Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Disclaimer: Last Game is the property of Amano Shinobu. All the amazing characters belong to them.
It had seemed like the perfect idea at the time he’d made the offer. ‘Why don’t you just stay with me?’ The words had fallen from his mouth so easily that he couldn’t have planned it any better. It was smooth. His kindness would be evident from his actions. He was someone she could depend on when needed, even in such an important situation such as this. Most importantly, it was an opportunity.
She’d accepted his offer, much to his surprise. Only now he had to figure out how best to use this opportunity he’d been given without completely blowing the whole thing and destroying everything he’d accomplished in the past decade. He knew from experience (a very hard and soul crushing experience that will likely leave him scarred for life) that pushing Kujou too much would send her running in an attempt to avoid him.
Inviting her to spend the night at his apartment where they could be alone, just the two of them, was definitely not pushing too hard. Using his imagination to pretend any number of the experiences he would have with her as the ideal scenario of everyday life where they lived together wasn’t playing with fire at all. He could be calm and professional about this. Playing the part of the helpful friend was easy for him—since she’d insisted on friend zoning him for the past decade. He wouldn’t have any trouble controlling himself while living out his wildest fantasies.
An old man comes to stand next to her in the metro car and Kujou moves a little to give him space. The only problem is, her body shifts against Naoto, closing the space between them completely as she moves closer to him instead. He drops his head as he slams his forehead into the metal pole he gripped with in response to her movement. ‘I’m delusional. There’s no other explanation for this stupid reasoning to offer in the first place. How can I possibly make it through a whole night after the day I’ve already had? It’s not possible. I’ll be lucky to get off the metro without doing something stupid.’
A chill went up his spine and something subconsciously called out to him to look down. He flinched, intuition dead on as the face staring back at him looked as if it desired to cut him while he slept. Hands gripping her shoulders firmly, Naoto takes a step back and shoves her away enough until they were at arm’s length. The train stops, reaching its current destination before Naoto does, causing him to lose his balance and tumble to the floor of the subway car.
There's the briefest moment of disappointment to cross the girl’s face before she’s on her knees and checking on him. There’s no way she could possibly realize he shoved himself away from her since she’s instantly invaded his personal space again. Apparently her strange behavior was going to continue until she finally crashed from exhaustion for the evening or he broke and acted selfishly. Whichever came first.
Naoto hated losing. Especially to Kujou.
“This is our stop,” he lied, crawling to his feet. Excuses rolled in through his head and he tried to grab one as quickly as possible. Hoping to delay things for a moment before he came up with one, he reached down to help her to feet, but she’d already stood back up before he’d had the opportunity. Maybe not everything was different about her today. “There’s a grocery store we need to stop at before we head to my place. I don’t have any food.”
The truth was, he had plenty of food but no knowledge on what could be put together with the ingredients he had on hand. He needed to focus on taking small steps to reach her and one of those steps was to learn to acquire the things he wanted with his own two hands. There were words she’d spoken years ago that had stuck out in his head from a very early age and caused a shift in his reality from that moment on. ‘That just shows the success of your father. That doesn’t mean that you are excellent.’ He’d recently gotten a job waiting tables at a café to pay for things on his own. It didn’t cover everything but he was still in school and the job was just a stepping stone to get him where he needed to go. The maid didn’t come every day anymore. Naoto had also taken it upon himself to prepare at least a couple of meals for himself each week in an effort to learn to cook.
Each of those baby steps were designed to get him closer to Kujou in some way or another. He wanted to show her the work he’d been doing, but he only knew how to make a couple of limited dishes that were extremely easy to prepare. She probably wouldn’t be very impressed but for some reason he still wanted her to see the changes he was making.
He understands he's in over his head the moment they step in the door of the grocery store. The entire atmosphere over Kujou changes the moment they enter the store. It's almost terrifying to see the way her gaze suddenly gets serious and her focus shifts from whatever she'd been concerned about moments before to now. "What sale are we after?"
Sale? What sale? Naoto didn't think he'd ever attended a sale before for anything specific. He's always been willing to pay full price for everything he’s ever bought. He had money and he could afford it so why haggle over the price? But from the look in her eyes Kujou appeared ready to go into battle. “I just needed to get some eggs. This isn’t supposed to be some fight.”
