Author's Note: I hope you all enjoy this oneshot, requested by Tamuril2 over on AO3. It fills her prompt: "I'd love to see at least one of Kumiko's old teachers be good to her and be semi in contact over the years." It's manga verse, but the family shop Kumai Sayuri is forced to close is a ramen shop. Kuma reopens it as an adult, so we get to have a manga compliant J-Drama-style Kumai Ramen. That is everything you need to know!
Disclaimer: No own. No money made. Happy?
Kumai Ramen served the best ramen in all the Greater Tokyo Area. Kagami would die on that hill. Truly. The noodles were fresh, the broth succulent and hot, the meat tender. She waxed poetic about it with absolutely everyone she knew.
It had been a tragedy when it closed. Kagami would have asked the proprietress about it, but it felt terribly rude. Poor thing had lost her husband only a few years before, and her son was going through a troubled phase. So Kagami kept her nose cleanly out of the other woman's business.
The building stood empty after that – Town K wasn't quite financially depressed, but boutique shops weren't opening in every vacant space, either. It stood empty for years. And then, like a gift from the spirits themselves, the young Kumai son took out a loan to purchase the building outright. Kumai Ramen was back in business, and the food was better than ever.
Kagami noticed that Kumai Sayuri wasn't there much, like she'd been during her husband's run as proprietor, but that was fine. Kagami went for the food – not to socialize. She had enough of that, after long days teaching math education students at Waseda University. Still, she took a moment to check for Kumai Sayuri every time.
It was on a frosty December night that Kagami learned some of the answers to her questions. Driven to Kumai's by the cold during her commute (nothing better than hot tonkatsu ramen to guard against the early-Winter air), Kagami settled herself at the counter.
"Good evening! The usual?" said Kumai-the-Younger. After she nodded her assent, he added, "How was class, Ogura-sensei?"
"It was good," said Kagami. "A lot of first-years today. Still so enthusiastic. Makes class fun."
Kumai had disappeared behind a partition to prepare her bowl, but she knew from experience that he could still participate in conversation. "I remember my first year of culinary school," said Kumai, voice booming from the kitchen. "I don't know if I was enthusiastic as all that."
Kagami laughed, said, "Enthusiastic or not, you learned well." Kumai reappeared, slid a bowl down the counter to her. "And here's the proof!"
Kumai grinned at her – he was just so happy when people enjoyed his food that it added tremendously to the charm of the restaurant. It was cute, even when the restaurant filled up with tough-looking men who slapped Kumai's back and called him brother.
Kagami remembered from the shop's final days under Kumai Sayuri that a troubled Kumai Teruo had gone to a local delinquent high school. By the clientele and Kumai's relationship to them, it seemed he'd made lifelong friends there.
Good. Socialization is at least half of what school is about.
Kumai gestured at Kagami's bowl before wandering over to another customer, and Kagami's attention snapped back to her food. The steam rising warmed her face. The smell, rich with beef and onion, saturated Kagami's attention. Without any more delay, Kagami split apart her chopsticks, unrepentantly rubbed off the splinters (it might be rude, but they were cheap), and dove into her bowl.
She was about halfway through her food when the bell above the door rang. Kagami would have ignored it, but she could not help but respond to Kumai's crow of delight. She looked up from her tonkatsu, twisted to see the door. Ducking through it was a young man – about Kumai's age – with hair dyed a vibrant red.
He was dressed more formally than the usual Kumai-age-boys who popped into the shop, but there was something about the look in his eyes when he cast his gaze about the shop that was similar. He, as were they all, was proud of this place and proud of his friend.
Kumai slid bowls of Ramen in front of several customers at unlikely speed. "Shin-chan!" he said, when his hands were free. -chan? Adorable.
The lazy smile on Redhead widened. "Yo, Kuma." Kagami smiled internally at the nickname. Kuma. These rough-looking young men just got cuter by the day.
Redhead then suddenly stumbled forward. "Sawada, it's cold out there. Don't hog the entryway!" A small woman ducked into the store from behind him, and Redhead looked at her almost abashed, slid to the side. The woman came into clearer view, hair in pigtails, oval glasses balanced on her nose. Her winter coat hung open – was that a tracksuit underneath? Her shoes were sensible.
