AN: Was feeling quirky so I've sprinkled in Japanese words here and there in the fic. In case you don't know them, here's a mini-glossary of roughly translated English equivalents:

baka neko – stupid cat

kuso nezumi – damn mouse

arigatou gozaimasu – thank you very much

sumimasen – 'I'm sorry' or 'excuse me'

bento – Japanese boxed lunches

iie – no

hai – yes

oi – hey

itterasshai – take care (said to someone leaving home)

ittekimasu – I'm leaving (said by someone when leaving home)

maa – 'well' or placating when strung together several times like saying 'now, now, now'

ano – sound of hesitation like saying 'well' or 'um'

ne – 'hey' or 'right' depending on context



CHAPTER 1: Removing Obstacles










"Baka neko!"

"Kuso nezumi!"

The loud shouts shattered the otherwise peacefulness of the isolated forest setting as Yuki and Kyou glared at each other, practically growling as they each struggled to get his own luggage out the door first. The shoving and pushing of the two agitated teens mixed with sporadic bursts of heated eye contact being exchanged was a ridiculous sight to be faced with in the morning, even if it was almost afternoon, thought Shigure as he watched them with a put upon look on his face.

When one particular shove threatened to make the doorway cave in, Shigure's expression became strained. "You two," he called, "try not to break the house just before you leave. I don't want to be spending any more money on repairs."

Yuki and Kyou stopped their doorway tussling long enough to shoot him thundering black scowls, intense enough to have Shigure's brows rising in concern for his own personal safety, before they resumed their luggage war.

Shigure sighed, not really surprised in the least by their blatant hostility. Even though it was a throwback to how well they'd been getting along for the past year, barely even fighting verbally not to mention physically. But both of them had been increasingly irritable the past week, taking their frustrations mostly upon each other, as their unwanted departure date had loomed closer at hand. And now it was here, the dreaded day they were to go off to college, leaving the house and the last vestiges of their memorable high school days behind.

Including Tohru.

That was the reason they didn't want to leave, even while it was also the reason for their parting in the first place. Akito's ultimatum had come during their last year of high school in a bid to further separate the two from Tohru who had only seemed to become more and more entrenched into the Soumas' lives as the months had continued to pass.

Kyou and Yuki were to attend college far away from home at Kyushu University and have him, Akito, leave Tohru in peace for the remainder of her stay with the family, however long that may be, or go against his proclamation and have her suffer the consequences for their refusal. It was a well-planned strategy on Akito's part as Kyou and Yuki had capitulated in an effort to free Tohru as much as they could from the Souma head's machinations. And, of course, Tohru's involvement in the matter concerning their decision was to be kept secret from her because of the guilt they all knew she'd feel were she to find out.

A thumping sound returned Shigure's attention to the doorway where he saw that Kyou had won in getting himself and his stuff out of the house first. But that was only because he had been kicked out of the way and sent sprawling on the ground by Yuki who proceeded to carry his own things through the suddenly cleared exit. A snarling Kyou picked himself off the ground and most likely would have launched himself at Yuki and started a brawl if it hadn't been for the rapidly approaching sounds of bare feet slapping on wooden floor. The Souma males watched with interest as an out of breath Tohru appeared, clutching two cloth wrapped packages in her arms.

"Sumimasen! I didn't mean to take so long," she huffed. She held out the packages to Yuki and Kyou. "Please take these! I made some bento for Kyou- kun and Yuki-kun to eat for lunch."

"Honda-san shouldn't have gone through the trouble," Yuki told her as he accepted the bento she offered him.

"Yeah," said Kyou as he took his own. "We could have just bought something when we got hungry."

"Iie," she said, shaking her head vigorously. "I was happy to do it. Kyou- kun and Yuki-kun have done so much for me these past years that I was finally able to graduate from high school, just like Mother wanted me to. Arigatou gozaimasu." She bowed and smiled at them gratefully. "Making bento was the least I could do on such an important day for you two after all the help you've given me. Also, this was my small way of offering encouragement to you in your future efforts just as you've always encouraged me."