“You should come on Wednesday instead. Eggs are always discounted on Wednesdays.”
There’s no possible way he’d know that prior to this moment because he’s probably only stepped into a grocery store a dozen times total in his life before now. “I’ll remember that the next time.” Because he knew, there would be a next time.
“Is there anything else you need?”
“I’m not really sure. I should probably get some more vegetables.” He can’t help watching the way Kujou scans the area with an expert eye, as if she was developing a game plan. Naoto on the other hand had no idea where either the eggs or the vegetables were in this whole building. “Is there anything you want to pick up? You can keep it at my place until tomorrow if you want.”
“Chicken was supposed to be on sale today,” she says thoughtfully, putting her purse in the cart he’d grabbed when they’d entered. “It might not be too late to get some. I’d hate to miss that since we’re here. Why don’t you go get the vegetables you came for and I’ll grab the eggs since they are near the chicken.”
And just like that she was gone.
Naoto wasn’t quite sure what to do. He really didn’t know his way around a grocery store. Typically the maid picked up groceries for him; he didn’t have to do anything. Not even cook if he really didn’t want to spend his time doing that. Attempting to do that had been a recent endeavor and he still only tried from time to time.
He was just about to take the cart and go search for the vegetables when suddenly Kujou’s phone rang from within her purse. Naoto just stared at it in horror and fear. He’d already gathered his nerves and determination to have her over. He knew he shouldn’t do it but he couldn’t help looking in her purse to see who was calling. Fujimoto. If she knew that Fujimoto called she would likely change her plans from staying with him to go stay with her instead. For some reason, right now that seemed like the worst thing that could happen.
With every ring of the phone, Naoto felt a sense of dread building up in him as he looked around to see if Kujou would be returning to answer the ringing phone. After the fourth ring, without a sign of her returning, Naoto frantically flipped open the phone to speak with Fujimoto. Terrified of getting caught, he turned away from the aisle to stare at the shelves and pressed himself against them. “What?” he hissed into the receiver as quietly as he could manage.
“Ah—Y-Yanagi-kun? Why are you answering Miko-chan’s phone? She called—“
“Everything is fine,” he whispered. “I’ve taken care of it. She doesn’t need you.”
The silence on the other end is deafening and he almost immediately regrets the words. The regret only intensifies when she starts to speak again, amusement laced in her voice. “Taken care of what exactly?”
Looking around, he sees Kujou turn the corner and panics. “Nothing!” he screeches frantically slamming the phone closed and rushing back to the cart to shove it in Kujou’s purse before she caught him with it. Acting as if he hadn’t been doing anything, he leaned against the cart while he internally had a heart attack. He couldn’t breathe as he waited for the phone in her purse to ring again, this time with Kujou standing there preventing him from intercepting it.
She places a couple small packages of chicken and a carton of eggs in the cart and looks up at him with curious brown eyes. “I thought you were going to get some vegetables?”
The sound of a text notification interrupts them.
Before he can even admit to her that he has no idea where anything was located in the store, there is another. And then a third.
“Uh, I’m not sure what to get,” he replies, trying to ignore his phone, from which a fourth notification has just chimed.
“Shouldn’t you check that?” Kujou frowns, tilting her head as she looks at him curiously.
Definitely not. “It’s fine. I’m sure it’s not important.” He hasn’t even finished when the fifth notification goes off.
“Why don’t I go get the vegetables? What kind do you need?”
“Whatever you like in fried rice…” Since that was the only thing he knew for sure he might be able to pull off right now. That was the only dish he’d successfully managed to make and he still had trouble with it but at least it was edible. He chose that one to start with because even a ten year old could make it—but that ten year old had been Kujou so maybe there was something easier he could have tried instead.
She looks over her shoulder at him curiously when he gets a sixth notification as she walks away, but he doesn’t move an inch until she’s out of sight again. When he finally yanks his phone out of his pocket, he can’t help but feel a little grateful that Fujimoto chose to text him instead of calling Kujou’s phone back. Leaning against the shelf behind him, Naoto checks the messages that came in from their friend.