It was the young man who noticed Kagami watching first. He raised an eyebrow at her, gently elbowed the woman in the side. "What?" she said, and he pointed. The woman traced his gesture, eyes falling on Kagami. Her head tilted, and then her whole body lit with recognition.
"Ogura-sensei!" and that was enough to connect the dots.
Yamaguchi smiled widely, slipped off her jacket, and stepped further into the shop. Both Kumai and Redhead, or, well, Sawada watched them. "You two know each other?" said Kumai.
Yamaguchi looked at Kumai, looked at Kagami. "Yeah," she said. "She was one of my professors at Waseda University! Taught me how to teach math!"
Sawada snorted. "You say that like you get around to teaching much math."
Yamaguchi shot him a dirty look. "Hush, you. I got you into Tokyo University, didn't I?"
"She did, too," said Kumai, edging closer to Kagami. "Don't think Shin-chan would have bothered to apply if she hadn't been our homeroom teacher!"
Right. Kagami had exchanged letters with her oddball student for a time after she'd graduated. She had gone on to teach at some sort of delinquent high school, hadn't she? "So, you're still commuting towards the city, huh? Town K is definitely closer than Waseda, but I was sure you'd try to get posted in Kamiyama." She ignored, for the moment, the fact that it was probably weird for young people to casually hang out with their old homeroom teachers.
Sawada pointedly smirked, but Kumai looked thoughtful. "I guess it is a bit of a commute, huh. Why did you come to Shirokin instead, Yankumi?" Both Sawada and Yankumi looked a little dumbfounded at the question, an implicit Are you stupid? in their expressions. They left the criticism unspoken though, left Kagami to wonder about it. Whatever it was about, Kumai didn't seem to notice; he continued undeterred. "Anyway, sit, sit! Let me get you guys some bowls!"
Well, that's an interesting power relation, thought Kagami. She'd spent some time teaching high school herself before going back to school to teach prospective teachers. She knew how to evaluate a classroom, and while a ramen shop wasn't exactly a classroom, there was still something recognizably off about the dynamic. She noticed that Yamaguchi had never actually answered her question, had been grateful for the diversion Kumai had provided.
And then Sawada tried to put an arm over Yamaguchi. That answered some questions. Okay. Thankfully for Kagami's eyes and general sense of sanity, Yamaguchi responded by elbowing him in the ribs and scuttling artfully over to the stool next to hers. "So how are you, Ogura-sensei?"
Looking wounded, Sawada wandered over himself to sit with them. Kagami looked at him curiously, looked at her former student. "I've been well, Yamaguchi-san! Lots of enthusiastic young student teachers, as always."
Yamaguchi grinned. "That's good. Enthusiasm is so important."
And that was Yamaguchi's philosophy in a nutshell, wasn't it? Kagami well remembered her impassioned speeches on the topic of disillusioned ne'er-do-well students, and how they had value and deserved an education. She thought that passion would disappear over time, but here was Yamaguchi. A fair few years in the workforce, and the sparkle in her eyes was as bright as ever.
Kagami felt her educator's heart swell. "It really is," she said. "Teaching suits you."
Yamaguchi ducked her head, said, "Well, it's really thanks to these boys! There were my first ever students you know. I learned so much from them." She reached over the counter for Kumai, who'd brought over two bowls of miso ramen, ruffled his hair.
"Ah, quit it, Yankumi," said Kumai, but he was grinning. On Sawada's part, though his own hair remained unmolested, he looked a little disgruntled at the infantilization. Kagami snorted into her remaining tonkatsu. She supposed it was normal enough for students to crush on their younger teachers.
What was disturbing was the idea that Yamaguchi might have indulged it. She looked at her former student out of the corner of her eye, found her leaning almost imperceptibly into the range of Sawada's body heat. Right. But Kagami refused to be a busybody. Clearly, Sawada was already well into adulthood. It had been almost a decade since Yamaguchi had been one of Kagami's students. If Yamaguchi had overstepped her bounds as a teacher when Sawada had actually been a student, those days were long past.
