Sunday afternoon, May 11 – Ichinose House

"Thank you for attending my birthday party. Please come in." Kotomi repeated the phrases for the hundredth time, it seemed. Unlike the party from years before that had never happened, there were many visitors to the Ichinose household this time. There were more people than Kotomi thought she would know in a lifetime.

There were many classmates that showed up. She was certain that some of them showed up because Kyou coerced them, but there were others that were in her class and seemed genuinely happy to see her. For a generally quiet girl that never attended classes until only recently, this was nothing short of amazing. At first it seemed that it would be overwhelming - there were so many people that she recognized but did not know their names. They all knew her name and would greet her with smiles and polite words and wishes, but there were so many of them. Just when she thought it might be best to go to the quiet refuge of her room, he was there. Tomoya's hand was on her back as he moved up to her side. Looking at him and seeing how calm he was with all these people around gave her strength. She emulated him and smiled at another new arrival.

"You're not going to be playing the violin tonight are you?" a boy said as he arrived. Kyou had anticipated that there might be some comments like this from some of the less tactful members of the student body. Kyou had already prepared Kotomi with the perfect response.

"I had not planned to, but I will make a special exception for you." Her left eyebrow went up marginally as she studied the boy's reaction. There was shock, and even fear on his face.

"No, that's quite all right," the boy stammered, "I'm good really..." She would liked to have watched his reaction a little longer but there were already four more people at the door. She noticed Rie Nishina at the end of the line and was glad to see a familiar face. But there were so many unfamiliar faces...

"Thank you for coming to Kotomi's birthday party," a familiar and reassuring voice warmed Kotomi. Tomoya spoke softly and yet his voice was steady and conveyed a confidence and strength. Again, she felt his left hand was on her back as he shook the hand of another new arrival and acknowledged their well wishes to her. Kotomi took comfort in the hand on her back. It was strong and yet touched her softly at the same time. She leaned into his hand and gained courage and strength from his presence… his touch. Smiling, she looked up at his face as another group of well-wishers arrived. Watching him in action, she was envious at the way he handled himself with people he didn't know, and thrilled that he was there to support her. Sometimes he gave a polite bow or a nod. Sometimes he shook hands, and other times a fist bump. Kotomi was in awe of his mastery of the myriad variations of the greeting ritual.

"Thank you for attending my birthday party, Nishina-san. Please come in." Rie blushed a little at the honorific from such a notable upperclassman.

"Th… thank you Ichinose-senpai," Rie gave a bow to her host and asked, "you know I am in the year behind you."

"Yes," Kotomi took Rie's hand and said, "but had it not been for you, I would not have discovered this wonderful violin that has become my birthday present. For that, I will always be grateful."

"Oh… yes… well..." Rie looked to Tomoya for help but the big jerk was obviously enjoying the amusement. "You're welcome. I hope you have many years of enjoyment with it." Tomoya was no longer smirking, as he pondered Rie's words.

"Tomoya-kun," Kotomi turned to face Tomoya as the last of this group of guests had entered the house, "there is something that I need to ask you."

"Yes, Kotomi-chan?" Tomoya answered as he dropped his hand to his side. Kotomi's turn to face him had moved his hand from her back to her hip. And, while she didn't seem to mind his hand there, it did feel terribly inappropriate to him.

"I have noticed that you give different greetings to different people."

"What do you mean?"

"Sometimes you use a formal greeting, and at other times you are informal. Sometimes you give a slight bow and other times a hand shake or even a fist bump." she explained.


"How do you know?" she asked him.

"How do I know what?" he asked her back.

"Well, I give the same greeting to everyone and I am worried that I am doing it wrong." Kotomi looked down as she finished her sentence.

"No," Tomoya said firmly, "you're doing great!" He moved to put his hand on her head as he spoke but that didn't feel right either. He settled for putting his hand on her shoulder and giving her a gentle but firm squeeze as he told her, "You've really come a long way since I found you in the library. Don't forget that."

Looking up again, a glance at Tomoya's face told her everything was fine. More than fine, his smile suggested that he seemed proud of her. Along with the comforting presence of his hand on her, this gave her the courage to go on.

