Milk and its Derivatives

Written by Why and Joe


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I always try to replay to reviewer, unfortunately I cannot reply to guests. So I replied to those reviews at the end of this chapter.

Note:

I have been informed over the link I've posted not working.

If you wish to see the art, Galthmir has done for us, simply go there:

wwwDOTredditDOTcom/user/Galathmir

The piece inspired by Chapter 8 is titled: "The Moon is beautiful, isn't it?"

The piece inspired by Chapter 10 is titled: "Is is okay to love you, Yuzu?

There also is a family portrait, titled: "Family photo" which allows us to see Atsuko. Galathmir drew her, exactly as Joe and I had imagined her.

All the pieces are wonderful and Joe and I feel blessed for receiving such a precious gift.


Chapter 10 aka The one where Mei closes her position.


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Some Enchanted Evening

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Yuzu squirmed about uncomfortably in her seat and then felt guilty for doing so. The western-style restaurant had clearly gone to great lengths to ensure maximum comfort for diners. The tables were generously spaced apart, the waiting staff acted with such discretion that their presence was barely felt and the room was filled with the quiet and calming tones of a piano from an unseen speaker.

For Yuzu, she may as well have been on an alien planet. For all of her love for all things dramatic, the elaborate pageantry on display made her feel anxious. She did not want to say or do the wrong thing and end up embarrassing Mei in front of the other patrons, who talked amongst themselves without sending as much as a glance in their direction.

"Yuzu." Mei sensed her lover's discomfort. "...You can act naturally."

The words themselves did not carry much meaning and nor did they need to. The soft sound of Mei's voice brought Yuzu's heart rate down to more manageable levels and back to her senses.

"Sorry." Yuzu chuckled nervously and started playing with the green gemstone she wore around her neck. She was all but in love with it and did not wear it often, preferring to reserve its beauty for special occasions such as this one. Although, sometimes she would take it out and just look at it with love filled eyes. Upon receiving it she had fallen speechless, hands raising to her face as a gasp of marvel parted her lips while her eyes filled with tears.

The thought of Mei treading waters she was not familiar with just to get her the present she would love the most filled Yuzu with an inordinate amount of happiness.

She offered Mei an apologetic grin, realizing she had wandered off. It was not necessary, as when she caught Mei's eyes it became clear her lover had known exactly where her mind had traveled to and was most pleased by the thought.

"You must be used to these places, Mei." Yuzu remarked.

Her beloved Mei was the most humble person Yuzu had ever known. Despite being proud, she never played up her accomplishments and when left to her own devices she would resort to a most frugal lifestyle. Yet being an Aihara came with certain expectations and she was accustomed to such luxuries.

"Somewhat." Mei replied noncommittally as she carefully set a dinner napkin on her lap. "But please do not hesitate to ask if you are unsure about anything."

"Well…" Yuzu prodded at the cutlery of varying shapes and sizes that surrounded her plate. She had been faced with such dilemmas before as it was not the first time they dined in a place as refined as this one was. Yet, for reasons she could not fathom, her mind refused to retain information about the proper use of cutlery.

"You start from the outside and work your way towards the ones in the middle." Mei explained as she took a sip of water. Yuzu truly had no reason to be nervous, her lack of knowledge over such trivial matters only emphasized her honest nature in Mei's eyes.

Even though Yuzu had plenty of chances to learn of these uses during the seven years she had with Mei, her mind seemed to refuse these artificial customs and every single time, she would find herself entirely confused by it.

"Thank you, Mei." Yuzu's shoulders relaxed a bit and her usual smile soon returned to her face. She set herself to study her beautiful love's perfect features, an activity that never failed to smooth her nervousness into calm. She lingered over the long line of Mei's neck and the elegant way it devolved into the patrician elegance of her jaw, enacting a perfect compromise between grace and sharpness.

Mei's lips, soft as ever, captured her attention next. The delectable curve her lower lip was bowed into and the sharp lines her upper lip drew another perfect compromise of beauty happening on her love's face. The patch of skin separating Mei's upper lip from her nose was so very soft and sensitive. Yuzu found herself blushing uncontrollably; her plan to relax herself by admiring Mei had backfired. Utterly and completely so. She felt like her cheeks were on fire, sipping a big gulp of water seemed the best course of action and in doing so she let go of every attempt to play elegantly.

She found her salvation in Mei's fond smile, Mei was all but cradling her with her eyes. Such a look all but cleansed away Yuzu's anxiety and she smiled ever so brightly at the love of her life. Her green eyes answering to Mei in kind as a most adoring sparkle animated their depth.

The arrival of the food also helped to return Yuzu to her normal mood and she was quickly digging into it in her typically frantic manner. After a physically demanding trip around the lake under the sweltering sun, she was more than a little hungry. Mei exercised her typical restraint and picked off pieces of her food with her deft hands. Everything had been prepared to perfection.

Her lover seemed to be paying little attention to her food, somewhat managing to perfectly roll her food around her fork with distracted effort while her purple gaze remained trained on Yuzu's face.

"We really needed this break, didn't we?" Yuzu dabbed at her mouth with her napkin, wishing to keep her blushes under control.

Mei sighed, her instincts receding as her desire was firmly bridled by her rational side.

"Yes. It has been exceedingly busy recently - For both of us." Even as a workaholic, Mei had been feeling the strain lately and had not been helped by the continued meddling of her Grandfather - The one remaining relic of a past that she would have preferred to abandon entirely but for a misguided sense of loyalty.

Yuzu nodded in agreement. While she was overjoyed at the continued success of her business, the long and often unsociable working hours had taken their toll. She had not seen as much of her family as she would have liked and the trip to Fujikawaguchiko had only reiterated to her what she had been missing: The cheery conversations with her mother, the bad jokes told by her stepfather, the boundless energy of Atsuko and of course, the overwhelming love provided by Mei.

