A Team Pigeons Production:
Milk and Its Derivatives
Chapter One aka: The one where Mei's work is interrupted.
Co-written by Why and Joebagadonut.
Mei had been so focused on reading the sewing club's latest request for more funding that the intercom buzzing to life had caused her to jump. She put the paper down with a sigh and pressed the button on her desk, the polite voice of her secretary greeted her with her never-changing inflection.
"Kaichou-san, your younger sister is here." Mei frowned in confusion but replied without missing a beat.
"Please let her in, Kaori-san"
A few moments later, the door was pushed open and Mei was greeted by the mesmerizing sight of Yuzu's honest and beautiful green eyes on a face that could have only be described as a miniature of Mei's own.
"Atsuko." A genuine smile found its way on Mei's face. "I was not expecting you."
"Mama forgot to call you." It was not an uncommon scenario. Ume had been terribly busy with work lately and her focus had been wavering away from her youngest daughter.
"I apologize, Nee-san." A radiant smile spread over Atusko's face and it enchanted Mei as it always did. The incongruity of seeing Yuzu's smile appear on a face that was so much like her own never failed to catch her off guard.
"It does not matter." Mei assured her. "I do not mind. Not at all."
"Mama had to stay over at work-" She took off her backpack and heaved a dramatic sigh, clearly missing her mother. "-and Papa is not here."
The very nature of Shou's work forced him into an erratic schedule even when he was in Tokyo. The man was constantly running about trying to secure funds for his charities or taking phone calls from all over the world at the oddest hours. However, to his credit, Mei had to admit that the man did try to spend more time as home and made a point of always setting calls with his youngest daughter when his location made it possible. But most importantly, Atsuko was a rather happy and beloved child, which put Mei's fear at ease.
"Yuzu-nee couldn't come either." Atsuko placed her backpack on the office couch and started unbuttoning her coat with some difficulty. Mei knew the child didn't like to be helped unless she asked for it. She stood and walked to Atsuko but didn't offer to aid with her task.
"I see." Mei said in a contemplative, overly serious tone. "So I was your last choice."
"No!" Atsuko was quick to answer, fixing on her sister with a firm gaze. "You have to work, I didn't want to be a hind..hinderen-"
"Hindrance." Mei smiled at the child's choice of words. She knew that Atsuko only tried to use such words around her. She knew the child endeavoured for her language to be more formal and polite around her. She knew that her little sister looked up to her in ways no one ever has before. It was not just admiration, but something much more precious and fragile than that.
As long as Mei avoided delving too deeply into it, she found Atsuko's behaviour endearing and quite adorable, but at times she worried the child was not completely at ease around her. Atsuko's smile and easygoing attitude erased her concerns as soon as they formed, for the most part at least. While Atsuko was not nervous around Mei, she did go to lengths to impress her scholarly older sister.
"It must be the Aihara genes…"
Atsuko had finally had enough of her battle against the accursed buttons of her coat. She turned to Mei with pleading eyes while holding the offending fabric toward her.
Mei knelt and liberated the buttons with deft fingers.
"I was just teasing you." She helped the child out of the dark blue coat, a most precious gift from the fashion-conscious Yuzu, "You are not a hindrance. You never are."
"You aren't good at it, Nee-san." Mei frowned while Atsuko neatly arranged her coat over the couch. "You don't know how to tease." Mei was given an impish grin.
"I suppose that is true." Mei conceded while standing up. "Would you like to help me with my work?"
"Yes!" Another smile appeared on Atsuko's face, it was so similar to Yuzu's smile that it stole a beat from Mei's heart. She found herself answering in kind with a swiftness she was still unfamiliar with.
She took her place in her seat once again and lifted Atsuko's small frame onto her lap.
"This might become your job one day." The sentence dropped from Mei's lips thoughtlessly, almost as she hadn't spoken it herself. She took yet another report and placed it in front of her.
"Really?" Atsuko turned sideways to look at her sister's face. She hadn't heard many good things about Mei's job from her father, not that she believed him completely. He loved to make up stories. He told the best stories ever.
"Only if you want to, Atsuko." Mei's eyes held a severity the child could not quite grasp but the answer satisfied her enough.
"I am going to be a samurai!" Atsuko announced with the certainty that only children possessed.