It was courage that she would need too. There were so many people there. Aside from acquaintances at school, Kotomi had also welcomed Furukawa Nagisa's parents and a few neighbors. Her house was full. The garden was full. She tried not to show it before the party started but she was concerned that she would not be able to do this from the beginning. She knew her own limitations and she was only recently able to stand being in a classroom with thirty other people that were not paying attention to her. Now there were significantly more people and she was the center of attention. There were several times that she would feel the urge to flee to the safety of solitude, but always Tomoya would be there to rescue her.

Well, to be fair, not just Tomoya. Aside from the classmates, there was an even more remarkable group there. These were her friends. Kotomi had only ever had one friend before. He was gone for a long time, but he was back now. And with his help, she also gained more friends in the last few months than she thought she would have in her lifetime.

"Ojisan," Tomoya said quietly as he looked past Kotomi toward the street. Kotomi turned from facing Tomoya to see who he was referring to. She gasped as she saw her guardian approaching the house.

"Oh..." Kotomi still felt the moment of fear whenever she saw him but she knew the truth now. She now knew he was not a bad man. He had only ever tried to help her but he had also been the man that came to her house to tell her that her parents had been killed in a plane crash so many years ago.

"I'm sorry," he said as he approached them with a brightly colored bag in his left hand. "I just wanted you to have this on your birthday. I can give it to you and leave if I still make you uncomfortable."

"No..." Kotomi was at a loss for words. So many years of fear and distrust of this man had only been exorcised just a day ago. Intellectually, she knew she had done him an injustice and that her fears were entirely unfounded, but her heart had not caught up yet. She couldn't speak. She couldn't find the words.

Then she felt Tomoya's hands on her shoulders and his body behind her. He was with her now. She could feel his presence, his strength, and his support enveloping her. She could find the words now.

"Please don't go." she said to him, "I have been wrong… wrong about you… for a long time."

"Kotomi-chan?" Youhei's voice interrupted her train of thought.

"Youhei-kun?" she responded.

"It's not a good idea to have the birthday girl all in tears at her own birthday party, is it?"

"He's right," Tomoya answered for her, "let's have a happy birthday party now and we can have a tearful reunion on another day." Looking at the guardian he asked, "Does that sound good to you?"

"That sounds wonderful," he said to Kotomi, "I look forward to it."

"Oh!" Kotomi seemed surprised about something, "I just realized that I never did proper introductions. Sunohara Youhei and Okazaki Tomoya, I would like you to meet my godfather, Kobayashi Jun."

"Kobayashi-sensei? Youhei asked Kotomi as Nagisa and Ryou also came out onto the porch. To Youhei, there was something about him that looked like a teacher.

"Kobayashi-hakase." Kotomi answered respectfully.

"Hakase?!" Ryou, Nagisa, Tomoya, and Youhei bowed to the gentleman.

"Please, that is a bit formal at a birthday party," he chuckled, "Please just Kobayashi-san will do. And, may I say that it is an honor to meet Kotomi's friends."

"Kotomi's friends." The words echoed in Kotomi's mind as they all went back into the house. The inside of the house suddenly erupted in laughter as Kyou finished telling a story… or a joke. But Kotomi's mind was on those two words. They were her friends too. Brash Youhei, bold Kyou, supportive Ryou, and caring Nagisa were all there. Part of her cried out the question, How did this happen? But there in front of her was the answer. Tomoya was just a few yards away from her now. She watched as he introduced Kobayashi Jun to the Furukawa's, the Yoshino's, and a few other adults that had come to the party. For a moment it seemed that time had stopped as she watched him move so freely among all these people.

Then the sounds of the party came crashing back to her as she realized that he was no longer next to her. Kotomi started to tremble and couldn't seem to catch her breath. But it was only a moment of panic before she felt gentle hands holding her left hand.

"I'm right here." Ryou said quietly as she squeezed Kotomi's hand. Her voice and those words were so reassuring and calming.

"Thank you, Ryou-chan." Kotomi replied after remembering how to breathe again.

"Nagisa-chan will be right back with some drinks." Ryou assured her. Nagisa and Ryou must have made some kind of arrangement between them. If Tomoya wasn't with Kotomi, one of them was always at her side. Sometimes they were both with her – giving her their support… and love.

And that is what she felt throughout the day and into the evening. Surrounded by so much love, so much encouragement. She would need that courage if she was to do what her heart commanded her. At first, it was only a whisper, but her feelings could no longer be ignored even if she had wanted to. Kotomi didn't want to ignore her heart any more. She couldn't. It was no longer just the cry of her heart begging her to take action but the harmony of heart, mind, body, and soul that demanded she try.