- -Did you just hang up on me?
- -What do you mean it’s taken care of?
- -Exactly what are you taking care of?
- -…do I need to call her and find out what stupid thing you did?
- -Yanaaaaaagi. Answer me.
- -And I even dressed her up all nicely for you. This is how I’m repaid?
His entire body stiffens in memory to the last comment, reminded of all the traps Fujimoto set up on their outing to tease him. Damn her and her sadist nature. This was hard enough for him without her messing with his head. Desperately his fingers fly over the screen of his smartphone as he texts her back.
- -She locked herself out and Miwa won’t be back until morning. I’ve got it taken care of.
- -That skirt was criminal. I’m not thanking you.
Kujou returned as he waited to see if Fujimoto would respond, putting the veggies she’d selected in the cart with the rest of the groceries. “Is there anything else you can think that we could use?” he asks, just as the notification alert goes off. He checks it as Kujou shakes her head in the negative.
- -Don’t take her to a love hotel.
- -She looked cute. I hope you didn’t insult it.
His entire face blooms into a fiery red blush as he contemplates murder. Seriously, who did she think he was? Attention on the phone as he responds, he falls behind Kujou a step as they make their way to the register to pay for their groceries.
- -MY DAD OWNS A CHAIN OF HIGH END HOTELS! WHY WOULD I? We’re staying at my apartment.
- -I’m glad you find this all amusing. The short skirts, pretending she doesn’t eat, letting me pay for things. I about had a heart attack when she said she wanted to go someplace to be alone.
Kujou’s pulling money out of her purse to put towards the food she’d grabbed for herself. He knows better than to insist on paying for it all so he just pulls his portion out of his wallet and hands it to the cashier.
Fujimoto’s response comes as he’s putting his change away. He takes a moment to put his wallet back in his pocket before checking it.
- - ?? I just did her hair and helped pick out an outfit to wear. I don’t know anything about the rest of that.
Naoto stared at the screen in shock for a moment before looking up at the girl patiently waiting for him to take one of the bags of their groceries. The sound of his phone clattering to the ground echoing like a shotgun around them after it slipped through his fingers.
Chapter 2: Chapter Two
Disclaimer: Last Game is the property of Amano Shinobu. All the amazing characters belong to them.
'Focus on what's right in front of you.' Mikoto inhaled, going over Yanagi's words in her head. Surprisingly, the advice seemed to help calm her nerves even if he'd thought she'd been talking about her accounting courses instead of her failure of an attempt to capture his attention. Slowly exhaling the breath, she watched as he fumbled with the lock of his apartment before dropping his keys for the second time.
Whomever he'd been texting with had flipped a switch in him and now she couldn't help but think he was the one acting strangely now. Though, it wasn't as if she'd never seen him like this before. This was typical behavior for him but he'd been fine most of the day before those texts and now he was frazzled and clumsy.
He'd dropped his cell phone at the store, cracking the screen. He'd tripped over his own feet and fell into an old woman on the street, crushing four of the eggs they'd just bought. The woman had been shocked, but thankfully not injured. Yanagi had ended up with raw egg all over his pants though. There was also that annoying habit he sometimes had of muttering things to himself. She wasn't positive but thought he kept repeating something about reality and getting carried away.
The entire turnabout had left Mikoto feeling a little insecure and upset. It wasn't any of her business, but there was a large part of her that really wanted to know who he'd been talking to that would cause that sort of physical reaction in him. Could that possibly have been the person he liked? Did Yanagi feel guilty because he was spending time with her instead of that girl?
'No! I can't think about that sort of thing right now. Even if I did, that changes nothing. Focus on now and what I can do. I'm here. I have a chance. There may be a gap between our knowledge about love, but I don't want to give him up to someone else.'
Refreshed, Mikoto followed Yanagi inside as he finally opened the door. She reached over to take the bag from his hands. "I can put these in the kitchen, if you want to go get changed."
"Oh?" His gaze drops to his clothing, obviously reminded of his mishap with the eggs. He gives a little laugh at the mess he'd made. "Yeah, I should probably go shower quick, shouldn't I? It's pretty gross."