"That is a noble path." Mei regarded the child with serious eyes. "You are going to start your kendo class soon, is that correct?"
"It is!" Atsuko felt like jumping about as the thought made her giddy with excitement but she had learned to favour stillness when she was around Mei. She knew that Yuzu and her father loved to feel her energy and they would similarly be unable to have a conversation while remaining still.
She knew that her mother did not mind one way or the other, so Atsuko followed her moods freely with her. Her grandfather would like it better if no one but himself spoke. Ever.
Mei however, Mei really focused on her words in a conversation. She put the utmost attention on it. She spoke calmly. It was almost hypnotic and it was comforting in ways Atsuko could not explain. She loved to just listen to her and give her all of her attention. After all, Mei did the same. When Atsuko spoke, no matter what she was doing, Mei gave Atsuko her full attention.
"Will you be able to come and see my first kendo class, Nee-san?" Kendo was only one of the many activities offered by the newly funded Aihara elementary school. Atsuko had been delighted over it and took her "samurai" training rather seriously.
Expanding the Academy's offering to include primary education had been one of Mei's first goals as the new Chairwoman. Mei had also pioneered the removal of obsolete subjects to include the teaching of modern branches of knowledge like computer science. After all, she had only learned to use a PC in her twenties. A necessity imposed by college that proved to be a taxing experience. Since then, she had been adamant to expand the Academy offering, both in knowledge and in age groups in order to offer a full educational experience to the youths.
"When will it be held?" Mei leaned back in her chair. The leather had taken the shape of her body over the years and afforded her a level of comfort that made her feel guilty. "A chairperson should not be at such ease when there is still work to be done."
"In twenty-one days-" Atsuko raised her hands only to realize that she didn't have enough fingers to count that high.
"Three weeks." Mei iterated and Atsuko was quick to hold up her thumb, her index and her middle.
"That is good." Mei continued leaning her weight on the elbow that was resting over the armchair. "I will have time to arrange my schedule accordingly."
Atsuko nodded seriously. She knew how important work was for Mei. On a few occasions, she had witnessed her sisters argue over Mei's working hours. Sometimes, Mei was so tired that she could barely make it through dinner.
Those evenings were not fun because Yuzu-nee would get moody and gloomy and that really didn't suit her. Not at all. Yuzu's smile could light up a room and when she was sad, her sadness seemed to expand and envelope everything and everyone. It felt unnatural and because of that it was absolute.
"We better get to work then," Mei stated while sitting straight and placing a worksheet in front of her. She adjusted Atsuko on her lap, so that the child was directly in front of the paper.
"I will read the report out loud." Mei declared. "Then you will put the Academy stamp on it if needed and I will sign it. Does this seem like a reasonable arrangement to you?"
"Yes!" Atsuko agreed. She was once again enthusiastic, eagerly bobbing her head up and down until an expression of solemn contemplation dashed over her features and had her compose herself swiftly.
She enunciated very carefully. "Yes, it does. I would like to help you very much, Nee-san"
"A little Aihara indeed," Mei thought, before resolving that even if the child possessed some of the most blatant Aihara traits, there was enough of Ume in her to keep her safe from the self-destructive penchant every Aihara seemed to possess. And even if that had not been enough, Atsuko already had her mother and Yuzu in her life.
A much safer position than a young Mei had been in.
Mei started reading, running her fingers over the kanji as she did, so that the child's mind would associate the image with the sound.
The sewing club was asking for extra funding once again. Mei knew that Himeko would be unhappy if she did not approve such a request, but she could only stretch her budget so far.
"Right here." Mei pointed to where the stamp was supposed to go and after inking it carefully, Atsuko pressed the stamp against the paper. Neat and centred. A true Aihara masterpiece.
"Very good, Atsuko."
"It's easy, though." The child shrugged modestly but the tips of her ears turning pink betrayed her true feelings.
"Mmm." Mei hummed. "One day, I will show you the ones your oldest sister did. It is not as easy as it seems. It takes a firm hand-" by the end of the sentence, the tip of Mei's ears had turned pink as well. Her mind had wandered to a lifetime ago, when two budding lovers had put the stamp on Mei's first deliberation together before sharing a passionate kiss in that very chair.