Tomoya watched the crowd, but he watched over Kotomi even more. He smiled when he realized that Ryou and Nagisa had come to the same conclusion that he had. They knew that Kotomi would have trouble with so many people all at once, so they did their best to make sure she was surrounded by friends throughout the entire party. Several times he would be circulating through the crowd and glance over to Kotomi and see a cry for help. It was not always something he saw in Kotomi's expression but something he read from the faces of Ryou or Nagisa as they flanked her. Seconds later he would be at Kotomi's side with his hand on her shoulder or back to give her the support she needed to carry on. Within moments, he would feel the unease dissipate and the smile come back to her face.

He could see that Youhei and Kyou were helping too. They were being themselves and, as such, were taking some of the focus and attention off Kotomi. Not so much that they were stealing her birthday party, but enough that she wasn't overwhelmed with so many guests. He would have to thank them – all of them, for their help.

Kotomi's guardian was also watching. He watched the easy interaction between Kotomi and Tomoya. He had discreetly talked to people at the school about this boy that had impressed him so much and was surprised to discover that Tomoya was such a poor student. It wasn't until he tried to have a conversation with Tomoya's inebriated father that he began to understand the disconnect between the boys actions and his academic performance. Kobayashi Jun had the beginnings of a plan, but would have thrown it away had it not been for a conversation with one more person from the school.

Toshio Koumura had a vastly different opinion of Tomoya than anyone else at the school. Oh, he certainly agreed that the boys grades were poor, but it was his opinion of him as an individual that made the guardian rethink dismissing Tomoya so quickly.

Yusuke and Kouko Yoshino also had a very positive opinion of Tomoya. After only a few minutes of conversation, he decided that he liked them as well. They were a newlywed couple and it was obvious that they were both very much in love. Yusuke didn't talk much but there was something about him that he couldn't quite seem to remember; he had more in common with Kouko as an educator though. He could tell that she loved being a teacher but didn't pry when she said she had to give that up for the time being. Kouko had praised Tomoya and couldn't say enough about his diligence and caring nature. It seemed that their wedding would not have been possible had it not been for the efforts of Tomoya and Kouko's former student Nagisa.

At the party he met Nagisa's parents and discovered that Tomoya was also helping their daughter make friends and fulfill her dream of restarting the Drama Club. Helping the socially awkward make friends seemed to be something of a talent for this young man. It seemed strange that he would have this talent when he seemed to only have one friend prior to the beginning of this school year. Of course, there was the injury between the last year of Middle School and the first year of High School that had robbed him of his chance to be on the basketball team. But that was several years ago now. If he hadn't made any progress in two years, why suddenly now. Could he continue to progress? How much could he do in the small amount of time that remained?

"What do you think of his prospects after High School?" he asked the small group of adults that he had been chatting with.

"What do you mean?" a sharp voice responded from his right. Turning, he saw the long haired twin looking at him. She wasn't – quite – glaring at him, but an eyebrow was up and it was clear that she was waiting to evaluate his answer.

"Fujibayashi Kyou, isn't it? You were inside when Kotomi made the introductions earlier. I am Kotomi's guardian, Kobayashi Jun." he gave a slight bow to the teenager.

"Well Kobayashi-san..." Kyou was looking as if she was about to lecture a truant classmate when she was interrupted.

"Kobayashi-sensei." Kouko Yoshino smiled sweetly as she offered the title as a correction.

"Sensei?" Kyou seemed confused.

"Kobayashi-hakase." Ryou quietly corrected the correction.

"Hakase?!" Kyou and Kouko both gasped. First looking at Ryou then at Kobayashi Jun.

"Please," he smiled as he waved it off, "just Kobayashi-san at the party. Otherwise, I'll feel the need to find a podium and begin lecturing. And nobody wants that."

"Ah… well… I should go and..." Kyou was already beginning to turn back to the party when he spoke.

"Please, Fujibayashi Kyou," Jun again gave a slight bow to the teenager, "I would like to hear what you have to say on the matter."

"Okay well," the flustered Kyou bit her lip and tried to think of something to say, "Tomoya is… um… Tomoya is good."