"I can get dinner started if you want," Mikoto replies, heading toward the kitchen with the bags.
"NO!" He screams, crossing the space between them and grabbing the bags. Mikoto stops in her tracks, stunned at his sudden outburst as they both hold the grocery bags between them. "Don't. Touch. Anything."
"O-Okay?" Confused, she tries to focus on the frantic expression on his face and figure out why he's so adamant about this. Mikoto is really bad at this whole 'reading other people' thing, so she just bluntly addresses it head on. "Why not?"
Yanagi's face blooms red, which Mikoto notes makes her heart start to race to see. There is no sunset to blame it on this time, which leaves only one explanation. 'Is he embarrassed?' It seems impossible and she can't exactly understand why he would be in this situation.
"J-Just don't! I'll do it when I get out!"
Her jaw drops just a little, blinking in surprise as he lets the bags go and storms off in the direction of his bedroom. "But--" she starts, looking at the kitchen and then back to Yanagi as she tightens her hold on the bags in her hands. "You can't cook, Yanagi."
"I know! I'm working on it."
The corners of her mouth turn down, looking at the ingredients he'd picked up in the bag before glancing back up to his retreating form. First the job at the diner and now cooking economical meals at home for himself. "Are you sure you aren't having money problems?"
Incredulous, Yanagi stops at the entryway to his room and turns to look back at her, blue eyes wide with shock and filled with questions. "No! Where did you get that idea?"
Suddenly feeling guilty, though she's not quite sure why, Mikoto looks at the ground and tries to ignore the butterflies that have erupted in her stomach. "Well, first you got the job at the diner. Now you're cooking really cheap food for yourself..."
He places his forehead on the doorframe, looking tired. "No, I'm just trying to stand on my own two feet and not rely so much on my family. It's not easy."
She's taken aback by his answer; she hadn't known he felt that way about things. Had something recently happened to bring upon this change? She understood the reasoning, but he hadn't always thought this way. She hesitated asking, fearful of an answer she didn't want to hear but she couldn't help herself. "Did something happen?"
"Err--someone told me that my father's accomplishments only meant that he was the impressive one and that it didn't mean I was anything important."
Surprised, Mikoto just stared back at him. The harshness of the words falling over her. Sure, Yanagi could be extremely spoiled and self-important at times. Especially when he was younger, but for someone to say something like that to him was a little much. That he took those persons words to heart and was attempting to better himself because of it---she couldn't help but feel a little jealousy about.
Yet Yanagi just stood there in slack jawed exasperation staring at her for a moment before the frustration he was feeling visibly ripped through his body. "IT WAS YOU! We were ten! I swear you never remember anything!" He stormed into his room, slamming the door behind him before yelling through the closed door. "I was scarred for life and you don't even remember saying it!"
Stunned, Mikoto just stood there holding the bags in her hands as she stared at the closed door. Had she really said those things to him? She didn’t remember. She hadn’t exactly been the most tactful child in her youth. Things such as friendship, kindness and social interaction hadn’t been things she cared about at all. Her focus had been on doing as well as she could in school so she could eventually take care of her mother for all the hard work she’d done raising her. Everything else didn’t matter and she just blocked it out in pursuit of her goal.
She tried to think back to that year, the images in her head blurry as the memories were hazy. Every day passed roughly the same, so nothing really stood out. She remembered the look of the classroom. She vaguely remembered the teacher. The other kids in the class, even though they had recently had a reunion, their faces mostly blended together.
Where the other kids had given up attempting to interact with her fairly quickly, he’d constantly been in her face. No matter how much she tried to avoid him, he continually insisted on making his presence known as he buzzed around annoying her. It was an emotion she hadn’t known back then, but could identify today. Annoyance. From the very first time they had talked.
‘Ah! You beat Yanagi! You got a perfect score!’
‘She ran faster than even Yanagi!’
‘You’re just a transfer student. Don’t be so arrogant! You got several good grades by accident! Don’t get carried away!’
‘You bastard! Don’t ignore me! Don’t you know who I am? I’m the successor to Yanagi Resorts! My father is the president!’
