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AN: A quick little look at the Class VII bookworms from the perspective of an observer! Enjoy Hajimari for those of you that are following it, here's to hoping that it doesn't wreck my stuff too hard :P


"Hi again, Emma! I'm really sorry about the wait, we normally don't get crowds like this…!"

Emma simply giggled and shook her head, waving away a beleaguered Shanshan's apology as she carefully set down matching plates of freshly cooked Dragon Fried Rice and some utensils in front of the bespectacled pair. "Hehe, that's quite all right! If anything it gave the both of us a chance to catch up, everything's been so hectic lately it's been hard to find a quiet moment…"

"So to speak," the taller man added, pushing up his glasses and surveying the end of the mad rush. "It's not normally this busy, then?"

Shanshan laughed and shrugged, her lips turning upwards in a grin. "I only wish! Don't get me wrong, a packed house is always tough to deal with, but that just means more people to enjoy our food, doesn't it?"

"Always so positive," Emma teased warmly, gesturing toward the taller man. "Oh, Shanshan; you remember Machias, right? He was with myself, Rean and Alisa when we all stopped by before..."

"Of course! Pleased to meet you – er, properly, that is," she added hastily, glad that Emma had saved her the trouble of having to ask for a name.

"It's a pleasure to meet you as well," he said with a polite nod, reaching out to shake her hand. "Believe it or not, I've been looking forward to coming here quite a bit; Emma's spoken very highly about this establishment, you see."

"And it's all true, too," Emma added with a smile. "Excellent food, comfortable rooms, wonderful conversation – what more can a traveler really ask for? Besides black coffee instead of green tea with meals," she added with a mischievous note, and Shanshan looked confused when Machias rolled his eyes and heaved a sigh.

"Our own private cold war," he explained, shaking his head in mock annoyance. "It's best to ignore her when she starts talking about tea, Goddess only knows I try to."

"The key word is 'try', Machias."

"Hmph."

"So, did you all manage to finish everything you had to?" Shanshan asked, her expression thoughtful even as she tried to fight down a grin. "I remember everyone looked so serious and concerned about something…"

Machias nodded in affirmation. "Oh, no need to worry about that. We somehow managed to take care of everything in the time we had; the two of us even found time to grab dinner here after."

"Just like when we were at Thors," Emma agreed, sounding a little wistful as she remembered wonderful days gone by, spent with the best group of friends anyone could have asked for. "It's really a shame that Rean and Alisa couldn't join us, though…"

"I know," Machias murmured, quiet enough that Shanshan was fairly certain the words were meant only for the woman across from him. "I wish they could have stayed too."

"It is what it is, I suppose. At least we only have to wait a little bit longer, right?" she asked, looking at Machias intently.

"Right. Just a little longer, Emma," and the warmth in her smile was impossible to miss.

Shanshan giggled.

Emma blinked, turning towards the girl with a puzzled expression on her face. "I'm sorry, is something the matter...?"

She clapped her hands together with no small amount of delight, her eyes sparkling as she took the sight in. "No, it's just – has anyone ever told you two that you're really, really cute? Because you absolutely are," and her smile only widened when they actually dropped their utensils and blushed in unison.

"I – er – that's – she - you – "

"Hehe. Well, I can't say it's something we've heard before," Emma interrupted, gracefully halting the runaway train of words from Machias with a gentle pat of his hand, her fingertips brushing his knuckles, "but we certainly appreciate the compliment, at any rate."

Aha! Not a word of denial, so…

"No problem," Shanshan chirped, a dreamy note entering her voice as her inner romantic took charge. "I'm just surprised you didn't mention this sooner! I mean, you told me about all your friends from Thors when we talked that first night but you skipped out on one of them being your boyfriend? Really?" she said with a laugh.

Machias' hand, reaching out for the fallen spoon in front of him, stopped dead in its tracks.

"… Boyfriend, huh?" he muttered, sounding for all the world like he'd just found something that had been right in front of his face the whole time.

Shanshan tilted her head, confused. "I-Is something wrong?"

"Not in the slightest," he answered with a shake of his head, sounding more amused than anything else as he glanced at a still blushing Emma. "It's just… I've never really thought about it, but I suppose I am, aren't I?"

"You are," Emma confirmed, a musical giggle escaping her lips. "It has a nice ring to it, I think."