"I am glad to have gotten so much alone time with you over the past few days. Breakfast and the evenings after work… It's not nearly as much as I'd like." Yuzu spoke honestly and was rewarded with the smallest of glimmers in the beautiful purple eyes watching her from the other side of the table.

"Not at all. Still, I truly cherish the time we spend with Atsuko too." Mei answered honesty with honesty. She had not always been able to speak so frankly about her feelings and was eternally grateful to Yuzu for drawing that side out of her.

"Hehehe, even now, you can't stop thinking about her… I'd be lying if I said I was any different." Yuzu shot a grin at Mei, revealing the bright whites of her teeth.

Atsuko had become such an important fixture in both of their lives that there was scarcely a moment when the small child was not in their thoughts. It was not just that the pair enjoyed a childhood they never got to experience vicariously through their sister, but Atsuko's existence alone brought them so much joy every single day. Her unabashed joy was free of cynicism, her curiosity was free of any reservation and her love was free of any restraint.

Mei's eyes narrowed as she considered what her younger sister meant to her while recalling that as an Aihara, there would still be certain expectations placed upon Atsuko.

"There is also the upcoming gala to consider." Mei remarked, recalling an important function which she and members of other elite families would be attending.

"Don't worry, Mei. Matsuri is excellent at her job. I trust her completely." Yuzu reassured her while reaching over to tenderly wrap her hand round Mei's. Mei's hand turned to claim Yuzu's fingers within her own from the moment their skin touched.

As Mei's partner, Yuzu would be attending the gala as guest too. Despite her own company running the event, she would be unable to oversee the management of it on the day. As her supposed second-in-command, Matsuri would be in charge on the night instead. The thought filled Mei with a not insignificant amount of trepidation, especially given that her grandfather would also be in attendance. Anything less than perfection would be perceived as a failure. The Aihara way.

"Still, I wish that your Grandfather would have given us more time to prepare." Yuzu confessed, making little attempt to disguise her disliking of the man whose life she had once saved. She felt Mei's hand tighten her grip at the mention of the Aihara patriarch.

"You know how he is, Yuzu." Mei sighed. Her grandfather expected the world to move according to his own tempo and paid only cursory consideration to the trouble this attitude of his could cause to others. Truth to be told, this tendency was the result of him pushing himself to the limits whenever work was concerned and expecting others to be just as dedicated as he was - No matter how short notice.

"...Still, it is important to network with people. You never know who you will meet at these events." Mei amended, being able to always find a silver lining in most situation was something she had learned from her wonderful love. True to her nature though, a dark thought followed suit, obscuring her positive outlook with little difficulty.

Mei's eyes narrowed and she recalled her hand, purple eyes losing their focus and setting on nothing in particular as her mind began to wander. Yuzu tilted her head and tried to capture Mei's gaze with an inquisitive smile, her glossy red lips curling invitingly. Her delicate attempt to gather Mei's attention failed as her love continued to gaze into nothingness. The need for a less delicate approach prompted Yuzu to finally speak up. Mei needed to hear her voice and to be helped into opening up with words of understanding.

"He asked you to do something else, didn't he?" Yuzu had gotten very adept at reading Mei's expressions and right now, she knew that she was looking at Mei's "worried about Grandfather" face.

"Yes." Mei finally set her deep purple eyes back on Yuzu. She had rarely looked as delicate as she did now, her face was soft with worry and her gaze was all but pleading Yuzu for reassurance as she spoke the next words. "...He has asked me to bring Atsuko too."

Yuzu smiled at the mention of their darling little sister and her eyes sparkled at the possibility of picking out the cutest dress for her to wear at the event. She pushed those thoughts aside upon seeing Mei's troubled expression. Yuzu had only a glancing amount of trust in Mei's Grandfather and had little doubt that this was the source of Mei's unusual bout of uncertainty.

Yet she knew that Mei still respected him, in spite of everything and in accordance to her love's feelings, Yuzu always treaded graciously around the subject of him and with an inordinate amount of delicacy.

"She's still very young, Mei." Yuzu observed. It was sure to be a long evening, possibly too long for a young child to be expected to handle, although she had little doubt over Atsuko soldiering through. Her little samurai was a true warrior, especially when her beloved Nee-san needed her.

She had never protested their visits to their grandfather, even though they filled her with unease, only because she had perceived the discomfort her Nee-san was gripped by whenever facing the man. She was not going to leave her Nee-san alone with him, she had told Yuzu as much and in the most candid way. Atsuko's declaration had filled Yuzu with a limitless amount of pride.

."...But you have mentioned how important these events are." Yuzu continued, turning her attention to the matter at hand, wishing for nothing more than to assuage her lover's fear. She could feel Mei was pulling away from her, losing herself in some dark labyrinth of the mind.

Her expression was curiously blank. Yuzu had seldom seen that guarded look in recent years and on the rare occasions that it did return, it was usually due to some family-related issue or conflict. It filled Yuzu with anxiety.

"Sooner or later, Atsuko will be expected to attend these gatherings. Regardless of what she decides to do with her future, she is still an Aihara and that name carries certain… responsibilities." Mei looked back down at her plate, her appetite rapidly abandoning her.

Even her father, in spite of his rogue lifestyle, had returned to attending gatherings as this one - If he happened to be in the country at least. It had proved a fruitful endeavor when securing financial aid for his charities. Mei was surprised by the disappointment she felt over her father not being able to attend this particular event. He could be a precious ally if he put his mind into it and she trusted him to love Atsuko dearly.

"I have not agreed to it with Grandfather yet, but I think it would be best if she were there - even if he does have some ulterior motive." Mei relied in acceptance, always willing to consider an opportunity for what it was, if only because looking at the matter through this particular cynical lens allowed her a reprieve from her concern.

"It's a good thing that she has her wonderful Nee-san looking out for her then." Yuzu knew exactly how to improve her lover's mood and her ploy worked to perfection.

