Shinjuku Station was as packed as ever at eight in the evening. Ringo bit the inside of her cheek, concentrating on balancing her precious cargo atop a precarious stack of papers, papers, and more papers. She hadn't planned on getting another half a dozen twists and rolls at Mr. Donut, but they had three new exclusives -- two of which she knew Himari would love -- so it wasn't as if it was an entirely unfounded purchase.
"One more practice exam," she muttered under her breath, "I'll run through one more practice exam on the ride home."
With expertise only afforded by a lifetime spent on the subway, Ringo managed to maneuver another packet of short-answer questions to the top of the stack, wedging the cover and listless disclaimers underneath the donut box. By the time she needed to scramble off the train, she had gotten through a quarter of the practice questions.
Which really went to show, she admitted, that while Professor Kotobuki was a hardass, he definitely knew (and likely even had a hand in) what would be on the damn exam.
The practice packet was hastily closed and slipped back into her pile of papers right before disembarkation. Despite the jostling from a gaggle of teenage girls, the donut box -- and the donuts therein -- was still well and good.
The third-floor apartment the two of them have called 'home' for a year was a ten-minute walk, five minute run, from the station. It would be another fourty-eight steps to the third floor before the door numbered 395 swung in.
"Ringo-chan!" Himari greeted, grinning from ear-to-ear, just like their first meeting.
"I'm home," Ringo announced.
"Welcome home," Himari replied. "Ah?" she asked, as Ringo placed the donut box before her. "Ooh~"
Ringo was too busy rearranging her papers to look at Himari's expression then, but she could recreate it in her mind's eye all the same. Upon looking up again from the stack of practice test questions, she found Himari holding up the ultra-coveted Pink Penguin Creme Donut (with limited edition Rose-flavored filling!) in the same way one would hold a holy grail.
"Oh my goodness," Himari whispered, breathless, "How long did you have to wait in line for this, Ringo-chan?"
"I was lucky," Ringo admitted, shedding her boots and jacket before ambling over to the dinner table, "They had just baked a new batch before I arrived."
"Wow! So amazing!" Himari grinned, beaming from the donut to Ringo and back again. "Welcome to our home, Ms. Pink Penguin! I'm sure you'll fit right in!"
Ever since meeting Himari, Ringo had been made aware of a cuteness meter somewhere in between her chest and her throat. Like a thermometer, the cuteness quotient would bubble and bubble until --
"Sooo cute!" she squealed, reaching over to squeeze Himari's cheeks.
-- the number one student at Waseda U's internal bar exam was reduced to her high school days, kissing and petting the eternal daydreamer turned kindergarten teacher that was Himari.
"Ringo-chan," Himari pouted between kisses.
"I have something for you too!"
Ringo's ears perked up.
"What? What is it?"
"Close your eyes!"
Ringo rolled her eyes but closed them all the same.
"Now?" she asked, even as she heard Himari rummaging in the kitchen cabinet.
"Just a minute!" More rummaging followed.
"Alright here! Ta-da!" Himari struck a pose -- an impressive feat considering she was still holding the limited edition donut in one hand -- while presenting Ringo with...
"Yes!" Himari beamed, "And it's red, your favorite color!"
"Wow!" Ringo held the Polaroid up to the light, looking at it from a variety of angles. "These are really rare these days! How'd you manage to find it?"
"Well actually," Himari fidgeted a bit, scratching her cheek as well, "I picked it out of the dumpster behind the school. But I found the battery and film on Rakuten and I'm pretty sure it works now!"
"Awww," Ringo quibbled, setting both camera and donut aside for another hug, "Thank you so much! Himari-chan is the best!"
Himari giggled then, kissing Ringo's forehead then both her cheeks, before running her now-free fingers through Ringo's still-short locks.
"Dinner first?" she asked.
"Mm," Ringo answered, "Dinner, then a photo shoot."
Dinner was naturally followed by dessert and the photo shoot, which was supposed to be Ringo taking photos of Himari but somehow ended up the other way around. Which was to say Himari somehow used her cuteness quotient to convince Ringo that she should pose in her middle school one-piece swimsuit while Himari hummed and hawed over the perfect angle and Ringo felt her face burning bright.
By the time Himari managed to snap three photos with the fixed-up Polaroid, neither of them had the patience to wait for the photos to turn up. Ringo pounced, all but tackling Himari onto the four-poster bed they shared. Then she tasted the rose-tinged remains of Ms. Pink Penguin while Himari ran too-nimble fingers through her hair.