"Oh?" Youhei piped up, "is that the best a Class Rep can do?"

"You shut up!" suddenly the fire was back in Kyou's eyes as she turned her venom on a safe target.

"Come on Kyou," Youhei persisted, "you've known him for two years. You can do better than that."

"Two years?" Jun asked, "I was under the impression that only Kotomi and Sunohara-san here had known Okazaki Tomoya before the beginning of this school year."

"Yes well," Kyou fidgeted, "he was in my class last year as well."

"So you were good friends last year, or did you just know him because of your duties as the Class Rep?"

"I knew him last year sort of... but," Kyou looked at her sister for support and Ryou just nodded for her to tell the truth, "we weren't really friends until this year though."

"So he was an average student last year?" Jun asked with his best poker face. He already knew the answer but it was more interesting to see the reaction on these newfound friends of his.

"No, not really." Kyou looked down, "He was a troublemaker and not really a good student at all."

"Kyou..." Ryou held her sister's hand as it looked like she was feeling pretty emotional.

"But what really made me mad. Mad at him. I knew that inside he was smart… and good. And if he would try just a little, he would shine."

Everyone involved in that conversation looked across the room at where Tomoya and Kotomi were talking with some of the other guests. Tomoya's eyes were on the guests and his right hand was free to gesture or hold a drink, but his left hand was on Kotomi's back as if it had been glued there.

"I could never get him to try," Kyou said as they watched him, "but Kotomi did."

"And look at him shine." Yoshino Yusuke spoke up.

"Yes…" Kyou looked at Tomoya wistfully as she repeated Yoshino's words to himself. Look at him shine.

"Well," Youhei said matter-of-factly, "there's only one thing left for me to do then."

"Eh?" Kyou asked while still watching Tomoya.

"I'll have to let everyone know that Kyou is madly in love with Tomoya."

"WHAT?" Kyou shouted and Ryou gasped at the same time.

"Well it's obvious that..." Youhei never got to finish that sentence as a dictionary suddenly impacted his open mouth. His head snapped back and his body cartwheeled away from the shocked group of adults.

"I'll kill..." Kyou was screaming as she was about to leap after Youhei's tumbling body.

"Onee-chan, no!" Ryou cried out as she held on to Kyou's waist, "not inside Kotomi's house!" Pursuit seemed unnecessary anyway as the stumbling and tumbling Youhei had come down hard on the tile floor in front of the fireplace. Still enraged and blushing furiously, Kyou allowed her sister to navigate the two of them outside where she could cool down a bit.

This had been a fortuitous meeting for Kobayashi Jun. He knew that Fujibayashi Kyou had been Tomoya's Class Rep last year and that her twin was his Class Rep this year, and they were now all friends. He had planned to chat with Kyou and Ryou at the birthday party if he could, but had never intended for her to overhear his comment about Tomoya's future prospects. Her defense of Tomoya was vigorous and it made him wonder.

Watching closely he noticed Kotomi, Kyou, Nagisa, and even Timid Ryou would watch him when he walked by and would be attentive when he spoke. They were orbiting him like electrons around a nucleus and it was only a matter of time. He thought of ways to coerce Tomoya to choose Kotomi, but in the end, he knew it would be up to Kotomi and Tomoya. He was intelligent enough to know that any coercion on his part might meet resistance and could have potentially disastrous results.

Fair enough. But if the desired choice was made, he would do what he could, to make sure they had every reasonable chance of success.


Sunday evening, May 11 – Ichinose House

People are leaving the house! The irrational fear screamed in Kotomi's mind as a group of classmates gathered to say their goodbyes to her. Intellectually, she knew it was an irrational fear. She had spent many hours researching this anxiety and she even understood where the fear came from. But it didn't help. Even if you understand an irrational fear, it can still be paralyzing. That's what makes it irrational. Kotomi understood that too. Again, it didn't help.

Ryou felt the tension in the way Kotomi was holding her hand. She looked at Kotomi's face and didn't see anything at first. It was the eyes that gave it away. They were wet like she was holding back tears. Ryou looked more closely and noticed a difference in Kotomi's pallor. It was as if the blood was draining out of her face. Already fairly pale, Kotomi was starting to look almost ghost like. As another set of classmates approached, Ryou almost winced from how hard Kotomi was squeezing her hand.

