycle, clad in her sunset-stained shrine maiden whites and red bleeding into orange. To this day he didn't know how he had drummed up the courage to go up to her and ask for permission to use her as his model. Fever or no fever, he was not going to allow this day to pass without giving her the fruits of his year-long labor. That must have been what convinced his mother to let him out of the house, or so he told himself.
Why of all days, had his mother chosen today to keep him home just because of a slight fever? She never had the other 3 times this year. he didn't want to dwell on. She never had the other 3 times this year, and he suspected there was something else at play, but he had little time to waste on thoughts like that as he was coming to the hill, on top of which awaited his poised princess
Since last spring he had been coming here to this tree, practicing his drawing, he had said. It had to be this tree, because it bore a unique property of always blooming two weeks earlier than the other trees. School activities had run over on that day, causing her to be later in leaving for her duties. And as punishment, Grandfather had sent her on errands in her miko's hakama. It was on a return trip to the shrine that she had taken a brief rest by the tree, and been found. To this day she did not know what had given her the strength to say yes when he asked her to model for his painting. But once he had described his intention, she didn't have the heart to say no. Since then, they had spent a great deal of time together after school.
The jangle of squeaking wheels drew Kagome's attention, and looking downhill, she saw someone pedaling very fast on a bicycle, trying to reach the top. There seemed to be something behind his back, probably an easel, Kagome thought, forgetting about it. As he got closer, she could see the sheen of seat plastering his hair to his forehead, and the redness of his cheeks -fever, she deduced. And yet, Nao-kun seemed the more radiant in her eyes for it. It would take another 5 minutes for him to reach the plateau where she and the tree waited, she reasoned, each minute producing a smaller gain in ground reached due to the hill's incline. She was rooting for him all the way.
Finally, the tires of the bicycle stopped inches from her own, though the puffing and wheezing coming from Nao continued at a dangerous pace. "Nao-kun! Are you ok? You're breathing awfully heavily." Kagome immediately felt foolish for making that statement, but couldn't resist putting her hand into the folds of her hakama for a handkerchief which she used to dab at his forehead.
Unable to speak, for needing to catch his breath, Nao simply gestured with his head and shoulders. Only now did she see that the large package strapped to his back was rectangular.
"What are you doing with that?" she asked, surprised to see it, for she knew that Nao only had one full-size canvas that he had been working on, and she knew that he had kept it indoors for the last two months.
He looked a little embarrassed. "It is White Day after all, I couldn't let the day pass without seeing you, even with a fever, and to thank you properly for the chocolates you made for me. They were so delicious I didn't want to share them with anyone! I can tell you put a lot of yourself into them. As I said, I wanted to repay you for your effort, though it's been a year in the planning, which is the reason for this..."
He pushed the kick-stand down and dismounted from the bicycle, and turned around. And then, with a flourish he loosened the knot and the covering slides of the canvas, allowing the sun to gleam off the colors as it slipped to the ground.
To say the painting took her breath away would be to understate an understatement. Her hands involuntarily flew to her mouth in an unsuccessful attempt to stifle the gasp the painting summonded forth. Nao-kun grinned in response as he folded the brown cloth under his arms.
"But afterall, why would you give me this? I only gave you a bag of chocolate, afterall" she said when she could speak without fear of her voice breaking.
"You mean that bag of chocolate?"
She looked, and gasped again, for there, in the painting, nestled between the handlebars was the red-ribboned white bag of chocolate. She had tried to disguise the fact that she had been taking lessons at Chocolate Confessions, from the owner's son, by deliberately messing up half the batch, but she could see the curved strokes that made up the "C C" of Chocolate Confessions, and knew she had been outed.
Finding her voice she complained. "It's White Day, you're supposed to shower me with chocolates or gifts, not overwhelm me with something I don't deserve."
Nao waved off her protests. "Of course you're deserving of this, Kagome-chan. You posed for this moment for a full year after all."
"How can I be? I only posed for it. You were the artist to bring such a lovely painting to life," she said, shuffling her feet.
"Without you for my inspiration though, it would have never seen the first brush stroke."
