Namimori Middle School. Hall 3. Room 1-B. Known for cleanliness, organization, and obedience to the Disciplinary Committee. Always a pleasure for parents to visit. Students regularly bragged about for their grades and commitment to their school.
Currently a disaster area.
The teacher's desk looked as if a tornado had hit it. Beside each wastebasket lay a pile of crumpled up and dirty pages. Red pens and pencil shavings littered the tile next to the door. Every window splayed wide open, letting in the dazzling afternoon sun. Chairs were toppled over, desks pushed against walls, textbooks had been tossed in every direction with their bindings pushing towards the ceiling. And in the center of all of this sat one very tiny, very frightened looking first-year.
Takako Ravigotti had never been so frightened in her entire life, and she looked it. Her school vest was twisted the wrong way, her black hair was a mess, and even her cheery green hair ribbons, normally so nicely tied, had slipped into a tangled mess. As she pushed the last desk drawer shut, it was with thick, syrupy movements that only highlighted her exhaustion.
"It's not here," Takako moaned as she buried her face into her arms. "It's not here!" This was the last place she could possibly have left it. She had checked everywhere else: Her bedroom back home, the school boxing arena, every place she hid when she stalked her secret crush. Takako had even cornered Kaji and demanded to know if had stolen it. Far from giving her any sort of clues, all this had done was upset her younger brother.
She took a deep breath and looked around the room. This was absolutely hopeless. All she had managed to do in the past two hours was tear her classroom apart. Any second now, the school prefect would be making his rounds and when he found her sitting in the middle of this wreckage, there would be hell to pay. Even if she started now, Takako doubted that she would manage to have everything cleaned up by the time Hibari arrived. After two days of non-stop searching for her beloved journal, she was exhausted. She probably didn't even have the energy to walk home.
Nevertheless, she got shakily to her feet and began to pull the desks back into the center of the room. As she did, Takako shook her head as she continued to despair. She could only imagine (and shudder over) what would happen if someone had got ahold of her spiral. Takako was only a lowly first year at the school. If anyone, especially one of the second- or third-year girls, found out who she was crushing on, they wouldn't rest until she was completely mortified. This was the sort of thing that went on the internet, the sort of thing that couldn't be glossed over by anyone, even by someone as oblivious as Yamamoto Takeshi.
Takako paused; her heart sank. If Yamamoto found out how much she liked him, what would happen? Someone as important as the star of the school baseball team wouldn't know who she was. Her only claim to fame was being the only member of the boxing club outside of Sasagawa-sempai. Most of the time, people didn't even remember her. They were too busy making fun of her captain.
The last desk scraped into place and Takako bent over to sweep the pencil shavings into her hand. At least if Hibari gave her detention for the next week, she could avoid the immediate aftereffects of the Yamamoto discovery. Maybe she could even pretend, for however long she was stuck doing chores for the prefect, that Yamamoto wasn't completely ignorant of her existence. It wasn't as if she'd ever thought anything was going to happen between the two of them. It was just a little disheartening to think of how invisible she was.
Takako groaned again and pressed her forehead to her knees. "Why wasn't it here?"
"Why wasn't what where?"
Takako leapt to her feet and spun around. She was already bowing before she had even fully stood up. "I'm sorry Hibari-san! I'll make sure it's all picked up, I swear! Please don't bite me to death!"
There was a pause during which Takako was able to fully appreciate how quick her heart was able to beat in such situations without exploding inside her chest. Whether this could be attributed to her training with her uncle or simply how much she feared Hibari Kyoya, she couldn't say. Either way, it was impressive.
"Hahahaha. Bite you to death? Why would I do that?"
Takako's heart stopped so quickly that for a moment she felt lightheaded. It started itself up against the next minute, but in an oddly, splutter-y fashion Takako identified with proximity of one person and one person only. Slowly, the lid over one green eye lifted and then the other followed suit. With her spine still in a near perfect 90-degree angle, Takako looked up through her bangs to see a sight that nearly made her heart stop all over again.
"Yamamoto-sempai!" Takako straightened. Her hands jumped to her twin-tails and immediately set to retying their ribbons. All the while, Yamamoto grinned down at her, looking more amused than anything, though still a little confused. "I mean–"
She choked around the words of introduction. Her left hand clapped around her throat, but already Takako could feel her cheeks burning. He would wonder how she knew who he was on sight. Two minutes alone in a room with him and already she had screwed up.
Yamamoto, however, looked unperturbed. He simply smiled and said, "You're Takako, right?" He grinned at her incredulous expression. "I think I've seen you around with Sasagawa-sempai. You guys are friends, right?"
"He's–" Takako broke off, momentarily too relieved by her return of speech to remember what she was saying. In a rush, she added, "Just my captain! I don't really know him all that well."
Yamamoto attempted no introduction of his own. Instead, he went right back to his original question, "What's not here? Were you looking for something?" His brown eyes roved around the room. If he thought it odd it was still in a state of near-disrepair, he said nothing about it all. "It looks like you looked really hard to find it!"