"Oi!" Kyou tried to control his rising blush, without much luck. "Don't go making it sound so special. We didn't do anything!"

"Much as I hate to agree with the baka neko," Yuki smiled at Tohru and ignored the piercing glare a churlish Kyou aimed at him, "there's no need for you to thank us. Honda-san is the one who should be praised for putting so much effort into everything."

"Iie," she disputed. She would have said more but for the soft finger laid against her lips, silencing her, as Yuki looked down at her with a gentle appearance on his face.

"Honda-san," started Yuki in a soft voice, "shouldn't protest so much on this. All of us have been helped greatly by you many times, even though you may not realize it. We're all very happy to have met you and grateful for your presence in our lives. So, please, no more objecting, alright?"

They all looked to her, waiting for her consent that they felt her tender heart would be unable to refuse. What they got were large eyes filling up with tears until they spilled over onto reddened cheeks as feminine lips trembled with emotion. To Shigure, it was an adorable bittersweet sight. However, to the teenaged boys who looked on with growing alarm, it was enough to strike fear into the bravest of men who would valiantly forge into the bloodiest of battles without hesitation but would cower before the signs of a woman's heartfelt feelings.

"Oi!" yelled a panic-stricken Kyou. "Why are you crying? What the kuso nezumi said was a good thing, right?" Then he turned on Yuki as his agitated emotions carried him away. "Kuso nezumi! This is your fault for saying such depressing stuff! You made her upset and cry!"

Guilt over those very thoughts mingled with his panic over not knowing what to do about Tohru's flowing tears and had Yuki unleashing the result of that volatile mix upon Kyou. "Baka neko! You must really be stupid if you feel the need to state the obvious. Anyone with any sense can see what's going on. But can't you see that pointing it out just makes Honda-san feel even worse? Baka neko."

With that provoking statement shifting the blame towards him, Kyou rounded on Yuki. "Why you, kuso nezumi!" He clenched a fist, ready to hurl it at his nemesis. "I'll-!"


Tohru's frantic cry halted the fight about to explode before the front door. She rubbed at her eyes, wiping away the moisture that continued to trail down already damp cheeks while the others looked on.

"Sumimasen," she said apologetically. "I didn't mean to cause a misunderstanding. I wasn't upset. I was really happy."

The doubtful looks on their faces made her smile.

"Truly, I was. It's wonderful to think that there's someone who has such thoughts about me. I was really, really happy to hear that."

The warm expression she aimed at them had them relaxing in relief, the tension in the air dissipating, as their own lips curved upwards in response.

An amused Shigure observed the scene as a single look from a tiny female defeated the battle-fired demons of two excitable teenage boys with barely any effort. He'd been at the forefront to witness such occurrences many times over the past years but, still, it never failed to appeal to his sense of humor. Unfortunately, her next words, while continuing to delight Shigure, had the Kyou and Yuki stiffening again with a new kind of strain as she frowned at them.

"Will Kyou-kun and Yuki-kun try not to fight when you're away at college?" she asked anxiously. "It might be difficult to adjust to such a big change and I would feel better knowing that Kyou-kun and Yuki-kun will help each other if there are any problems."

Kyou and Yuki began to sweat, neither one of them wanting to make a commitment that would tie them closer to each other.

"Ah, Honda-san," started Yuki at the same time as Kyou's strained, "Oi."

"Please?" asked Tohru, looking up at them with large limpid eyes that still glistened with the faint sheen of the tears she'd recently shed. "Could Kyou-kun and Yuki-kun please try to get along as best as they can?"

In the face of that earnest expression, there was no way they could win.

With a strained smile, Yuki replied, "I can't promise anything. But, for Honda-san's sake, I'll try." His words were echoed by a consenting grunt from Kyou.