Back then, they had still not been comfortable enough around each other to kiss when the right moment presented itself. Mei had to point it out for Yuzu to take action. In retrospect, Mei thought she should have started the kiss herself.
In retrospect, she would've done many things differently. However, if she had learned anything from her grandfather and her father's life, it was that thinking over old opportunity costs never helped anything. Although, the past should never be forgotten because mistakes shape us in way that success never could.
Mei was about to ready another paper to be stamped when she realized that Atsuko's full weight was resting against her now. The child was still. Her breathing pattern was steady and soft.
"Of all the traits I could have passed to her…" Mei pondered while arranging her left arm to better cradle the sleeping child against her side. She looked at the peaceful face with a small amount of envy.
"A nap would feel really nice right now…"
Muffled laugher tugged at the edge of her consciousness. There was a sense of familiarity about it; the timbre, the bubbling nature, the unblemished joy...
Mei woke up with a cat-like jolt. She went from a sleeping state to an awakened one in the blink of an eye and sure enough, when her eyes opened, she was greeted by the sight of a very red in the face Yuzu.
The girl had her right hand firmly clamped over her mouth. She had doubled over, her left hand slapped her thigh repeatedly. She was trying and failing to maintain her composure. In all honesty, she was probably trying her best. Her best was rather abysmal though. Mei reflected as peals of laughter kept slipping through the girl's fingers.
With a strict nod of her head, Mei looked to the sleeping child once more, then swiftly fixed on Yuzu with an imposing gaze.
"It's okay." Yuzu had somewhat calmed down and was able to speak now with only a slight tremor in her speech. "She falls asleep like you do but she sleeps like me." Yuzu walked over to Mei and placed a soft kiss on her temple. "Not even a screaming Himeko would be able to wake her."
A smile began to form at the corners of Mei's lips at the mention of her overdramatic old friend. She nodded while angling her head towards Yuzu's lips.
"How do they look?" Mei asked with a sigh.
"Absolutely amazing!" Yuzu knew that Mei was asking about the many pictures of the sleeping sisters that she had just snapped.
"I wish to see them."
"Of course. I was also thinking of printing some…"
"Mmm." Mei glanced down at the peaceful bundle nestled in her lap.
"We should wake her up though." Yuzu reached over to move some of the child's dark locks off of her face. Atsuko's hair felt just like Mei's, a thought which made Yuzu smile. "It's a shame because Mama told me she hadn't been sleeping too well lately." Yuzu sighed with concern. Mei was surprised, she had never had any problem sleeping as a child, not even after Shou left.
"...but she may be too big to carry." Yuzu's voice faded off gently as the she trailed the back of her hand over the child's cheek in a tender caress.
Mei's face had been conditioned through years of loneliness to never reveal any emotion and she could do so in just about any situation, except for when that situation concerned Yuzu. It was both a source of great happiness and a source of great frustration. Yuzu could tell what Mei was thinking quite easily now, though it had not always been like that. It had taken a long series of trials and error and a great amount of trust and patience to reach this kind of ease between them.
"She is all right, Mei…" Yuzu soothed her in a voice that carried both assurance and kindness in equal measures, knowing full well where Mei's mind had wandered to.
"She is such a happy child." Kneeling by Mei's side, Yuzu rested her warm hand on her lover's knee for support.
"She will wake up because she's so worried about the health of the planet..."
Mei's astonished expression almost caused Yuzu to burst into laughter. Nothing good would have come from it, so Yuzu resisted the impulse exhibiting a will of steel.
"…or what would happen if the sun were to burn out…" Yuzu scrunched her face up, the concept was absolutely alien to her.
"Is it fair for a child to worry about such things?" Mei pondered. Her only concern at Atsuko's age had been living up to uphold the Aihara Academy legacy. She wasn't sure which set of thoughts would prove more exhausting.
"Well." Mei considered. "It will happen eventually, however-"
"Listen to the socks..." a sleepy and cryptic voice blurted out. Atsuko was stirring in Mei's arms.
Mei started to rub the child's back gently, presumably to ease her out of sleep in a gradual manner, or so Yuzu thought.
For wise reasons they both decided to ignore the child's nonsensical sleep talk.
"From where does she gather such notions...the internet?"
Yuzu grinned as the inexperience Mei had with technology coloured her usual neutral tone.