"You looked so cute, Ringo-chan," Himari whispered, lips flush against Ringo's ear. Her hand trailed down Ringo's side, squeezing her still-covered right breast before scraping at the lower edge of the swimsuit.
"I'm the one who should be saying that," Ringo groused, or at least attempted to, though really all she wanted was for Himari to start taking off her own clothes.
"Hmm-mm," Himari hummed, tugging on the swimsuit's hem. She let go; it snapped back; Ringo shuddered and moaned.
Not for the first time, Ringo thought: being with Himari was a lot like drowning. Drowning in lukewarm water, where you had every opportunity to stop but no real inclination to do so. Somehow or another, Himari had managed to reverse their positions so that she was straddling Ringo. Ringo took small comfort in the fact that she divested Himari of the majority of her clothes and could now pet and stroke and scratch at her skin whereas Himari was still limited by the damn swimsuit (later on, Ringo would question why she had bothered holding onto it for so long). Except then Himari slipped her hand -- or rather, two fingers -- into the part of the suit that was the tightest and wettest, giving the barest stroking motion against Ringo's folds.
It would be more embarrassing, how easily Ringo came undone under Himari's ministrations, if she hadn't already had half a decade to get used to it. And still, her moans and whimpers and pleas are decidedly sharp, even to her own ears, and she's sure her nails will leave marks for Himari's cute little students to see the next day.
Ringo came back, to herself and to her senses, still trapped in the damn swimsuit (with the crotch area decidedly soaked) with Himari's fingers tracing comforting circles in her scalp. Ringo shuddered before turning towards the other and burying her face in Himari's collarbone.
"Happy anniversary, Ringo-chan," Himari whispered.
And, like the clockwork of coming home, Ringo replied with: "Thank you for sharing the fruit of your fate with me, Himari-chan."
Ringo needed a minute or two to catch her breath before she could return the favor. On the one hand, Himari was as responsive as ever; on the other hand, Ringo couldn't shake the desire to see the other girl in a similar swimsuit (or better yet, the same exact swimsuit). And then Himari was climaxing too and calling out Ringo's name -- only ever Ringo's name -- and the two of them were lulled to sleep in the comfortable haze of the afterglow.
It was only the next morning, when they were both getting ready for school and work respectively, that Himari remembered the then-undeveloped polaroids.
"We'll look at them together tonight," Himari promised with a wink.
"And burn them right after," Ringo grumbled, though she still gave Himari their usual good-bye kiss.
And so followed another whirlwind day of lectures, seminars, and practice exams at Waseda, the likes of which would make even the strictest of her cram school teachers turn pale. Such was life in the law department, Ringo knew. It was frustrating at times, especially as women were generally expected to accountants, scriveners, and notaries, but her choice of profession was also, in addition to Himari, one of the few things that was entirely her own.
It was late when she got back, and the polaroids had nearly slipped from her mind (which was understandable considering the overload of obscure civil law cases from the beginning of the Lost Generation Professor Hasegawa had insisted on grilling them with) when Himari greeted her yet again.
"Ta-da~!" she exclaimed, waving a trio of photographs before Ringo.
"I'm home," Ringo said on-impulse, before she snatched the first of the photos back. "What is this?" she demanded.
"They're the photos I took yesterday!" Himari replied.
Ringo had been expected to see herself -- or certain parts of anatomy Himari was fascinated with -- flushed and swimsuit-clad. She was not expecting to see three photographs of herself in a formal suit, in a courtroom, clearly presenting some sort of case against a pink-haired male defendent. She squinted at the photos, unable to explain the ice that suddenly filled her veins at the sight of the defendent.
"What...?" was all she could manage.
"It's strange, isn't it?" Himari asked. "Look, I took some photos of things around the house and they all turned out fine!"
And here, Himari showed off another trio of polaroids, of the refridgerator, the stove, and the windowsill.
"I've never worn this suit before," Ringo said.
"Mm," Himari agreed. Then she grinned and shrugged: "I guess it's a magical camera, huh?"
It was the best and worst thing about Himari, Ringo thought, that she just seemed to take anything and everything in stride. One thing led to another, and somehow, after dinner, Ringo found their positions reversed and herself on the photographer's end of the Polaroid.
"Is the swimsuit really necessary, Ringo-chan?" Himari teased, tugging playfully on the hem.