A radiant beam was their reward as she seemed to light up in happiness. "I'm so glad," she sighed, clapping her hands in a sign of relief. "I was worried but now I can relax if Kyou-kun and Yuki-kun will be looking out for each other."

Any further dissents they might have made to refute that statement was halted as a loud honking of a horn reached their ears. Kyou and Yuki looked at each other, similar expressions on their faces as the same thoughts took their minds.

There was no more time left.

It was time to go.

"That must be Hatori," Yuki said, staring off in the direction of the sound.

"Hai," Tohru agreed, her tone and face falling.

"Oi," came Kyou's voice as a fist gently rapped her on the head. "There's no reason to be like that. We'll be back during breaks."

"Hai!" Tohru exclaimed, face brightening. "And don't forget to call. Especially once you get there. I want to know when Kyou-kun and Yuki-kun arrive safely."

Kyou nodded. "And don't you forget what I told you," Kyou reminded her, ignoring the curious glances the other Souma males were throwing at him.


The soft look Kyou gave her hardened as he turned to glare at Shigure. "Oi. You'd better not try anything funny while we're gone."

"Me?" The look on Shigure's face was full of innocent surprise. "Kyou- kun, how mean! Saying such a thing to the man who gave you a roof over your head while you finished high school."

"Shigure," Kyou growled warningly.

Shigure held out a hand, palm out, in a gesture of peace. "Honestly! We've lived together for this long with nothing happening. Why would things change now?"

Kyou eyed the dog suspiciously and had to be satisfied with that answer. With a sigh, he turned to Tohru. "Then I guess I'll be going. Remember what I said," he told her again. Then with a last look at her, he picked up his luggage and started down the path away from the house to where Hatori was waiting with the car.

"Itterasshai!" Tohru called to his retreating back before turning to Yuki only to find him glaring at Shigure.

"Now that the baka neko's gone, I want to back up what he said. Shigure, you'd better behave yourself around Honda-san while we're gone. If we hear of any-"

"Maa, maa, maa," Shigure clucked, holding up a placating hand. "What kind of monster do you think I am to take advantage of someone?"

Yuki's face darkened. "Do you really want me to answer that?"

"How cruel!" Shigure gasped in mock pain. "Yuki-kun and Kyou-kun both saying such terrible things to me on the day we're to be parted." His body slumped as if suddenly depressed and he shook his head sadly. "And after all I've done for the two of you."

"Being a nuisance?" Yuki asked irritably.

"A-ano," Tohru broke in hesitantly as she looked back and forth anxiously between Yuki and Shigure. "Yuki-kun doesn't have to worry. I'm sure Shigure-san and I will be fine by ourselves."

At the innocent expression on her face, a sign that she didn't understand the nuances of the conversation, Yuki grew visibly worried. "Honda-san, you should be more careful of yourself when we're gone."

"Eh?" Tohru's face scrunched in confusion as she tried to figure out the meaning of his words.

Yuki sighed in resignation.

There wasn't enough time to explain and past experience told him that it probably wouldn't do much good even if he tried. The only other person around who could understand, even if he pretended not to, was the one he was leaving her behind to.

It was worrisome because, despite having lived under the same roof for years, Yuki still wasn't sure what to make of Shigure, or how far to trust him. Even so, Shigure had never really done anything to Tohru and the idea of her staying here under someone's supervision rather than going off to live on her own and getting in who knows what kinds of trouble was far more preferable.

'That's right,' Yuki thought, 'this is better because when college is over...'

He and Kyou could come back and Akito would no longer have any say about doing anything to her. But he had to make sure that she'd be as safe as possible until then. With that idea in mind, Yuki gave Shigure another hard look, mustering as much force and determination as he could behind it. But Shigure, who knew full well what was coming by that one glare alone, forestalled any words he may have spoken.

"Hai, hai, hai," went Shigure in an uninterested tone as he airily waved a hand in dismissal. "No need to worry. I'll be sure to take good care of our little flower."

"That's what I'm afraid of." Nevertheless, Yuki relaxed slightly at the assurance.