"Noriko-Sensei," Yuzu rose from her kneeling position and hopped backward to sit on the desk. Usually Mei would have scolded her but at that moment, Yuzu was offering her an inviting view of her legs. She was wearing a short yellow skirt that wasn't particularly suited for such a position. Mei felt desire stir within her.
"Her science teacher?" A shocked Mei whispered to Yuzu after taking a few seconds to pull herself back together. Those thighs were inviting her still.
"Hey, don't give me that look!" Yuzu murmured in response, pulling her braided hair behind her shoulders. "You handpicked the teachers for her class yourself."
"I will have to revisit it," Mei considered sombrely. "It must have been one of Himeko's suggestions, surely."
An eye roll from Yuzu was all the answer she got but Mei was far from done.
"I will have to look into it." She mused.
Yuzu could tell her mind was running through options. "-however, it does not seem like Noriko-sensei is lying." Mei acknowledged with a sigh. The seriousness in her voice paired with her concerned face ate at Yuzu's resolve to not kiss her right there and then.
Mei sitting in the Chairwoman's seat was always an alluring sight, even with a child in her lap. If Mei had tilted her head at Yuzu, as she did whenever she wanted a kiss, Yuzu would not have hesitated.
Besides, nothing short of cannon fire could wake Atsuko.
"Oooookay..." Yuzu drawled while arching her back in a stretching move that didn't fail to capture Mei's eyes. Although her desire was soon replaced by a contemplative expression.
"Hey! Why are you looking at me like—"
"This comes from your side of the gene pool." Mei stated with uttermost certainty. She sighed and adjusted Atsuko slightly, so that the child could better nestle her face in her neck.
The tender gesture softened Yuzu's features with something akin to sweetness and
melancholy. Mei tried not to dwell on it. Nothing good laid in that direction.
"How so?" Yuzu asked with a touch of incredulity.
"Aiharas are quick to accept what they cannot change." One of Mei's elegant eyebrows rose in a challenging way. "You and mother, on the other hand, you won't stop. Not even when faced with a lost cause."
Yuzu's confused expression was not unexpected and Mei took it upon herself to quickly clear it away.
"Mom married father and you..." the line of Mei's lips softened in a way that would have been imperceptible to all but Yuzu. "...you wouldn't let go."
With a soft leap, Yuzu got on her feet and leaned forward, resting her hands against the chair's frame for support.
She used her lips to part Mei's and felt Mei's smile when she whispered...
"...and who could blame me?"
Yuzu moved to deepen the kiss but Mei was already pulling away from her, to Yuzu's dismay and frustration.
"Regardless of the source of her information..." Yuzu went back to lean against the desk and crossed her arms over her chest. She resigned herself to humour her troubled lover.
"...I question her choice to share her concerns, as valid as they might be, with children that have yet to acquire the capacity to—"
A rather theatrical sigh from Yuzu cut short Mei's words.
She raised an inquisitive eyebrow, looking as regal as ever. Yuzu's eyes travelled greedily down Mei's body; getting caught by the proud line of her jaw, the elegant column of her long neck, the whisper of a collarbone, revealed by an unusually loose tie. Mei must have been rather tired if she had loosened her tie.
It had been an erratic week and they had not seen much of each other. With Atsuko staying over, Yuzu's plan for a romantic dinner had also dissipated. She loved having her little sister about but the timing was unfortunate to say the least.
She just wanted to go home, eat dinner and put on some anime for the child. Then she could snuggle with Mei under an unnecessary duvet, while magical girls, unleashing destruction in burst of yellow and pink magic, kept Atsuko preoccupied.
Her face must have revealed her true desires because Mei's lips relaxed in what Yuzu had learned to be a sign of understanding. With some effort, Mei stood up, a still sleeping Atsuko slumped in her arms.
"Would you mind gathering our things, Yuzu?" Mei went to retrieve Atsuko's coat and efficiently draped it around the child, holding it in place with her arms.
Mei's rubbing of Atsuko's back had sent the child right back into the land of Morpheus instead of waking her up. Just as Mei had predicted it would. The strategy worked on Yuzu as well.
"Ah! So stubborn…" Yuzu thought, pondering which scented oil she was going to use tonight when she would have to inevitably massage the tension out of Mei's shoulders.
End of Chapter One.
Thank you for reading.
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