No matter what, all Mei needed was to be reminded of how fiercely protected Atsuko truly was. Mei still had the feel of her younger self in her mind when thinking of the obligations her family placed on its members. She had been completely alone and helpless when facing such burdens. Atsuko all but had a pride of lions looking after her.

Mei smiled nervously and allowed herself to take in the gorgeous love-filled emerald green eyes watching her from across the table. Of course Yuzu was right. Neither of them would allow any unwanted meddling to have a detrimental effect on the life of their little cub.

"Mmm… With you two around, it might even be… fun." Mei covered her mouth with her pale hand and let out a small chuckle.

With Yuzu and Atsuko at her side, it felt as though there was nothing she could not overcome. Her will to be just as supportive to them was ironclad and it only required a look into those entrancing pairs of green eyes to remind her why she was where she was and how she had managed to get there.

The evening continued, as did the lighthearted discussion on a wide range of topics from work to the latest fashion trends. Mei permitted herself to become lost in the chatter, which was no difficult task with someone as charismatic and talkative as Yuzu was.

"Ahhh." Yuzu took one final sip of her water. "I've had a great time tonight, Mei." She looked to her partner with curious eyes, eagerly waiting to hear how she had found the experience.

"Yes, it has been thoroughly enjoyable." The bluntness of Mei's response caught Yuzu off-guard. There was no damning with faint praise to be found and complete sincerity in her words.

"We should do something like this more often." Yuzu began making a pitch that she knew that Mei would have a difficult time resisting. "When I'm near the academy, we could grab lunch! There's plenty of good places in that area - Harumin and I found most of them!"

"...You were likely wearing your uniforms at the time too." Mei playfully observed, not forgetting Yuzu's numerous breaches of school rules while attending the academy. "That aside, I would not dislike that arrangement. I could ask Kaori-san to make sure that my schedule is clear."

Yuzu's eyes lit up with glee. Mei's acceptance of her suggestion was as roundabout as ever, but the slight raise of her brow was all the confirmation of her true feelings that Yuzu needed. Coaxing her lover out of her office was not always the easiest of tasks, but the prospect of regular dates was too tantalising to decline.

Waltz for Venus

Once back in their room, Yuzu turned the soft lights on, the orange glow immediately banishing the darkness to the corners. Through the open windows, the tantalizing breeze of the late evening streamed in along with the Moon's pale glow. It was its own world and Mei and Yuzu were its only dwellers.

They shared a moment of silence, minds looping back to the lovely meal they had just shared, words from their conversations accompanying the images as they played through their minds. Yuzu smiled to herself in quiet contentment, lips pressed together as if trying to hold onto something as a faint rouge hue dusted her cheeks.

Mei sat on the bed, a strand of dark hair held between her thumb and her index, the fine texture teasing her skin as she lazily rolled it between her digits. She contemplated the sight of Yuzu in mute admiration, relishing the fact that she was no longer scared by the clarity of what she felt for Yuzu.

The soft breeze streaming in through the open balcony caressed Yuzu. She could not resist such an invitation and started to gently sway under its touch. Her dress danced slightly about her, its feather-like quality making it sensitive to every movement.

She dared to glimpse at Mei and all but blushed over the way those purple eyes were drinking in the sight of her, taking in every detail like a connoisseur observing a piece of fine art would. A darker bout of shyness spread over Yuzu's cheeks.

Mei held an unusually languid pose, her body drawing lax curves in place of sharp lines. She appeared almost lazy in her contemplation of Yuzu.

Yuzu felt the intensity of Mei's gaze on her skin as she would a touch and yielded to the temptation of taking a few steps about the room, enjoying the feeling of being admired as Mei's eyes followed her every move. If she were prey, she was one hiding claws.

A nervous giggle bubbled past her lips as Mei remained where she was, content to allow the anticipation to stew until reaching boiling point. It was an exercise in self-control for both lovers. A war of attrition as both were reluctant to fire the opening salvo.

Mei broke the stalemate at last, the dark lock of hair she had been entertaining herself with was pushed behind her ear, marking her opening move. Her second move was to reach Yuzu, a couple of long strides was all it took. Purple eyes narrowed with intent, there was a purpose to her action that made Yuzu shiver.

The strain of such a routine eventually got to her and Yuzu leaned in for a kiss. Her lips were met by Mei's fingers, a gentle gesture demanding pause. Yuzu had little intention of complying to such cruel requests, her lips would not withdraw and every inch of Mei was a place worth of adoration. She teased her love's ivory skin with her lips, pearly white teeth gently nibbling the sides of Mei's fingers.

A look of confusion misted her eyes as Mei took a step back and offered her hand to her. As she did not appear inclined to explain herself any further, Yuzu could only accept her hand and see where it would lead her.

Mei held their joined hands above their shoulders, elbows slightly bent. The position revealed her intentions immediately, parting Yuzu's lips in a soft gasp of surprise.

Mei's firm hand found its place on Yuzu's back and she deftly drew her closer.

Her fine dress provided no real barrier and Mei's touch was felt as it would be on bare skin. Yuzu's beautiful green eyes sparkled even brighter as a peculiar glimmer of disbelief and adoration animated them.

The situation mystified her. Never in her life would she have pictured something of this sort happening. She was not dreaming though, the sheer intensity Mei was looking at her with was proof enough of that. There was no surviving such look in a dream, not without waking up in a rush.

Mei was so incredibly beautiful, the gray waistcoat she was wearing highlighted the harmonious lines of her figure: Her shapely shoulders, her generous chest and her slender waist. She carried a perfect blend of graceful softness and sharp elegance that gave her the hypnotic grace of a feline.

It was not just a matter of mere aesthetic, Mei carried herself with the visage of a queen, one with no need to assert her authority or to announce her presence. The moment she walked into a room, the room became her domain. The passive girl willing to abide to her family's will with little regard of her own desires was long gone, in her place stood a confident woman, aware of her strengths, her weaknesses and with a willingness to fight for those she loved.