Fear. Ryou knew that it was fear that was causing this reaction but she couldn't identify the cause. She looked around to see if there was something that she had not noticed before, but was at a loss. Her eyes fell on Nagisa. Nagisa was never too far away and was already looking at Ryou as if something was troubling her.

What is it? Nagisa hadn't said the words but it was clear to Ryou what the troubled expression meant.

Kotomi is in trouble! Ryou wanted to say but couldn't utter the words in the midst of saying goodbye to the classmates that were taking their leave. Ryou wanted to go to Nagisa and tell her what was wrong but she knew she couldn't leave Kotomi like this. Ryou definitely couldn't leave her now. Kotomi seemed on the verge of panic.

"Ah!" Nagisa's expression changed to one of understanding. Ryou was a little surprised at how quickly she and Nagisa had begun to understand each other. The unspoken communication they now shared was something she had never experienced before. Not even her twin sister Kyou could read her as well as Nagisa could. It went both ways too. When Nagisa left the room, Ryou knew without doubt, that she was not being abandoned. Nagisa was going to get help.

Moments later, Nagisa reappeared with Tomoya. Both Tomoya and Nagisa carried two drinks with them. As they approached, Tomoya offered a drink to Kotomi and Nagisa handed one to Ryou. Kotomi's fear seemed to subside a bit. With a trembling hand, she was able to take the drink from Tomoya without spilling it. But just barely.

"Kotomi-chan, what's wrong?" Tomoya asked quietly.

"Tomoya-kun, People are leaving." Kotomi whispered.

"Yes?" Tomoya looked around. There were still many people here but some had left and he could see others gathering up their things in preparation to leave.

"They'll be gone..." Kotomi's eyes were filled with tears now and her voice was trembling if not broken.

"You'll see them again…" Tomoya started to say.

"Sometimes, when people leave this house… I never see them again!" the tears were running down her cheeks as she clutched at Tomoya's arm.

Ryou saw the trembling in her hand and took the drink from Kotomi only moments before Kotomi fell into Tomoya. Nagisa took Tomoya's drink as he wrapped his arms around Kotomi and held her tight. His hand moved to her head and he held her face to his chest where she could hide her tears from the room. Ryou thought about the words she had said.

"Oh no!" Ryou looked over to see Nagisa's parents approaching to say their goodbye. Parents. Saying goodbye. Not now!

"Oh!" Nagisa looked as if she had just been shocked with raw electricity and ran toward her parents. Ryou watched her dear friend as she met her parents at the border to the room and quickly explained the situation. Her father looked concerned but her mother smiled and had a confident look as she seemed to tell Nagisa not to worry.

Tomoya too was concerned. He knew what was troubling Kotomi and he felt guilty. It wasn't just her parents that never came back. He had been her friend; her only friend. And he hadn't come back for ten years. He had failed her when she needed someone most. He swore to himself that he would never do that to her again. Tomoya took responsibility for the foolish actions of his youth and vowed to do anything in his power to undo the damage that had been done. Just then, he looked up to see the Furukawa's approaching.

Tomoya felt his own panic at what he knew was about to happen. He looked into Nagisa's eyes trying to let her know that something was wrong, but he saw that she already knew. He wanted to say something, do something… to stop everyone and give Kotomi time. But it was Sanae Furukawa that would save her this time.

"Tomoya-kun, Kotomi-chan," Sanae's confident, sing-song voice cut through the panic and fear like a honed scalpel, "could you walk with us for a bit?"

"Walk..." Kotomi blinked as she raised her face from Tomoya's wet shirt and looked at Sanae.

"I know you still have many guests here, but this should only take a minute or two." Sanae said with her cheerful smile as if there was nothing at all wrong in the world.

Nagisa and Ryou stayed at the house as Tomoya and Kotomi left with Nagisa's parents. The four of them walked in silence for several minutes until they got to the intersection that would take the Furukawa's to their bakery and home. Sanae and Akio Furukawa stopped under the street light and turned to Tomoya and Kotomi.

"This street will take us home." Sanae said simply, "have you ever been to the Furukawa Bakery, Kotomi-chan?"

"Um… no." Kotomi seemed a little confused by this question.

"The bakery is part of our house," Sanae explained, "Akio and I live there with Nagisa-chan." Sanae took Kotomi's hands and held them as she said, "Tomoya-kun, Kyou-chan, and Ryou-chan have all visited us there and I want you to know that you are always welcome too."