"Biased, aren't we?"

"Perhaps," she conceded, unable to stop smiling, and underneath the table an exasperated Celine rolled her eyes skyward, wondering if perhaps a nap wouldn't have been better after all.

"H-Hold on a second," Shanshan stammered, her head whipping back and forth comically fast. "Were you two really not – "

"We didn't take the time to formally define anything, no," Emma answered with a shrug that was almost apologetic. "Our school life was both very abbreviated and… er, hectic, you might say."

Machias sniffed, his brow wrinkling. "Hectic. That's certainly an adjective you can use."

"Hush," she playfully chided, tapping his wrist with her index finger.

"Wait, so does that mean everything came after you two left Thors?" the younger girl asked, clearly intrigued. "You never dated at school or anything?"

Their answers took Shanshan by surprise, to say the least.

"Well, sort of... "

"No, not really."

A split-second pause, before…

"What?!"

And for the second time in as many minutes, Shanshan found herself trying to force down a rather large grin. They had that stereo thing down to a science, they really did. How were even they doing that anyway, were they psychic or something?

"You thought we didn't?" Emma asked, looking decidedly indignant, their still steaming food forgotten for the moment.

"You thought we did? What exactly did we do that was remotely date-like before those last few weeks?" Machias countered, visibly taken aback.

"What exactly - you don't actually think all those study sessions and book discussions were just for the sake of academics, do you?" she said, sounding like she wasn't entirely sure if she should have been a little put out or very amused.

"Wait, you're counting those? If that's the case you might as well throw in all the times we walked around Trista before curfew or I asked you to play chess!"

("Oh, you've gotta be kidding me,"  Celine muttered, utterly astounded that someone who wasn't Rean could have somehow been just as dense. "And here I thought you were supposed to be smart..." )

Shanshan's eyes widened, clearly impressed. "I didn't know you played chess, Emma!"

"Generally I don't," she replied, her lips curling into an uncharacteristic smirk when Machias, bless his heart, finally managed to connect the dots, turning a rather interesting shade of red before he slouched into his seat and stared at his shoes. Apparently he'd decided that eye contact was the enemy right now. "And yet it's funny how often I ended up in the Chess Club room in spite of that. I wonder why that could have been?"

"M-Maybe you just wanted to expand your horizons a little?" he managed with as much dignity as he could, diligently adjusting his collar as if he just hadn't missed the forest for the trees. "Why do you think I stopped by the Literature Club room so often myself?"

Emma simply crossed her arms and leaned back, her eyebrow raised. "I, for one, always assumed it was the combination of Dorothee's stimulating imagination and her colorful writing. I mean, what other reason could you possibly have had?" she continued, false innocence dripping from every syllable.

Machias was silent as he weighed the pros (few) and cons (many) of denying that it was just to spend more time with her, along with belatedly realizing what that actually meant in retrospect; Shanshan, for her part, swore she could hear the faint sound of cackling coming from somewhere nearby in the dining room.

"… Goddess. We really were dating at Thors by the end, weren't we," he finally said, dropping his head in resignation.

"Yes," Emma answered patiently, her sapphire eyes dancing with mirth behind her half-rimmed lenses. "Yes, we were."

"And how bad was it that I somehow managed to miss this?"

"I wouldn't call it one of your finest moments, but in all fairness everyone has their blind spots. It's hardly worth concerning yourself with now, mind you."

Her teasing words were a small comfort at best, but he supposed it was better than nothing.

"I guess," Machias grumbled, picking up his discarded spoon. "I feel as though I could have done a better job of things had I been aware, though."

Her hand alighted on his, bidding him to go still.

"Don't be silly," she soothed, her voice soft and melodic. "I wouldn't change a single thing about our time at Thors, Machias. Not for the world," and Machias suddenly found the breath stolen from his lungs as a smiling Shanshan slunk off, deciding to give them some more alone time.

He didn't see her leave, utterly consumed as he was by the sensation of Emma's warm skin on his.

"I – "

"Not for the world," she repeated, playfully holding up a spoonful of rice to his mouth, a dazzling smile on her beautiful face. "Now, let's eat."

(The fried rice turned out to be absolutely delicious, and Machias couldn't help but wonder how long it would take for him to learn the recipe. It'd be a nice surprise for the next time they saw each other, if nothing else).