A graceful tilt of Mei's head prompted Yuzu to put her right hand on her love's shoulder. In spite of being in the grip of anticipation, held in between electricity and stillness, Yuzu could not keep a goofy grin off of her lips.

"Yuzu, please follow my lead." Mei requested with a captivating mix of authority and chivalry woven in her voice. A shy nod met her request while a rush of desire lit Yuzu's cheeks once again. It was all the answer she had hoped for.

Mei had no intention of making things too complicated, besides they had little space. She meant to stick to the basic, a box step would have to do. She trusted herself capable of teaching something so simple. Besides, the way Yuzu was looking at her filled her with confidence, the devotion in the beautiful eyes she adored made her feel capable of anything.

"...I step forward with my left foot and you step back with your right…" Mei whispered the words while demonstrating. Yuzu swiftly followed through, her beautiful green eyes wide with marvel as a nervous giggle parted her lips. She had no need to lower her gaze and cheek her feet. She would go wherever Mei lead her.

"Then a step to the side…" Once more, Yuzu followed Mei's elegant movement, taking her cue from the hand Mei had placed firmly on her back as Mei was gently tapping the tempo against her skin. "...and finally bring your feet back together."

They returned to the starting stance and another giggle bubbled past Yuzu's lips. Mei answered to it by setting her lips in the most confident of smiles. Her expression darkened the rouge hue coloring Yuzu's cheeks and neck. Mei leaned down to press her forehead to Yuzu's and they stood sharing the same air for a few moments.

"Dinner and a dance." Yuzu whispered dreamily against her lover's lips. "I picked a winner."

A long sigh of contentment was her reward as words were failing Mei at the moment. No matter how vast her vocabulary was, she could not find any that would do justice to how she felt. It was happiness, plain and simple, in its most perfect form, all centered around her love. How could she articulate such a feeling with words?

She pulled back and looked directly into Yuzu's eyes as she felt her face relax in the softest of smiles, a smile that only her beautiful Yuzu could bring forth. Allowing Mei to smile like that had been one of her love's first gifts to her. Yuzu had given it to her about seven years ago while promising to aid her with repairing her relationship with her father.

Mei knew that she had started to fall in love right there and then, yet Yuzu had misinterpreted her smile at the time. She fully knew what it meant now and so she was quick to lean in and put her lips against it - A move that allowed her to feel the potency it carried on her own skin.

"Show me again, Mei." Once again she whispered against her love's lips. She felt Mei nod gently before tapping her shoulder and starting their dance anew.

Mei gently guided her through the steps a few times, her desire tempered by the patience she always employed while teaching something.

The pair was so in tune with each other that few words were exchanged and Yuzu was quick to pick up the moves. Soon, they were dancing with a touch of panache.

The two woman found themselves in perfect synchrony as they twirled about the dimly-lit room, their bodies flush against each other, their hands tightly joined and their eyes locked together.

"I had no idea you knew how to dance, Mei." Yuzu murmured, as if speaking in her normal voice would have broken the spell their love had cast.

"It was required of me." Mei's voice lacked the usual edge it gained whenever she spoke of her past, the moment was too perfect and nothing could mar it. Nothing was powerful enough to. "I thought it to be of no use. Until now."

Mei had never been keen on dancing, although she loved watching professional performers ply their trade. She had hated her ballet class in her younger days and the hate had carried on once she had to learn ballroom dancing. Still, she dutifully followed what was expected of her and as with most things, discovered a natural talent for the art.

Dancing with Yuzu though was a whole different story though and there was no reason to keep things basic as they moved as one.

An underarm turn perhaps...

"Follow me, Yuzu."

Mei raised their joined hands above her head before firmly putting a hand on Yuzu's side and gently guiding her into performing a turn. Yuzu laughed out genuinely while twirling under Mei's arm and upon returning in her lover's hold, she found herself smiling uncontrollably.

Yuzu's dress was made for dancing - Mei had thought so the moment that she set her eyes on her. Seeing her skirt gently rising then falling as her lover turned provided Mei with the enticing view of Yuzu's tanned thighs.

The best part though had to be Yuzu's laugh. It rose from her chest and all but rushed past her lips. It was a sound carrying marvel and unabashed joy in equal measures. It was the most beautiful song Mei had ever heard. Upon returning to the basic stance, the sight of Yuzu's smile had Mei inhale sharply. It was almost blinding in its brilliancy and it turned her lover's face in the ultimate expression of happiness. Mei could hardly believe herself to be the cause of such smile and yet she knew that no one could make Yuzu smile like that apart from her.

"Mei." She had drifted off, Yuzu's voice brought her back to the beautiful present.

"Again, please."

Mei nodded, giving Yuzu a smile of her own. They resumed the basic step only for Yuzu to turn whenever the dance rules allowed it. She would soon grew dizzy, and Mei decided it would not be fair for her love to be the only one experiencing dizziness. She started to lead them into fast turns, half ones and full ones as it transpired that the box step was no challenge for them. Their senses were so finely attuned to each other. Once again, she angled her foot and led them into a full turn, knowing that Yuzu would follow her.

Yuzu barely noticed the room passing by as she spun about it as her eyes were full of only Mei. Yuzu felt light in Mei's arms, elegant even and as cliche as it was - She felt like a princess in a fairy tale. She had never danced before, not like this and yet it felt so natural to her. Stepping along with Mei made her feel like floating, while Mei's hand on her back kept her grounded. It was one of the most enticing sensations she had ever experienced.

Mei twirled them around again, her eyes looking directly at Yuzu as one corner of her mouth curled up to draw a rather predatory smirk on her face.

Yuzu managed to keep up, somehow her feet knew what to do. Her legendary clumsiness had managed to give her the sharpest of reflexes during the years.