"Oh," Kotomi's eyes were getting wet again but this time it wasn't due to panic or fear, "thank you… thank you very much." She was going to try to bow as she thanked her friend's mother, but Sanae pulled her in and hugged Kotomi.

"You too brat," Akio said to Tomoya, "don't be a stranger. Nagisa and Ryou wouldn't like that."

"I wouldn't like it either." Sanae quipped as she let go of Kotomi, "It's nice having a handsome young man around."

"Huh?" Furukawa Akio looked briefly shocked, "Sanae, what are you saying?"

"Happy birthday Kotomi-chan," Sanae said as she and Akio headed down the street, "we look forward to seeing you soon!"

"Sanae!" Akio called after his wife, "what are you saying? I'm still handsome! Sanae!"

"They are very funny," Kotomi said after a few moments of watching the elder Furukawa's making their way home.

"Yeah," Tomoya agreed, "they're really something." He worried that what he wanted to tell her might make her sad, but decided it was worth the chance. "When you're with them, they make you feel like family."

"Family..." Kotomi echoed the word as the Furukawa's walked out of sight.

"I'm pretty sure that's what Sanae-san was telling you."

Kotomi wiped the wetness from her eyes with her sleeve and looked at Tomoya.

"To them," Tomoya finished the thought, "you are family."

Kotomi had a smile on her face when she and Tomoya got back to the house. Before they got to the door, they encountered another group of students heading out. Kotomi was inclined to hang back until they had disappeared into the night but Tomoya led her up to them so she could properly thank them for coming to her party.

When they entered the house, it was mostly her friends that were left. Nagisa, Kyou, and Ryou were putting the leftover food away and tidying up the kitchen. Youhei was motionless on the floor again. This time at least he had avoided the hard tiled floor. Tomoya wondered what he had said to Kyou to get knocked out again. There was something different this time though. There was a girl sitting on the floor with Youhei and allowing him to rest his head on her lap as he lay there. She seemed familiar, but Tomoya didn't recognize her. She was cute and seemed to genuinely care for the blond idiot. Tomoya chuckled that Youhei was going to beat himself up for being unconscious while his head lay unknowingly in a girl's lap.

Kotomi and Tomoya joined the girls in cleaning up until the food was put away and the dishes were collected. He knew that they would stay and help with everything, but Kotomi needed to have her quiet house back. It had been a long day for her; a long day for someone who had lived alone and without friends for a decade. She liked having friends and she liked the changes, but she would need some time to get used to so much interaction.

"Come on onee-chan," Ryou said to her sister. Kyou was getting ready to tackle the sink full of dishes but Ryou was pulling her toward the door.

"But I was just..." Kyou stopped in mid sentence as she saw the look in Ryou's eyes. "Yeah, I guess it is pretty late."

"I want to thank you all for coming to my party," Kotomi said as they approached the garden gate, "and for being my friends. I never thought I would have friends… not real ones anyway."

"Oh Kotomi-chan..." Nagisa took Kotomi's hand.

"You are all so wonderful." Kotomi looked at each in turn, "I only hope that we will always be friends." At that, Nagisa hugged Kotomi, then Ryou hugged her from the other side and Kyou moved up behind Kotomi.

"And I want to thank you two," Tomoya said as he placed his hands on Nagisa and Ryou's heads. They turned to see what he was up to and he told them, "I know what you two did for Kotomi-chan in there and you were a real help."

"Hey," Kyou said indignantly, "what about me?"

"Yes Kyou," Tomoya smiled, "I don't think the party would have been the same without the Kyou and Youhei comedy team to keep things livened up."

"That's better! I'm not just some..." she stopped and her eyes opened wide as if she had just been terribly insulted, "WAITAMINUTE! Did you just put me in the same billing as Youhei?"

"She's not going to turn into a bully, is she?" Kotomi asked worriedly.

"No, Kotomi-chan," Ryou said as firmly as she could, "she is not."

"I only meant that as a comedy team," Tomoya smiled again, "you make a great couple."

"COUPLE!?" Kyou screamed.

"A team," Nagisa said quickly, "he meant a team… like a comedy team."

"Yes, that's what I meant to say," Tomoya continued, "As a comedy duo, his dummy to your physicality made a perfect marriage."