Ringo rolled her eyes and snapped two photos in quick succession.
Then, instead of devolving into foreplay, like the two of them did the night before, they instead bent their heads and looked eagerly at the slowly-colorizing photos.
"Hmm," Himari murmured.
"That's definitely you," Ringo said, as the center figure came to light.
"And I'm definitely not wearing this," Himari added, which was also true.
The two of them stared as the two photos faded into clarity. Unlike Ringo's photos, Himari's photos showed a familiar scene: her work at the nearby kindergarten. She was wearing her usual uniform with the ruffled collar and colorful apron and surrounded by different children in both photos.
As they scrutinized the photos, Himari repeated: "I guess it's a magical camera."
"Hold on, those two," Ringo pointed at the pair of boys in the background. One had red hair and the other blue and they were turned away from the camera in both pictures, though at different distances in the background, "They're the same, aren't they?"
Just like the pink-haired man in mine, her conscience helpfully supplied.
Himari's brows furrowed. "You're right," she said, looking more closely at the photo which featured the pair of boys at a slightly nearer distance. "I know them," she murmured, gesturing to the other children, all of whom were in the foreground, clustered about her, "But not them."
Ringo felt the ice return as she saw Himari blinking back tears.
"This is silly," Himari mumbled, wiping at the corners of her eyes, "I don't know them. Why am I crying?"
Ringo drew both photographs away, pulling Himari in for another hug.
"It's fine," she heard herself saying, "It's a magical camera, like you said. We'll just leave it at that, huh?"
Himari sniffled before nodding. Ringo felt more than saw the other burying her head in the crook of her neck, perturbed despite herself at the implications of the photos.
What followed was an especially restless night, with both of them tossing and turning. Twice, Ringo was woken by Himari calling out for an older brother who didn't exist by nature of Himari being an only child. Ringo's dreams were similarly haunted of subway tracks leading to nowhere and unwanted children packed in boxes.
She woke to the sound of her tweedling alarm covered in a cold sweat with the sensation of a crushing fate folding down over her.
Himari, surprisingly enough, was already awake and by her side, two trembling hands clasped about Ringo's.
"You were screaming," Himari whispered. "It scared me."
It wasn't because of the cuteness, but Ringo found herself unable to keep from hugging Himari then. And just like that, the touch of skin against skin, seemed to extinguish the onset of existential dread, to the point where -- when the curtains were drawn back around their four poster bed -- the events and dreams from the last night seemed far and away.
Ringo was pulled from another bout of introspection by a series of knocks on the door.
Both of them froze, then exchanged glances.
Knock-knock-knock, went the door.
"Who could that be?" Himari wondered aloud.
"If it's a mixup with the idiots on the floor below..." Ringo muttered, even as she scrambled out of Himari's embrace to get dressed.
In the time it took for her to throw on something -- anything -- decent, there followed two more sets of knocks, polite but insistent. Ringo was expecting an errant deliveryman or perhaps the pair of Kusabi twins from the floor below. She was not expecting to see three individuals in white trenchcoats and sunglasses.
"Good morning?" she tried through the speaker.
"Good morning," the middle individual said, in a voice that was impossible to place as male or female. "Is this the residence of Oginome and Takakura?"
"It is," Ringo answered, though she knew damn well she was under no legal obligation to do so.
"We believe an object belonging to our... facility... has accidentally ended up in your possession," the figure on the left said. They (because this one too, despite having a markedly different voice, couldn't be definitively marked down as male or female) turned to the right. As if on cue, the figure on the right pulled out a photograph and showed it to the intercom camera.
It was a photograph of the red Polaroid Himari had patched up.
"Are you familiar with this camera?" the middle figure asked.
"I am," Ringo answered, in a voice that sounded distant to herself.
"Who was it?" Himari asked, still rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
"Some organization, I think," Ringo answered. She handed over a business card.
"S... C... P...?" Himari read. She raised her eyebrows then tilted her head. "What did they want?"
"Oh! Was it their's?"
"I guess so," Ringo forced herself to shrug. "Um, they gave us this in return." She held out the small stack of Fukuzawas that had been handed off during the exchange.
As expected, Himari's eyes went wide as saucers. Then she squealed and threw her arms around Ringo.
"Let's have sukiyaki tonight!" she announced.
Such was Himari's way, Ringo thought to herself. And just like that, she relaxed once more in the other's embrace.
"Sure," she heard herself say, "Sukiyaki it is."