Even if she were to falter, she trusted Mei to set them back on course.

At the end of their twirl, Yuzu found herself with her back against the wall. She looked up at Mei with curious eyes and a question on her lips. She never got to formulate it as Mei ducked her head and captured her lips in a passionate kiss.

The tension that had been building up during the dancing was released at once. Yuzu wasted no time and buried her hands in Mei's silky locks, willing her even closer.

Mei's hands caressed the length of her ribcage only to settle on her hips, where her grip suddenly tightened. Yuzu felt herself being lifted, her nimble legs wrapped themselves around Mei's waist instinctively as her body surged forward to press itself flush against Mei.

Mei pulled back from the kiss, eliciting a quiet and tender moan from Yuzu. Still lingering about her beloved's delectable mouth, Mei turned her attention to one of Yuzu's softest spots. She set her lips on the soft patch of skin separating Yuzu's lower lip from her chin.

Lips slightly parted, Mei drew at the skin ever so delicately, enjoying the way Yuzu's hands clamped onto her shoulders whenever her lips relaxed their hold. She teased the smooth skin deftly, alternating between delicate touches and passionate ones until Yuzu became so sensitive that she could not help inhaling sharply whenever Mei touched her.

A chuckle tumbled past Mei's lips as she resolved to pace herself. She had only started celebrating her love.

She pulled back, loving the way Yuzu's green eyes widened upon meeting her purple gaze.

Mei leaned forward once again, to the the side of Yuzu's head this time, and took Yuzu's lobe between her lips, enjoying teasing the soft flesh with her teeth as she pulled ever so slightly at it. She moved to kiss the outer shell of Yuzu's ear, her agile tongue darted out to entice a delicate moan from her lover, just once though, she was not going to be greedy.

"You cannot wear such a dress and expect me to let you be, Yuzu" She purred into Yuzu's ear.

A shiver ran through Yuzu as Mei's soft purr had a possessive edge to it. Such a combination never failed to render Yuzu speechless and any answer she might have had died on her lips.

"Mei…" The only word she could say.

Mei turned her focus onto Yuzu's neck next, lips traveling down its soft curve and toward her collarbone. The delicate biting that followed did not surprise Yuzu. She had divined the meaning behind the act a long time ago: she belonged to Mei.

And Mei belongs to me.

Yuzu ran her hands along Mei's back from the small of it to her shoulders. She could feel her love's muscles tensing under her touch. During the last few years, Mei had practiced yoga rigorously every morning, increasing her strength to unexpected levels.

Yuzu could feel the results under her palms and fingers as Mei's back was toned and strong, yet so incredibly soft.

She repeated the movement with her wandering hands. She went slowly this time, grazing her fingernails over her beloved's back, tracing a most enticing trail. Upon reaching her love's shoulders she slightly dug her fingernails in, a move that never failed to captivate Mei.

Mei inhaled sharply, pulling back just enough for Yuzu to angle her head and reach her love's elegant neck. She teased deftly by whispering kisses over the column of Mei's neck, stopping to focus her attention on the part of connected just below Mei's jaw - One of Mei's most sensitive spot.

Mei's skin was warm under her lips and so very smooth. She felt Mei moan more delicately, which was her cue to shift upward and lavish the tender flesh of her lover's ear.

"I knew that I picked the right dress, Mei." She returned Mei's favor with a purr of her own.

The silken whimper that escaped Mei's lips was a most satisfying response to her efforts.

Yuzu felt Mei's muscles tense up and was not surprised when Mei spun the two of them around, walking over to the bed right after. She was gentle in lowering the both of them over the mattress, never breaking eye contact with her love.

Yuzu lay on her back, Mei's hair falling to tickle her chest and shoulders as her lover drew closer to her. Her expression suddenly grew anxious and she looked towards her phone on the nearby table, recalling that they had other plans for the evening to see to. She turned to look into her lover's purple eyes and found herself in their depth.

"We can spare a few minutes, Yuzu."

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The Greater Bear

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The saccharine sounds of Yuzu's ringtone echoing throughout the cavernous room brought the pair crashing back down to reality. Yuzu remained where she was, lying next to her lover and unwilling to break eye contact, not wanting something so miniscule in importance to disrupt their precious time together.

The phone kept ringing though and both of their eyes narrowed as they considered how long they would allow it to remain unanswered.

Mei's voice soon broke the deadlock.

"Yuzu, you really should. It is most likely Mother…"

"Yeah, you're right." Yuzu sighed, pulling herself away from her lover's gaze with great effort.

Her Mama's timing had been poor, but she knew that she had promised to meet with her parents in the evening once she and Mei had returned from their meal. It was too great a responsibility to ignore forever, and so she dragged herself from her bed and retrieved her phone from a nearby table.

"Hey Mama! ...No, everything's fine. ...Yeah, I'll tell you all about it." Any sign of frustration was far removed from Yuzu's tone as she was never unhappy to share a conversation with the woman who had raised her.

Still in bed, Mei contented herself to watch as Yuzu paced across the room and exchanged niceties in a manner that was far too casual in its friendliness for her to ever replicate. She occasionally caught a snippet of Ume's voice over the speaker as she matched her daughter's upbeat enthusiasm with every single word. She smiled to herself. Those two were so alike.

"Okay, we'll see you in a few minutes." Yuzu brought the call to an end before setting her phone back down on the table with a dull thud.

Wordlessly, the two took a quick shower amd changed into their casual clothes. It felt oddly stifling but they could not ignore the rest of their family, nor did they have any desire to. A sideways glance was shared between them as they pulled their slippers back on and headed downstairs. Before joining the rest of their family, the couple stopped by the reception to ask for a change of sheets, the ageless innkeeper nodded amiably at their request, her expression unchanging.

"Excuse me." Mei bowed upon pulling the sliding door open.