"DUO? … MARRIAGE?!" Nagisa and Ryou were now clinging to Kyou to keep her from attacking Tomoya.

"Tomoya-kun," Kotomi said with some concern, "are you trying to get yourself killed?"

"No." Tomoya realized that this kind of antic wouldn't make Kotomi laugh and had a change of heart. "I was having a bit of fun at Fujibayashi Kyou's expense and that was wrong of me."

"What?" Kyou suddenly stopped struggling to get free of Nagisa and Ryou. In all the time she had know Tomoya, she couldn't remember him apologizing for one of his pranks.

"Fujibayashi Kyou," Tomoya bowed to her, "you have been a good friend today and have done much to be kind and helpful. Without you here, the party would not have been the same. It was wrong of me to tease you like that. Please accept my apology."

"Idiot," Kyou smiled, "Oh, stand up or I really will punch you like I did to Youhei." Kyou had a sad moment inside as she looked at Tomoya. She had really had a thing for him since their second year but there was no chance of that now. There were several times when she almost said something to him but he was always just a little too rough around the edges. She had been afraid to get involved with him then. Since the beginning of their third year, they really did become friends. Now she was afraid that if she told him what was in her heart, she would lose him as a friend. Who would believe that brash Kyou was so immobilized by fear.

"Speaking of Youhei, where is he?" Ryou asked.

"Last time I saw him, he was on the floor in the living room." Nagisa said.

"Oh yeah," Tomoya remembered, "he had his head in some girl's lap."

"What?" Kyou gasped.

"Nothing like that," Tomoya dismissed the concern, "he was still passed out. I think she was letting him sleep it off."

"Yes, onee-chan," Ryou admonished her older sister, "after that last hit, he might be so dazed that he walks off the side of a bridge when he leaves here."

"Don't worry about Youhei," Tomoya told them, "I'll make sure he is okay before he heads home."

With that, the girls said their good bye's and headed out the gate. Kyou and Ryou would be walking Nagisa home before they headed to their own house. When Tomoya and Kotomi got back in the house, they couldn't find Youhei or the mysterious girl anywhere. Apparently they had left unnoticed at some point, but Tomoya wasn't too concerned. Youhei was particularly hardy when it came to recovering from blunt trauma. He had suffered much more at the hands, or feet, of Tomoyo than Kyou had dished out this evening.


Sunday night, May 11 – Ichinose House

It was fairly late. The only ones left at the Ichinose house were Kotomi and Tomoya. Through the open door and across the fence, Kobayashi Jun watched through the open porch door as the two finished straightening up. He watched Tomoya and his charge finish cleaning up the last of the debris. He could have come back inside and helped them, but right now they needed their privacy. They might have seen him when they took out the trash bags but they both looked too exhausted to be sufficiently observant. On the way back inside, Kotomi took Tomoya's hand. It looked as if Tomoya didn't notice it for several steps before he came to a stop just outside the garden door.

Wishing his hearing was better, he watched the age old ritual. Kotomi was speaking and Tomoya was listening. The porch light illuminated the shocked expression on his face as he heard Kotomi's words. Almost chuckling at the look on the boys face, Kobayashi wondered how naive the kid was. Not to anticipate this event stretched belief. Then he heard a few pieces of Tomoya's response. His voice was raised in shock but not in anger as the phrase, "not good enough" and the word "delinquent" could be heard. Kotomi didn't falter. Her response was inaudible but Tomoya's reaction could be easily seen. Again, there was shock – but only for a moment. Surprisingly, Tomoya seemed to be discussing something with Kotomi. The words were spoken softly and impossible to discern from this distance, but whatever was said made Kotomi pause, then smile. But she didn't appear to be done either. She took his other hand and a few words of her own to say. Now it was Tomoya's time to listen and consider. Apparently Kotomi's words were more sensitive to Tomoya than his had been to her. When he looked up at her and nodded yes, they came together in a hug.

Obviously, they had agreed to a relationship, but what had been discussed? Had they been bargaining with each other at such a vulnerable moment? Regardless, the deed was done and truth be told, Kobayashi was quite pleased. Not knowing what bargain might have been made bothered him, but he would know soon enough. Kobayashi turned and walked away. Kotomi has made her decision and Tomoya has made his. It was time for Kobayashi Jun to get to work.