Takako's own eyes widened in response. Her heart sped again; Takako wondered if she might pass out. Yamamoto looked at her, waiting for her response. She couldn't just leave him hanging! He would think her mute, or worse, crazy. "My spiral!" She burst out at last, then felt the blush climb down her neck. What if he had already heard…?
"Oh! Is it for a test tomorrow?"
"I…" Was lying appropriate here? She couldn't tell him the truth! "Yes."
He bent down without answering and gathered the pens into his hand. With another smile in her direction that made Takako's heart flip, he dropped them into a cup at the head of the instructor's desk.
"Want me to help you look for it?"
This time, it was Takako's brain that froze. Her mouth popped open slightly and she stared for nearly half a minute before it registered what Yamamoto had asked. "What? Oh! No, please. It's my problem. Don't worry about it."
"You're right," Yamamoto nodded. Takako's heart sank, but she also felt strangely relived. She couldn't imagine having anything else to say to him that would be at all entertaining during their search. As she watched him, he started to close the windows. "We should probably clean this room up first, before Hibari shows up and bites us to death."
"…Eh," Takako squeaked. Yamamoto looked back at her.
"That's who you thought I was, right? So I'll help you!"
"I–But…" He crouched on the floor and began to sweep the pencil dust Takako had dropped into his hand. He looked up at her, head cocked, grin already in place.
"It's okay. I want to help."
"Um…" She watched him for a moment longer, then bowed her head. "Thank you."
"Haha! It's no trouble at all."
If Yamamoto was going to help her, Takako couldn't just sit there and stare. Once she realized how long she had remained rooted to the spot, she moved hastily to the other side of the room and started to pull the chairs back into place. Even with her back turned toward him, Takako could feel Yamamoto's presence. She wanted desperately to say something; he was certain to think she was being rude. Unfortunately, Takako's brain was not forthcoming with a topic of conversation and she was forced to finish cleaning in silence.
Ten minutes later, the room appeared back to normal. Even the chalkboard was spotless, all chalky fog wiped from its surface. Takako could hardly believe her eyes. Yamamoto, upon seeing the job completed, simply laughed and rubbed his forehead with the back of his hand.
"We did it!"
"Don't mention it. Looks like we finished just in time, too."
Takako stiffened. The sound of footsteps was echoing down the empty hallway. Her fingers balled around the edge of her skirt. Almost as soon as Yamamoto had spoken the words, a young man appeared in the doorway.
"Hi, Hibari," Yamamoto said.
"Hello, Hibari-san," Takako murmured. Hibari's silver eyes narrowed in response. One of his hands clutched at the doorway as his gaze swept the room. Takako could feel the hairs on the back of her neck standing on end. If she and Yamamoto had missed just one thing while cleaning, it would mean biting to death for sure.
"Hn," Hibari's eyes locked onto Yamamoto's, "What are you doing here past hours?"
"That was my fault, Hibari-san, I–"
"I was going to the lost and found after practice," Yamamoto broke in, "And stopped to talk to Takako. We'll be leaving now."
"See that you do," The prefect swept back up the hallway. Takako heaved a sigh of relief as her tense muscles slowly unknotted.
"Thanks," she said, "Again."
"Haha, Hibari's just a little strict. But he's a good guy."
"So let's go look for your spiral now!"
"What?" Takako waved her hands in front of her. "No, no! You've already helped me way too much today, sempai! Besides, it probably got stolen. I've already looked all over school and at home."
"But I want to. Is there anywhere you haven't looked yet?"
Takako shook her head. "I've been everywhere I can think of. I only lost it a few days ago."
"Come on. There must be somewhere."
She paused. There was one place, one place she had been hoping and praying she hadn't left it. But she couldn't tell Yamamoto this. As he watched her ponder this, Yamamoto frowned.
"I…guess I went to get…sushi…the other day…" Takako's voice trailed away to near nothingness. This was it. Now he would put two and two together.
"Okay, what sushi place?"
"Um…Takesushi," Her blush flared crimson again. Yamamoto, however, looked delighted.
"Hey, my dad owns that shop! Small world, huh?"
"Yeah…small world," Takako's eyes widened. Did he really not suspect her at all? He seemed to think nothing of an underclassman having been to where he lived. Yamamoto shifted his school bag onto his shoulder and then headed for the classroom door.
"Let's get going."
Takako did not even bother to protest. She followed in silence as Yamamoto led her down the stairs and out the building. The sky outside was a fiery shade of red-orange. Takako was a little surprised–had it really got to be that late? Her parents would probably worry if she didn't get home soon. Her plan to raid the classroom hadn't exactly been planned.
"Thanks for all the help, but I really should get going. It's getting late."
"Awww," Yamamoto turned toward her with a frown, "But it'll only take a few minutes. I don't want you to fail your test tomorrow."
"Come on," Yamamoto cocked his head and winked, "Just ten minutes?"
"…Okay…" Takako flushed and looked down at her feet. It seemed like Yamamoto was impossible to refuse, at least for her. She trailed after him like a lost puppy as the sun set lower and lower, staining the sky like overturned ink. Not long after, she recognized the entrance to Takesushi. Yamamoto stuck his head in the door.
"Ah, Dad! I'm home!" He looked over his shoulder and gestured her forward. "Come on. My Dad won't bite."