She knew that such formalities were unnecessary, but old habits died hard and she had a small desire to announce her and Yuzu's arrival. She knew that her greeting would be returned in earnest.

"Nee-san! Yuzu-nee!" Sure enough, Atsuko immediately erupted into a ball of excitement and ran from the porch to meet them.

"Hey, little samurai!" Yuzu was quick to catch her in mid-run and lifted her in a warm hug as soon as she was close enough. She twirled her around the room as was her habit, enjoying the sound of Atsuko's laugh so close to her ear. The child had thrown her spindly arms around her neck and was holding onto her tightly as she left her legs hanging down to better enjoy the feeling of being spun around.

After a short while, Yuzu stopped her antics and simply stood with her sister held tightly in her arms.

"Are you helping Papa set up your new toy?" She pulled back and took in the sight of Shou kneeling by the porch, seemingly busy with the telescope instructions.

"Yes!" Atsuko nodded emphatically. "It's very hard, Yuzu-nee." She informed her oldest sister adamantly, making sure to speak loud enough for the room to hear. Maybe Nee-san could help them. She would fix it up in a minute. Atsuko had no doubt.

To her surprise, her Nee-san made no move and did not offer to help. For some reason, Atsuko knew that she was not meant to directly ask that of her. It wasn't that big of an issue though, as Papa would get to it sooner or later.

"Well…" Yuzu bumped her forehead to Atsuko's gently. "It's an instrument meant for scientific use, as your Nee-san said, it's not meant to be easy."

Atsuko pondered her sister's words for a few instants before smiling brightly at her while nodding several times.

"I know someone who is dying to hug you, Atsu-chan." Yuzu pretended to whisper while making sure Mei would hear her words loud and clear. "Can you guess who?"

A long sigh was the response she expected from her lover and was the one she got. Yuzu had predicted Atsuko's reaction as well, the child immediately turned her eyes on Mei.

"Nee-san!" She called out happily, green eyes sparkling with joy. She was more than happy to oblige her Nee-san.

Yuzu chuckled and moved to hand the child to Mei. Atsuko threw her arms around Mei and grabbed at her cardigan with her slight hands before burying her head in the hollow of her older sister's neck. As ever, Mei's own hold on her sister was firm yet gentle as she allowed the full length of her left hand to rest on Atsuko's small back. It was a tactile sensation for both parties, one that solidified an unspoken belief that they all but belonged in each other arms.

After the familiar greeting had concluded, Mei and Yuzu's attention soon turned to the ever-present pot of green tea sitting on the low-lying table. Ume cradled a small porcelain mug in her hands and watched her daughters with a proud smile.

"Hey Mama! Sorry we're a bit late…" Yuzu quickly broke eye contact under her mother's loving gaze. Her and Mei's own negligence towards timekeeping was the reason for their tardiness, but she could never reveal the reason why they had failed to keep a watchful eye on the clock.

"Yuzu, Mei-chan… Did you enjoy your dinner?" Ume asked, her eyes ever-so-slightly narrowing.

Both Yuzu and Mei broke out into blushes in unison. Their mother's knowing gaze cut through them like a blade. Despite her relaxed attitude and disarming personality, very few things escaped Ume's attention and she was wise enough to be able to make an educated guess as to why the two had not arrived at the previously-agreed time.

"Yes, it was quite splendid." Mei was the first to regain her composure and Yuzu soon followed.

"Yeah! I don't really like these fancy places but they can be fun every once in a while." Yuzu spoke honestly.

The restaurant was a far cry from after-school trips to the most popular fast food joints and the pomp unnerved Yuzu. Such places were Mei's domain, but she was happy to share in the unfamiliar experience with her lover and soon found herself enjoying the occasion.

Yuzu and Ume became animated as they discussed the finer details of their evening excursion, with the topic mercifully not shifting away from the restaurant trip.

Mei's eyes drifted back towards the porch, where Atsuko was rambling passionately over her father's shoulder as Shou tried to puzzle out the surprisingly complex set of instructions for her new telescope. He truly seemed to be having a hard time and yet she resisted the temptation to intervene and offer her assistance. This moment was for Atsuko and her father to enjoy. She knew that her father was intelligent enough to overcome the lengthy setup by himself and she remained still.

Yuzu and Ume occupied each other's attention while Shou and Atsuko did likewise, but Mei did not feel cut off or isolated from her family. On the contrary, she felt glad to be able to witness such mundane yet precious moments. It was a life that had been completely alien to her for the longest of times and now, she was able to fully immerse herself in it, taking both active and passive roles in the delightfully quaint family unit that she was now an integral part of.

She turned her focus on Ume and Yuzu's conversation while pouring herself a cup of green tea. Over the last year, she had developed a taste for the most exotic blends of tea and Yuzu never failed to spoil her by keeping their kitchen counter supplied with every such blend that was on the market. Her lover indulging her wishes with such devotion filled Mei with unthinkable levels of joy, grand romantic gestures made her happy as well but Yuzu paying such close attention to her most trivial needs made her feel like the most precious of treasures.

Her musing was cut short by Ume's rich laugh rising to fill the air. Mei turned to see her mother leaning back on her hands while a heartfelt laugh made her small yet strong frame shiver. Ume was sitting with her legs crossed as was her habit while Yuzu held a rather relaxed seiza position.

"There were three forks and two spoons and-" Yuzu turned toward her love with questioning green eyes. "How many knives, Mei?"

"Two, Yuzu" She replied without missing a beat.

Yuzu had not been completely at ease in the restaurant they had chosen to have dinner in - A fact Mei felt partially guilty for as she knew that her beautiful Yuzu had picked the place thinking of her. In truth, she would be just as happy to have dinner at a noodle stands as long as Yuzu was by her side, but she knew that her love took great pride in the fact that she could treat Mei to the best of restaurants.

