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Kiss of Life

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It all started with a desperate, one-sided kiss.

When he breathed into her one last time, he couldn’t help but let his lips linger against hers for just a moment longer than necessary, terrified that he might never lay a hand on her living body again. That he might lose her before he could tell her that he cares, even if Tabuki doesn’t. Before he could tell her how beautiful she is.

But she survived. And thus began his physical attraction to her: an ineffable fixation on her lips.

Maybe it’s because saving her is the closest thing he’s ever had to a first kiss, or maybe it’s because she’s the only girl who talks to him besides his sister. Or maybe it has something to do with the way he felt holding her motionless body, finally noticing the frail vulnerability beneath all her robust determination. Whatever the reason, he simply cannot look at her without wanting to kiss her and hoping she’ll kiss him back this time.

Of course, she has no idea Shouma was the one who saved her, and as tempting as it is to just tell her the truth, he lets her go on thinking Tabuki kissed her just as she planned. At least, until Shouma figured out exactly what Project M was.

This whole time, it’s been a plan for her to become someone else. And Shouma played along and helped her when he should have been showing her how beautiful she is as herself. He refuses to help her anymore, but the betrayed look on her face when he tells her stays with him for the rest of the day and all through the night. He stays up trying to think of some way to fix things. To think of some excuse to see her again besides his growing desire to hold her.

Even in the morning, thoughts of Ringo continue to consume Shouma’s mind. He gets on the train almost subconsciously, not really sure where he’s going but hoping that he’ll just happen to run into Ringo. And for once, he’s actually lucky: he steps into the cart, and there she is. Shouma sits down next to her, but she refuses to face him, only sparing him a quick sideways glance.

“Can we talk?” Shouma asks, not sure what else to say.

“I thought you were done with me,” Ringo says flatly.

“I’m not done with you , Oginome. But that’s why I can’t help with Project M. Because then you wouldn’t be you. And I…” I love you .

“It doesn’t matter what you think. I’m still going through with Project M. You’ll see. Tabuki will be mine.”

“You don’t need to be with Tabuki.” Be with me instead , he wants to add, but he’s sure she would turn him down, especially now that she’s so far gone.

“I’m just following my fate. You wouldn’t understand.”

“But fate’s just a delusion.”

She finally meets his eyes, her gaze furious. “You’re wrong! Everything written in the journal has come true!”

Shouma pauses for just a second, and then he’s ready to throw all secrecy and consideration out the window. “Are you sure about that?”

Ringo narrows her eyes. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about the day you drowned,” he says in a low voice. “You almost died for your precious fate, and Tabuki didn’t even notice you needed help until after I dragged you to shore and saved you..”

Ringo shakes her head. “But it wasn’t you! It was Mr. Tabuki!”

“He never lifted a finger to help you! Is that what’s written in your precious diary? Is that what you call fate?”

Ringo stands abruptly and scowls. “I’m done listening to you. I’m going to win over Tabuki for real this time, and I don’t need your approval to do it.”

“Oginome, wait,” Shouma calls as she walks to the doors. “I didn’t mean to—”

She’s gone.

Shouma feels like a complete idiot when he finds out what his parents did to Momoka.

This whole time, he was hoping to hold her and kiss her like a goddamn fool. But now he swears he’ll change. He’ll stop seeing her, stop dreaming of her, and eventually, he’ll move on. He’s sure Ringo will have no problem moving on.

At first, Shouma really does try to follow his goal. He can’t help the daydreams, but he at least manages to resist the temptation to answer her phone calls. Of course, he still listens to every message, relishing the sound of her voice.

But after what happens with Yuri at the inn, Shouma just can’t let Ringo go home alone. After all, how can he completely push her away when he’s so utterly terrified of losing her?

When Ringo wakes up the next day, Shouma leaves his friend from school in order to take her home. They end up sitting together on the train, just like they used to. Despite everything with his parents, Shouma missed this, even if he won’t admit it to himself. He even offers to stay with her a little longer to make sure she’s okay, and they go from sitting together on the train to sitting together on Ringo’s sofa. There’s still an awkward barrier between them, but Shouma’s heart still beats a little faster just from being alone with Ringo again.

“So what have you been up to lately?” Shouma asks suddenly. “Are you still chasing after Tabuki?” He knows he probably shouldn’t bring up Tabuki lest they end up fighting again, but there’s a tiny, jealous part of him that’s dying to know.

“No, not lately,” Ringo replies.

Shouma can’t help smiling just a little. “Failed again?”

Ringo sticks her chin up indignantly. “I did not fail! I was making progress before…” Her cheeks turn red. “Just so you know, after you decided to stop helping me, I managed to get Tabuki to carry me into bed with him!”

“Into bed?” Shouma swallows, his eyes wide. “Y-you mean...because you were both tired and needed sleep, right?”

Ringo smirks, regaining her composure now that Shouma’s the flustered one. “Geez, Shouma. Don’t you know anything about what happens between two people who are in love?”

“So you…?”

Ringo sighs, staring at the floor. “No, I walked out before we could do anything.”

“Really? Why?”

“Because I… I don’t actually love him the way Momoka did. And I think… I think I’ve moved onto someone else.” She looks up straight into his eyes as she finishes her sentence.

It’s not clear who starts to lean in first, but little by little, their lips grow closer and closer together until after what seems like an eternity, they finally kiss.

Ringo runs her fingers through his hair, and he wraps his arms around her, placing a hand on her lower back to pull her closer and deepen the kiss. Ringo presses a kiss on the side of his neck, smiling against his skin when he gasps at the contact. When she lifts her head to kiss him on the lips again, he reciprocates eagerly.

When they end the kiss, they stay in each other’s arms and rest their foreheads together, smiling peacefully. As Shouma gazes into Ringo’s eyes, it’s like a warm light is emanating from her, and he’s never seen a more beautiful sight.

“I’ve been waiting so long to kiss you again,” Shouma whispers.

Again. “So it really was you who saved me.” Ringo nuzzles her face into his neck, her breath hot against his skin. “This whole time, it was you. It was always you.”

Shouma chuckles. “It took you long enough.”

Ringo brings her head back to look at him again, her little pout making it really hard not to kiss her again. “At least I didn’t spend weeks ignoring you.”

“Yeah, you only spent years pining for another guy.” Ringo sticks her bottom lip out more, and it gets increasingly harder not to kiss her. Shouma puts a hand on her cheek and lightly brushes his lips against hers. “But we can still make up for lost time.”

Ringo grins and leans into the kiss.