"You'll always be my precious student, Kuma," said Yamaguchi, her eyes suddenly a little watery. "My very first class!"
There was an audible smack! and Kagami saw that Sawada had buried his forehead in his hand.
"And you're all doing so well! You have your father's beautiful ramen shop, and Sawada's just passed his bar exam and Uchiyama just got a promotion at his construction company and Noda just landed that new job at the accounting firm and Kubo's doing well at Abetsuru and –"
"We get it, Yamaguchi," said Sawada, emerging from his frustration to shoot her a look that was best defined as unspeakably fond. Belatedly, Kagami realized that neither Sawada nor Yamaguchi used honorifics to refer to each other. Yikes.
"I haven't heard from Kubo in a long time," said Kuma, looking surprised. "He stays in touch with you?"
A dark look crossed Yamaguchi's face. "He knows damn well he never would have gotten the job at Abetsuru if I hadn't gotten that cat out of the tree for him."
Kumai immediately flushed. It was almost alarming, how red he turned. "That's right!" he said. "You came along that time."
Sawada's eyes lit with a malicious curiosity. "The Abe Test," he said. "Right."
"Oh no," said Kumai. "You have too many embarrassing stories about me as it is. No way."
"It wasn't that bad," said Yamaguchi. "You just can't hold your alcohol. It's not like you failed Round 3."
And then her face turned bright red. Kumai looked at her quizzically. "What was round three?"
Yamaguchi shook her head and Sawada's smile turned shark-like. "Oh?" he said. "That bad?"
"Never you mind," said Yamaguchi, buried herself in her ramen.
Sawada grinned, looked directly at Kagami, said, "She'll tell me eventually. She always does." And then he too turned to his food. Kagami didn't know what to make of this whole exchange, but Kuma was smiling at them broadly. It seemed there had been an employment test delivered to high school students that involved not only alcohol, but something so bad that not even Yamaguchi would name it. And Kagami didn't remember Yamaguchi ever having much shame.
This was the person who played unofficially for every single Waseda sports team, men and women's divisions, after all. "What kind of school is Shirokin?"
"The very best," said Kumai. "And it's all thanks to Yankumi."
"Is that what your students call you?" asked Kagami.
Yamaguchi reluctantly pulled her nose from her bowl. Kagami knew the feeling, if she had any tonkatsu left at all, she would certainly be reluctant to turn away from it. "Yeah," she said, smile warm. She jerked her head in Kumai's direction. "One of their classmates thought it up, wrote it on a photoshop of my head on a naked blondie on my second day." She shook her head, the very picture of ah, kids.
None of Kagami's high school or college students had ever photoshopped her head on a 'naked blondie,' but she supposed that there was no accounting for cultural differences. Kumai, at least, looked a little abashed. Sawada was just smiling again, looking torn between exasperation and fondness. Kagami was sure that was just his base state.
"That must have been wild," said Kagami, after a moment of contemplation.
"Teaching always is," said Yamaguchi. She took another bite of ramen. "I'm just glad to do it!"
And that was when Kagami came to a decision, despite the question of Yamaguchi's relationship with her former student. "We used to exchange emails, after you first graduated."
"We did!" Yamaguchi put down her chopsticks. "It was honestly really helpful those first few years at Shirokin – especially after it became a co-ed school. It took a long time before I was comfortable teaching girls."
"Would you like to resume correspondence?"
Yamaguchi's eyes widened; a grin spread across her face. "Really? That would be awesome, Ogura-sensei! We should go out for drinks sometime, if you'd like!"
Kagami decided she would like that very much. This odd encounter at Kumai's opened too many questions for her to say no.
Word Count: 2147
Leave a review and tell me what you think! Always open to suggestions. Just because this is technically a prompt fill, I'd like to say that I don't advertise myself as being open to prompts. That said, if you have something for me feel free to request it. The worst I can do is say no. And if I really groove with an idea, I might just do it!