It was better than nothing.


Tohru's soft voice and the light touch of her hand on his had him looking towards her, only to find her gazing up at him in such a way that it brought a slight flush rising to his cheeks. It was a look that never failed to stir a reaction in him and was made all the more attractive because she had no idea what she did to people she leveled that look at.

He was going to miss it.

"What is it, Honda-san?" he asked in a low voice so only the two of them could hear.

"Yuki-kun also has to take very good care. Even though Hatori-san said your body's really strong now against illnesses, I still worry. Please take care not to get sick."

"Hai," he promised.

A hand came up to touch one of the yellow ribbons in her hair, ribbons he'd given to her long ago, full of memories of times past. It was one of the closest things he could come to in order to express his affection and how painful the parting was, unable to risk a hug at this late juncture.

And Tohru, being Tohru, understood perfectly. One of her own hands reached up to clasp his and squeezed gently in a comforting touch as the expression on her face softened even more.

"It's okay," she said quietly. "I'll be fine. Yuki-kun should concentrate on Yuki-kun. There will be many wonderful opportunities in Kyushu, I'm sure. Yuki-kun should take this chance and experience it all." She tilted her head as she smiled. "And Yuki-kun can tell me all about it over the phone."

"Of course," he said, his own smile a little lighter.

"And I'm sure Yuki-kun will be an even more wonderful person when he comes back!" she exclaimed happily.

At that, Yuki gave a small chuckle. "It's just like Honda-san to say something like that."

With some reluctance, he released her hand and stepped back. Yuki flushed a little more when he noticed a grinning Shigure's attention focused on them, a presence he'd temporarily forgotten about.

But another loud honking cut through the air and Yuki knew he couldn't linger anymore. He picked up his bags, bento tucked under one arm, and turned for a brief look back.

"Until later, then." He sent another warm smile in Tohru's direction. "Ittekimasu."

"Hai," she said brightly. "Itterasshai."

She stood in the doorway and waved in farewell at his departing form until he was lost from sight. Once he was gone, her hand dropped to her side as she continued to stand there, gazing at the spot she'd last seen him. But she was torn away from whatever thoughts were running through her head by Shigure's jovial voice echoing in her ears.

"Ne, Tohru-kun? Tohru-kun."

Startled by the sound of her name being called, Tohru whirled to face Shigure who was staring back at her with his usual amused expression.

She blushed, a little embarrassed when she realized he'd been trying to get her attention for some time while she'd been staring off into space. She mentally chided herself for being so rude to him when she was being allowed to continue living in his house even though she'd finished high school and, by rights, should have moved out on her own now that she was able to work full-time without having to worry about going to school.

She bowed as she apologized. "Sumimasen! I didn't mean to ignore Shigure- san!"

"Iie, iie. It's okay." His hands came up, clasping Tohru's shoulders as he leaned in closer. "I know Tohru-kun must be sad to see Kyou-kun and Yuki-kun go. Maa, I guess I'll have to do my best in their place."

She stared up in those dark features quizzically, partially transfixed by that dark gaze boring down on her. She had the impression that there was something more to his words but was unsure as to just what that could be.

"Ano, Shigure-san?" She recalled how he'd tried to get her attention while she'd been caught up in her reverie. "Did Shigure-san want something?"

A dark brow arched up as his lips twitched. "Now there's a leading question," he said. But he shrugged away the confused gaze she gave him and smiled down at her. "I wanted to ask Tohru-kun when lunch will be."

"Ah!" she cried, realizing it was almost lunchtime.

Guilt assailed her as Shigure looked on. She felt absolutely terrible that she'd been so lost in thought that she had nearly neglected her duties to the point where she had to be reminded by the person she owed them to. This was no way to begin their new living arrangements and she was anxious to make up for her lapse.

"Sumimasen!" Tohru exclaimed in a rush as she dashed towards the kitchen. "I'll get started right away!"

She was completely unaware of the intense dark-eyed gaze that trailed after her.