title: returned promise
fandom: Whisper of the Heart
characters/pairings: Shizuku/Seiji
rating: G
warnings: none
summary: Seiji returns.
notes: for haku_kaen, for this request on fic on demand.

The last letter she had received from him had come more than a month ago. She didn't blame him, especially since she hadn't responded. He didn't have a computer, and he didn't like email. She didn't either, really, and though she loved his letters, she knew.

He was working hard, so he didn't have a lot of free time. She was working, too. Every time she felt a bit down, or drained, or like she might just want to throw it all in, she thought about him in Italy, working on his craft...

She got lonely sometimes. There were times when she wanted to just... go for coffee with the boy from her Topics in Modern Literature class, or something. Go out to karaoke with her friends. Anything to stop thinking about Seiji for a few minutes. Those were good times for writing, too. In fact, she had bought herself a laptop, foregoing every other material desire for over a year, so she could write more efficiently, wherever and whenever.

Her writing was improving, she thought, but it was hard to say. She could get published a few times a year, in school publications and small press magazines, that sort of thing. She was proud of herself, but she knew she had a ways to go.

She still needed to learn a lot.

The last thing she'd sent him had been the last story she had published. She always sent him what she wrote; at least, what was good enough to be published. And sometimes... things she wrote just for him, but mostly...

She needed to show him that she was working hard, too. She needed to show him that she didn't forget their promise.

When she opened her eyes, she was back in the café, just as she had been before the tanuki had come to sit opposite her. The flowers in the vase were exactly as she remembered, the gently muffled sounds of the train station rumbled just as before, in fact, the same cup of vanilla latte sat in front of her, half finished, just as it had been before the tanuki. The Cat Prince had assured her that it would be like nothing had happened...

But something had happened, right?!

She looked around, though, and saw no signs of adventure anywhere. She lifted her hand to her throat, and felt nothing. The key locket the River Shrine Sprite had given her was gone, too. She wasn't sure if she was surprised or not. Of course, tanukis and secret golden doors and Sprites of any kind... those were exactly the sorts of fantasies that her father tried to discourage her from, and probably with good reason. Thinking of these things, as he said, would not help her at all with her upcoming exams, and yet...

With a heavy heart, she picked up her coffee cup, not realizing that her hands were shaking. The cup was heavier than expected, and she didn't have a good grip. It slipped from her fingers, and went crashing to the floor!

"Oh!" she cried out, feeling so embarrassed. Quickly, she grabbed the napkin to start wiping up the mess.

"Please don't concern yourself, Miss," a young man said. It caused her to lose her breath; he was there at her elbow in just a moment!

And... when she looked into his eyes...

It was the Midnight Knight! She was sure of it! Her cheeks flamed red, and she was unable to speak. He was wearing café clothes, and he looked entirely normal... but those eyes...

She would know the Midnight Knight anywhere!

He smiled up at her brightly. "A regular customer... especially such a kind and pretty one... is allowed a slip up now and again. Please just sit down, and relax." His cheeks looked bright and rosy, and he smiled even brighter before going back to his work.

She knew it was just a dream. She'd probably seen him around and just incorporated him. He was just being polite, after all. It was his job.

And yet, for the first time in her life, she felt a swell of courage. She could still hear the Cat Prince's words: Be yourself, the way you are, and all will be well. She smiled brightly at him, thinking of how the Midnight Knight had said her eyes lit up when she did. "I'm so sorry! Er... my name is Kureha. Mizuhashi Kureha. Thank you for your hard work!"

"I-I know your name, Kureha-chan. M-my name is Seiji. Pleased to meet you." He ducked his chin down, and smiled shyly.

"Seiji... kun," she smiled.

She could hear the Cat Prince laughing. Maybe her father had been wrong, after all.

Someone put something down on the table before her, but she kept typing away. "I'm sorry, this table is taken."

"I know," he said, and Shizuku's head snapped up. Seiji grinned at her, looking too amused.

And too damned handsome.

"S-Seiji!" she cried out, jumping to her feet, even though he had sat down. "What are you doing here? Why didn't you call me? Or write? How long have you been home? You didn't get married, did you?"

He laughed, which didn't calm her down at all. He even picked up her latte and sipped it! "Calm down! I didn't write because everything happened pretty fast at the end there. I just got home today, actually. I was going to call... but I knew this station. It was in your story. Kureha and the Cat Prince. So I thought... before I call, I'd just try to come by. After all, if you were here... wouldn't that be romantic and awesome!" He laughed, scratching the back of his head. "Well, that was what I was hoping for, anyway."

She sat down shakily. "You... well, all right, it was romantic. But you also scared me!"

He laughed, and she smiled... and...

He was home.

"Here," he winked at her, pushing the wooden box he had put on the table a bit closer to her. "This... is a gift for you."

She beamed, and put her hands on it right away. She was so excited, so anxious... her heart thudded painfully in her chest as she undid the clasp. Of course, she knew what it would be... she knew for a long time. And still...

She opened the lid, and gasped. The box was lined in red velvet, and the violin nestled in the velvet's folds was a light, oaky color. It shone brightly, picking up the sunlight gloriously. She still visited his grandfather at least once a week, and she kept the violins he had made before he left clean and dust-free... but this one...

Compared to those, this one was masterpiece.

"Oh, Seiji... it's so beautiful... and delicate... I'm afraid to touch it!"

"Well," he laughed easily, "it wouldn't be much good if it couldn't be touched!"

She laughed, too, nervous, and she picked it up. She touched the strings. It looked absolutely perfect!

"I'm a bit embarrassed. You've done so much. This is clearly superior work. And I'm still struggling." She ducked her chin down.

"I don't know about that," he sighed. "I still have a lot to learn. I know that now more than ever. And after I read your last story, I felt like I was way, way behind. That's why I was so anxious to get home. I needed to get back and marry you before you became rich and famous and forgot all about me."

She blushed furiously. He said marry. She looked across the table, and saw that he was blushing, too.

He continued, hurrying. "Well, and I got a position. Er. Well, it's more like a contract to make violins for company in Tokyo. I had all my tools shipped back home, and I've got to do a bit of work to make my woodshop up to my needs... Grandfather said I could have the whole shop, though, well, so..."

She reached out, and took his hand. She squeezed slightly. "I'm so happy... that you're home."

He beamed. "So. Do you, er, want to go out for coffee?"

"We're already out for coffee," she laughed. "Do you want to meet my parents?"

"Can't we go to a movie first?" he teased.

She squeezed his hand more.

Really, if she'd written it, she couldn't have come up with a better beginning.