Chapter 35:


VISUAL SHOCK - sometimes you have to promise not to fall in love~

It takes us time to heal.

We’re both weak right now, but at least we have each other. Taking it easy over the Winter vacation, filling our days with the domestic.

Kaori insists I stay in bed a little longer, so she spends most of her time in my room. We revise together, work together, eat together. Only doing chores separately once I’m back on my feet… about the only other thing we don’t do together is slee-

Anyway, the dorms are empty for the time being, so we take over the communal area, watching seasonal classics, and making plans for Christmas itself.

I even manage to find the perfect gift!

When Maru sent over the photos from their shoot, I recognised something about his style. It took double-checking the Sis-Con Scrap Book, but…

“It is! It’s him!”

Kaori peers over my arm, perplexed at my excited gibbering.

“What are you on about?”

She can’t see it?

It’s so obvious!

“Look at the lighting. The composition. Hell, I think that might even be the same chair!”

With growing curiosity, she takes the binder from me, inspecting the photo of her sister, and occasionally jumping back to the computer to compare.

“Y-you’re right!”

Maru was the photographer for the shoot with Kaori’s sister too.

“It was his behind the scenes snap of me that did it…”

She looks back at me, again confused, then follows my gaze to the Polaroid tucked behind.

“…he captured the same natural moment with me as he did between you and your sister.”

Kaori, as if she had forgotten the photo existed, that the shoot had even happened, stares at it attentively. Trying to reabsorb her memories and feelings of that instant from the image under her fingertips.

“I don’t know if Maru knows, though he may suspect after spending so long looking at the photographs to edit them. It might be nice to tell him.”

She gives a non-committal noise in response.

“Two generations of models over one career would probably mean a lot.”

Again, no more than a whisper in her throat.

Realising I’ve unintentionally made things emotional, I step back to give the moment space to breath.

“I miss her, Tai.”

Kaori turns and pulls me over for a hug. The folder left open on her desk.

I’d stopped browsing YooHoo Auctions, so as not to tempt fate. However, I broke the seal to seek out this something special. The outfit from the shoot.

From not spending on myself all the time, I’ve rebuilt a chunk of savings. Not a lot, but enough. Enough to repay Kaori.

I noticed she didn’t have any of the items in her wardrobe. I’d not seen her wear anything like it, or come across it while doing laundry, so her sister must have only borrowed the outfit for the shoot, rather than owning it herself.

At first, I thought I should ask Maru if it had been in his collection, then I could maybe negotiate buying the original off him, but I realised it was a brand shoot, so they probably sold it on after.

No way she can beat something like this!

I can’t bring her sister back, but I can reconnect her with that moment in time.

I do a little extra grocery shopping on the sly as well.

Putting together the ingredients for a basic Christmas Dinner. It’s a bit expensive getting a whole chicken, but a full turkey is over double the price. It’d be too much food anyway, even though I’m sure Kaori’d try her best.

I don’t even bother with pigs in blankets…

My fridge is stocked full to bursting point for a couple of days before Christmas. Having to keep everything else at Kaori’s raises some suspicion, but she doesn’t question me.

Threatening to not make her dinner at all keeps her in line.

She still ends up dragging me out Christmas Eve for last minute shopping, and ambushes me with a request I’d never have expected…


She doesn’t answer, it takes the hint of a smirk creeping into her smile for me to believe it’s even her. Like she was anticipating my question.

“Am I not to your liking?”

Choose your words wisely, Tai, this is a test!

She’s in… well, normal clothes.

Nothing black, nothing dark or gloomy. Nothing frayed or slashed. No straps. No buckles. No fishnet, or safety pins, or spikes, or leather.

Just a white dress, a warm wool coat, and… a pair of army surplus boots, but she literally doesn’t own anything else appropriate for the weather.

My silence and inability to look away are answer enough for her.

“I wanted us to blend in today.”

Kaori’s explanation is sincere and somehow a little self abasing. Like it’s the most alien concept that we ever could.

“I think we’re doing well…”

I open my arms to show off my basic chinos, shirt, and military style jacket. All in black. It’s what I wear for teaching and my only clothes that aren’t visual kei.

She gives me an approving once over, her smile deepening.

“Let’s pretend we are a normal couple.”

Her arm slips into mine, her breath coming up in vapours. My mind a fog of fumes from her scent and closeness after so long… and calling us a couple for the first time.

My heart aches with every step the whole day.

It turns into the most clichéd montage of activities. Trying on scarves and gloves, looking at decorations, browsing seasonal stalls around the different shopping districts… even going through the motions at a quaint little shrine tucked away on a roof.

I could cry half the time.

I’ve never really done this.

Not normal date stuff.

You grow up seeing it in everything, everywhere. Your friends and family, even people you hate at school, all talk about it.

Then you start dating, and you’re all against doing anything romantic unironically, because that’s what the normies do.

Valentine’s spent drunk, or out with friends, or purposefully alone. The Holidays in dorms going stir-crazy while everyone else goes home, because you don’t want to face another god-damn dower dinner filled with tension and arguments.

But this… “Thank you Kaori!” …it feels right!

Her smile hasn’t faltered all day. She rocks into me, making us both sway in the snow.

“We have not gotten to the best bit yet!”

This time, I kinda hope it is a love hote-



I’d forgotten about this.

I knew it was a thing, but - lulled into a false sense of security by all the cutesy stuff we’ve done today - I am so not ready for it.

“I pre-ordered, all we have to do is collect!”

God, she’s so proud of herself. I bet she thinks this is the equivalent of her cooking us dinner.

We take it home and honestly…

“I had my doubts, but I get it.”

The mash, the gravy, the chicken… it’s all good. Maybe even better than back home, because food quality standards are crazy here.

Whenever I’m feeling lazy, I always opt for set meals at family restaurants. It’s so cheap and easy to eat well, and still be a little healthy when you go out, I'd forgotten the appeal of nasty greasy takeaway food.

“The cheesecake though…” it’s not bad, it’s just basic, but I gotta criticise something “…it ain’t right!”

Kaori stops devouring her drumstick - like a half starved, near feral, stable boy, who managed to acquire a bone to gnaw on from the knight’s table, being called to heel - and gives me the evil eye.

“Well, a Christmas cake is meant to be spiced and fruity, with icing and marzipan…”

Her expression shifts into one of disbelief. I’m so glad I can distract her easily with talk of food, like jangling keys in front of a fussing infant.

“…I saw the ones in the convenience store, that classic strawberry shortcake style, but it’s too plain and creamy for me. I guess a cheesecake is the easiest thing for a non-dessert place to store pre-prepared. Looks similar enough, but…”

“Make me one!”

My cake rant cut in two by her demand.

“Make you one?”

Baking is witchcraft to me.

I’ve never successfully followed a recipe in my life.

I wing every meal I make, so there’s always slight variation.

Cooking is art, baking is science, and I do business for a reason.

But I can’t say no to that face.

“Ugghhhhh… fine!”

She bounces on the spot, clapping at thoughts of cake to come, and I regret saying anything.

We can afford it at the moment, but I really dropped myself in it. Tomorrow, I now have to make a whole roast dinner AND a fruit cake!

“But you’re helping!”

Kaori freezes in her jubilations. Her expression turns serious.

“Yes chef!”

Damn it!

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