"I am just lucky my Mei is such a lady, Mama." Yuzu's voice had a teasing edge to it but the look she gave Mei was one of adoration. "She knows what's what."

"You start on the outside and work your way inwards, Yuzu." It really was not that difficult, certainly not something one should be adored for.

"Yes! You did it Papa!" A joyful scream from Atsuko cut through the room, bringing an end to all conversation. The three women turned toward the source of such excitement, willing to share in the child's joy. Atsuko had wrapped her arms around her father's neck and was all but jumping on the spot.

"Good job, Shou-kun!" Ume cheered her husband with a huge smile on her face. He did not get to spend much time with his family but he truly did everything in his power to make every minute count.

Mei felt Yuzu take her hand. As happy as seeing her father being so devoted to her little sister made her, she could not deny that every now and then some notes of melancholy would play in her heart at such sight as it was happening now. The thought of how happy her younger self would have been over sharing such a moment with Shou weighed heavily on her chest.

She truly wanted nothing more than for her sister to have the happiest of childhoods, yet she could not help herself. She was just lucky enough to have a partner than never failed to pick up her mood and was always ready to offer her comfort.

Yuzu was looking at her with the most understanding of gazes. She offered her the most comforting of smiles, one that never failed to sooth Mei's inner turmoil, all the while she was tightly holding her hand and firmly caressing her skin with her thumb.

Mei slightly bowed her head toward her love, a gesture of great gratitude. She yielded to the temptation of bringing their joined hands to her lips and gently kissed the back of Yuzu's hand. She knew that if the rest of her family were to witness such gesture, they would greet it with an honest smile. Their love was loved by all of them.

A sigh from Ume brought the pair's focus back to their family as they turned their attention back to Shou and Atsuko. The child had a rather confused expression on her face, Mei pinpointed the reason behind it immediately. Atsuko had the most vivid of imaginations. Her sister's mind was filled with wonder and sometimes reality could not hold up against her expectations.

Sure enough, Atsuko had found herself confused after trying out the telescope for the first time. Mei mentally chided herself for not having properly discussed what looking through a telescope was like with her sister.

She had distanced herself from the situation, willing Atsuko and Shou to share this new adventure together and by doing so, she had failed to pay the proper attention.

Her sister was much like Yuzu and whenever she felt passionate over something it was impossible for her to hide her feelings. Mei knew that Atsuko was going to feel terrible once she were to reflect over how her reaction might have pained her father. Even in her guilt, her sister was like her beloved Yuzu. It was just another thing Mei might have avoided had she been monitoring the situation more closely.

She felt Ume's eyes on her and turned her attention to her mother. Ume was giving her a pleading look, willing her to intervene. As a rule, Mei would not be able to deny anything to the woman that had taught her what a mother's love felt like. This time though, she could not comply.

She felt Yuzu's hold on her hand tighten, her love had realized what her conundrum was and was more than willing to stand by her. After all, it had been Yuzu to teach her that every now and then, it was a good thing to follow one's instinct and her instinct was telling her to keep quiet and let the scene play out.

Her instinct had been right.

"Remember, Atsu-chan." Shou started while caressing his daughter's head. It was quite a peculiar sight to see such a large man being so delicate. "That thing you're looking at is billions of kilometers away but you can still see it through that little telescope." His voice was so full of wonder that it was impossible for Mei to link such tone to the father she remembered. Nothing was left of the strict and serious sensei that did not know how to smile.

"I don't know about you or your Nee-san, but I think that's really cool." He turned to look directly at Mei and her eyes widened. Shou was smiling at her with purple eyes identical to her own and full of respect. By mentioning her, he had asked her to intervene, Mei knew that much. It was far from necessary as her sister's smile had appeared once again after his words, yet her father kept looking at her expectantly.

"I agree with our father, Atsuko." She pushed the awkwardness she was feeling in the back of her mind and made sure for her voice to sound kind yet authoritative. A blend she knew would never fail to provide Atsuko with a great level of security.

"It is very... cool." She finished boldly and quickly reached for her cup of tea, she had to make do with a single hand as she had no intention of letting go of Yuzu's hand at the moment.

Atsuko was fully smiling now and a look of pure, undiluted wonder had conquered her face yet again as she stared at the telescope with great respect. She might not be able to see the Moonfolk, a Trickster Coyote or a Space Octopus but she had finally realized the true magic of the telescope and couldn't be any happier over it.

"Here, let me find the Big Dipper." Shou leaned over the eyepiece and started fidgeting with it.

Atsuko patted his back excitedly, her former enthusiasm completely restored.

"How far is the Big Dipper, Papa?" She asked while staring at the stars filled sky in anticipation.

"Well…" Shou pulled back from the telescope and looked at his daughter while chewing the inside of his cheek, trying to recall the information. He had no luck.

"Honestly, I can't remember, Atsu-chan." He shrugged sheepishly and went to rub the back of his head.

"Very, very, very far, maybe?" Yuzu chirped in. She felt a lot of sympathy for Shou. It was hard to keep up with her little sister at times.

"That's absolutely right, Yuzu-chan." A deep chuckle tumbled past Shou's lips.

"Trillions, Atsuko." Mei's elegant tone rose and immediately the room's attention fell on her. "Ursa Major is approximately seven hundred trillion kilometers away."

Yuzu rolled her eyes good-naturally. Of course she would know.

"As expected of Mei-chan." Ume sighed out in contentment before giving Mei the sweetest of smiles.

Shou stared at his first born with a look full of nothing but admiration. He had always admired intellectual prowess and he had little doubt that his daughter was one of the sharpest minds he was ever going to interact with. The pride he felt over it was immense, not even the belief that he had nothing to do with it could mar it.

Atsuko's green eyes had shifted to Mei the very moment she had started talking. The adoring look her sister was honoring her with had become as familiar as Yuzu's love-filled gaze to her. Both humbled her while filling her with pride. A quite peculiar blend of sensations that provided her with a constant source of happiness.