Frowning, she’s not sure what she’s supposed to be feeling right now. He’d given her the impression that she was supposed to feel bad for the things she’d said in the past, but there was a slight issue with that. The twenty year old Mikoto completely agreed with her ten year old self. She’d probably say the exact same thing if those words had come out of his mouth today.
It was a stupid thing to get upset about but sometimes he got mad at her for random reasons that she couldn’t understand, so she shouldn’t really take it to heart. It wasn’t even the sort of thing she could imagine him thinking, let alone saying as he was today. Mikoto moved to put the groceries away but the reminder of where the conversation started forced everything into its proper place and she finally understood.
A concept that almost made her feel self-centered to think it had something to do with her, but it’s the only thing that made sense. It wasn’t that he was upset about the words. They’d left their impact on him though and the person he wanted to become had been shaped by them. Getting a job, learning to cook, earning his own money to buy things were all done in an effort to obtain things with his own hands. Was it possible that he was insisting on being the one to cook for them because he wanted to show her what he’d achieved?
She was sitting at the kitchen table when he finally came out of his room smelling of soap and shampoo. He looked refreshed and in a better mood than he was before he went in. She didn’t think she’d ever seen him so dressed down before, wearing a pair of sweatpants and a tee shirt, both with the name of their college tennis team printed on them. For some reason she tended to forget he was on the tennis team and had been for years. He’d often tried to get her to join over the years but she’d always refused the invitation. Shamefully, it wasn’t until that very moment she realized she’d never even seen him play before. She couldn’t even manage the whole friendship thing, how on earth did she think she’d be able to reach him in love?
“You annoyed me.”
His icy blue gaze captured hers, curious. She took it as a sign to continue. With a shaky breath, she continues her confession.
“I do remember. I haven’t forgotten. It just wasn’t in my narrow vision at that time so I didn’t care.”
His lips press together tightly, obviously trying to hold back his laughter from escaping. It doesn’t work and he busts up laughing. “They called you ‘The Iron Daughter’ in middle school.”
“I probably would have been proud to hear that,” she replied, smiling back at him. “I wasn’t interested in interacting with others and you were constantly in my face about something or the other. It annoyed me.”
“With the amount of entitlement I had, you had every right to be annoyed.”
“You aren’t that same kid anymore, Yanagi.” She can feel her cheeks warming beneath her skin as she speaks; talking to him about this wasn’t easy. “Though you annoyed me, you were the first one to show me that life outside that narrow vision was worth it. I’m still working toward that goal.”
“You aren’t the same either,” he replies as he turns away toward the kitchen. For a few moments she just sits there taking in everything he said. The thing about being around Yanagi is even though he made her forget about everything except for the way her heart beat around him, she genuinely enjoyed just spending time with him.
Getting up from her chair, Mikoto moved toward the kitchen but stopped in the doorway knowing he didn’t want any help. He could be remarkably stubborn about things when he chose to be and for some reason she knew this was one of those times. Instead, she watched as he worked on their dinner and…well…judged his cooking skills. There were a lot of mistakes already and she had to bite her tongue to prevent from saying anything to him. Yanagi looks up from his chopping and gives her a questioning look. “What did I do?”
“Ah, it’s nothing,” she brushed off, trying to focus on anything else other than what he was doing. It shouldn’t change the taste of the dish too much; it would more be a texture issue.
“Just tell me!” he demands, putting the knife down on the counter. “I’m still new at this but I can’t learn if no one tells me I’m doing something wrong.”
She hesitates for a moment, biting her lip before finally answering. “You’re going to burn your oil. Also, if the rice in that rice cooker is for this, that’s fine but it works better with old rice that’s been refrigerated for a day or so.”
He looks absolutely stunned and looks at both the pan of oil and rice cooker before turning back to her. “Why?”
“You’re also using the knife wrong. There’s a faster way to do it.” She anticipates his annoyance so when his groan of frustration comes out instead she feels a little grateful. “Are you sure you don’t want me to help? I promise I won’t do any of the actual work, just walk you through everything.”
“Fine,” he sighs, looking only a little dejected by the offer as he welcomes her into the kitchen.