She turned aside to hide her growing embarrassment. "But really, it's too much.."
Nao hung his head for a moment. "If you feel like you simply can't accept it, I understand. I don't want to make you uncomfortable."
Kagome breathed a small sigh of relief. "Thank you for understanding." Silence fell between them as another train came by, this time in the opposite direction.
After it had passed, Kagome braved another attempt at conversation. "So will you do it with it now? I hear that.."
Nao cut her off, not wanting to think about placing it in a gallery or a competition. "I'll probably paint over it, or throw it away. I didn't paint it for just anyone to see. I don't have that kind of talent, I have only enough for you."
Kagome drew back, horrified. "No! You mustn't! You can't throw it away!"
Nao-kun though was indifferent to her pleas.
"I only painted it for one reason, and if cannot fulfill that purpose, then there's no further need for it. It was just a practice piece, after-all."
She balled her fists. "If...if you are really sure it must be me, and that otherwise you will toss it, then I shall accept it. Arigato gozaimasu."
Nao looked relived. "Yokatta. I was really worried there for a minute."
A train roared by -probably the third one since they had been standing there together- momentarily eclipsing all other sounds. When the whooshing had died down and the electric sparks had ceased, Nao grasped the painting and made to turn it horizontal. "Now, there's just one thing to discuss from last time.."
Kagome nodded, dropping her head so she wouldn't have to look him in the eyes anymore, but couldn't help glancing at him from the corner of her eyes.
"About what I asked earlier...I apologize for my abruptness in asking such an inappropriate thing of you.."
He stopped her words with the simple expedient of raising a single finger to his lips.
"It was not inappropriate. I was just, caught off-guard and didn't have a proper answer. Now I do. Or rather," he pointed to the canvas, "I hadn't finished preparing my answer. I'd like to lay it at your feet, if you'll allow me." "Whaaa? No" she protested, as he bent down. "That's embarrassing."
"How so? You've already accepted it."
"You're impossible. We're impossible," Kagome lamented.
"What was it the Red Queen told Alice "Sometimes I've believe three impossible things before breakfast. So what's so impossible about this?" Nao asked.
"It was six and you know it." Kagome admonished. "But that doesn't change fact that...I never should have asked, and you have no business accepting."
"You're wrong on both counts though," Nao answered.
"We have exams coming up, we have no time for dilly-dallying."
"Just knowing you're there supporting me, is enough."
"But I've given you nothing to remember me by."
"Not so" he said pointing to the ribbon poking out of the third buttonhole from the top. "And besides, there are all those memories we made over the canvas-top."
"You're making this very difficult, you know"
"You're the one who asked me, and now you're backing out?"
"It's not that. I should go. Grandfather will be angry."
"About that, I called ahead, and implied you might struggle to arrive on time today, as you would probably be bringing something large and bulky with you."
She grew red in the face for a moment, imaging that conversation, but Nao's earnestness allayed her fears almost immediately, if not her embarrassment.
"I'm not very good at this," she protested.
"I'd be more worried if you were. Good at this, I mean." The two stared at each other for a moment, then broke out laughing.
"Thank you for hearing me out then and always, Nao-kun." She said finally.
"Thank you for trusting me with your words." Nao-kun replied just as formally. "Now, shoo shoo. The Weatherman said it wouldn't rain, but clouds have a nasty habit of popping up when you least expect them to."
"I'll help you put it up when we get there." he said with a "Of course you must. And continue to help me again." she said, answering the unspoken question that had lain between them.
He smiled again, sealing their agreement. Nao briefly wondered what his mother would make of his actions, especially in light of upcoming exams, but scratched that thought before too long, as he placed the canvas on the seat of his bicycle and joined Kagome next to her bike.
"Oh, if you're not in too much of a hurry, we could stop for some coffee along the way. I know this great coffee and chocolate shop that's in the same direction we're headed..." Nao offered.
Kagome stifled a gasp, and settled for a "I would like that, thank you."
The two walked their bicycles side by side along the sidewalk as another train overtook them and screamed past, the clicky-clack echoing the twinned-beating of their hearts.