Yamamoto disappeared inside. Takako paused, hovering briefly over the doorstop, but followed him. Inside, the restaurant was crowded with people. A buzz of chatter fell low over the patrons' ears. For a moment, Takako stiffened and started to look desperately for the one face she would know, even if it not well. It did not take her long. Yamamoto spotted her from the bar and flashed her a grin.
Takako crept slowly through the throng until she arrived at Yamamoto's side. His father, an older man that looked like Yamamoto but with a narrower face, was cleaning a plate.
"Here she is, Dad. This is Takako Ravigotti."
She bowed her head. "It's very nice to meet you, Yamamoto-san."
"Ah, Takeshi," His father eyed Takako as he continued to clean the specks of rice from a an ornate dish. "You never said your girlfriend was this pretty."
Takako turned a brighter shade of red than ever. Yamamoto, however, merely laughed.
"She's not my girlfriend, Dad. She came to eat here a few days ago and left her school spiral. Did you find it?"
"Mah, it's your job to clean up after closing. Shouldn't you have found it?"
"Haha, I didn't. I just wondered if maybe someone turned it into you."
"No one came up to me with a spiral. You a novelist, Takako? Maybe they wanted to sell your stuff."
"N–No. I just need it for…it's got my notes in it…"
"Well, you can look later tonight, Takeshi, but I don't think you're going to find anything. It's getting late, though. Maybe you should take Takako home."
"Right. You ready to go, Takako?"
"Yes," Takako looked at the crammed booths. Someone wanting to publishing the ridiculous contents seemed completely out of the question, but now she was worried. If her spiral wasn't here, where was it? She shook her head slowly as she trailed after Yamamoto back into the street.
"Hey, you okay?" Yamamto asked once they had exited the building. "You look really upset."
"I'm fine," Takako said, though she knew her face didn't look it. "Just worried about my spiral."
"It'll be okay," He touched her lightly on the shoulder. "I promise I'll look all over for it tonight after closing."
"You really don't have to."
"But I want to. So I promise, okay?"
"…Okay…Well, I better get going. Thanks again for everything, Yamamoto-sempai."
"We don't have to say goodbye right now. I'm going to walk you home."
Takako paused, a refusal already on her lips. It died instantly. She swallowed it back down and smiled. "Sure. Thank you."
They set off down the street. Takako glanced at her watch. It was nearly seven o' clock. Her cellphone had not rang, though, so hopefully her parents and siblings assumed she was out with the Voragine. They probably wouldn't worry if they knew who she really was with, though. Even among her immediate family, the upcoming Vongola family was well known.
Once they reached Namimori again, Yamamoto took another stab at conversation:
"So you're on the boxing team, right?"
"Do you like it?"
"I think Sasagawa-sempai is excited to have you."
"He shouldn't be. I only just started."
"Yeah, but he says you're really good."
"I had a little experience before I joined."
"Really? From who?"
"Er…" Takako was fairly sure that Yamamoto wasn't familiar with any of the various tutors employed by the mafia so telling him probably wouldn't be dangerous. Still, if he mentioned it later, she might get in trouble for hinting at it or giving away the Voragine's position. Thankfully, she was saved from answering by arriving at the front walk to her house. She stopped. "We're here."
"Bye, Takako." He gave a faint wave of his hand as she turned to leave. Takako had only got two steps away, however, before he grabbed her wrist and pulled him back toward himself.
"Er…yes?" The skin underneath the sleeve he was touching seemed to burn. She tried to gently tug her arm free, but to no avail.
"What does your spiral look like?"
"Um," another tug, "It's pink. With a bird sticker."
"Ah!" He released her. Takako pulled her arm to her chest and held it there, watching with her forehead crinkled as Yamamoto dug through his bag. Less than a minute later, his hand emerged again. Clutched in it was a bright pink spiral that Takako recognized instantly. "Is this it?"
A strange sensation flew through Takako's body: Relief, because her spiral was safe again, and fear, because the person she wanted to find it the least had been the one to do so. She licked her lips, but took the spiral wordlessly, her mouth suddenly too dry to speak.
"I found it on a bench outside the batting cages three days ago. I was on my way to take it to the lost and found when I saw you. Sorry I didn't give it to you sooner."
With trembling fingers, Takako opened the cover and flipped through several pages. Her tidy lines were exactly as she remembered them; no pages appeared torn free from its binding. At last, she hugged it to her chest. She spoke again without making eye contact.
"No problem. I'm just glad I found its owner," Takako's chest loosened. He would not still be talking to her if he had read it; he would be fleeing from her as quickly as his legs could carry.
"And thanks. For everything else today, too."
"I had a lot of fun," She looked up in time to see him grin. "We should do it again sometime."
"Yeah…sure…" Takako felt her heart give a hard thud inside her chest. "Well, I'll…see you in school tomorrow?"
"Yep! Tomorrow for sure," Yamamoto smiled again. Takako paused, then smiled back and turned to walk up the sidewalk to her house. Her hand was on the doorknob when he called after her:
"And maybe next time, we can try one of the ideas in your notebook!"
She couldn't close the door quickly enough.