"How do we know, Nee-san?" Atsuko asked the moment Mei finished talking, her natural curiosity already filling her head with new questions. Mei was more than happy to satisfy her sister's thirst for knowledge o the best of her abilities.

"Well, Atsuko. A light year is roughly 9.5 tri-"

"Jeez, Mei! Do you have to turn everything into a lesson?" Yuzu's cheerful voice interrupted her. Mei did not miss the teasing quality in her lover's tone and she did not appreciate being interrupted while sharing knowledge with their little sister.

She was not going to let such indiscretion remain unpunished.

She checked to see if her little sister was still waiting for an answer and to her joy and frustration, she appeared to be, once again, completely engrossed by the telescope.

Mei leaned closer to Yuzu, so that no one else but her impudent girl would be able to hear her words.

"You did not seem to mind when I taught you a few things earlier, Yuzu." She purred into Yuzu's ear with little mercy. She hastily leaned back, as to fully take in the sight of her love turning a few different shades of red as a fierce blush spread to conquer the entirety of her beautiful face.

Ume filled a cup with tea and placed it on a mat in front Yuzu.

"You look overheated, dear." Yuzu's blush intensified. Her mama's voice was a warm as ever, but she had no doubt over the fact that the woman was teasing her.

"Drink some tea, it will bring your body temperature up to match the outside and you'll feel so much better."

"Thanks, Mama." Yuzu managed to speak out before taking the cup in her hands and drinking it in big gulps. She hid behind the action while wishing her mama to focus on something else. Finally, Ume decided to have mercy of her daughter and opted to lead the conversation elsewhere.

"I adore this place; I wish we could have stayed a few days more." She smiled ruefully while her green eyes danced around the room, willing to commit every detail to memory.

"We can always come back, mother." Mei shared Ume's feelings, she had enjoyed their little vacation immensely. She had made so many beautiful memories and felt incredibly lucky.

"That's true, Mei-chan." Ume smiled warmly, she knew her daughters and her husband had enjoyed these few days greatly and nothing could make her happier. She could not deny her life to be most wonderful at home as well and she knew someone that was actually starting to miss their home comforts.

"…as of now, I know someone who has been missing her bedtime reading immensely." She spoke in a tone higher than her usual one, willing for everybody to hear her words. As expected, her youngest daughter turned toward her, sporting the most adorable embarrassed blush on her delicate face.

"Mama!" Atsuko yelped in protest. She could not believe her mama had just said that. She had gathered her sisters wanted to keep their room for themselves for whatever the reason. She had no desire to trouble them. Besides, they had been spending so much time with her. She truly could not complain.

Although… her Nee-san reading to her before bed would be nice.

Yuzu looked at Mei for an instant and Mei nodded at her in haste. Another unspoken conversation taking place between the two over a mere few seconds.

"Hey Atsu-chan." Yuzu finally let go of Mei's hand and not with little regret but if she knew her little sister—and she did, she would be needing both hands to handle her reaction. "Your Nee-san and I would really love to share our room with you tonight. What do you think?"

"Yes!" Atsuko all but screamed and in the same breath she thundered towards her oldest sister at full speed. As predicted, she all but tacked Yuzu, forcing her to fall on her back in order to cushion the impact.

Atsuko lost no time and settled herself on Yuzu's stomach, her hands pressed tightly on Yuzu's slim shoulders. Yuzu was smiling uncontrollably and Atsuko was mirroring that smile.

"… you aren't the only one who has been missing her bedtime reading, Atsu-chan." Yuzu winked at her. She knew Mei would not mind the reveal of such a detail as it only reinforced how much she loved her little sister.

Atsuko lost little time as she turned around and all but crawled over Yuzu's body to reach Mei.

"Ow! Seriously?!" Yuzu protested sharply when Atsuko's knee dug into her stomach.

"I'm so very sorry, Yuzu-nee!" Atsuko swiftly looked back and removed herself from her sister's body as carefully as she could. Yuzu waved at her in a dismissive gesture, letting her know everything was all right while getting back into a sitting position.

Yuzu could not stop herself from smiling radiantly when Mei reached over and lifted their sister into her arms. Those two were inseparable and few things made Yuzu as happy.

"But I didn't bring any book!" Atsuko's face crumbled at the thought and she looked at her Nee-san with the most regretful of expressions. Mei ran her fingers through her fringe for comfort and was about to ease her fears when Yuzu preceded her.

"Don't worry, little samurai!" She chirped in the most delighted of voices. "The book you have been reading was the first and only thing your sister put in the suitcase."

A satisfied smile spread over Yuzu's face.

It was Mei's time to blush at last.

.

All for one

.

Upon learning that she was to share with her sisters, Atsuko had manifested the desire to retire for the night rather early. It surprised no one and it suited all parties. Yuzu and Mei had been planning to surprise their sister with the outdoor bathtub as it was going to appear as a pool to the child. Ume and Shou cherished the chance to spend time by themselves, they did not have much of it but never failed to make every minute count.

Mei and Yuzu stayed back and let their sister take in the sight of the room. They had maintained the habit of only turning on the orange lamps, which suited Atsuko as her own room at home had a similar illumination at bedtime.

Yuzu and Mei shared complicit looks, waiting for Atsuko to take notice of the balcony and discover the marvel it held. It was not going to be though, for as soon as Atsuko spotted her precious copy of "Hagakure: The Secret Wisdom of the Samurai" resting on the bed, she made a dash for it.

Yuzu turned toward Mei with a smile on her face and shook her head in bemused fashion. Mei tilted her head to one side and shrugged one shoulder, she should have known better.

It soon dawned on Atsuko that the book already being out could only mean one thing: Her sisters had been planning to share their room with her all along and not just because Mama had revealed that she was missing her bedtime reading. It brought a huge smile on her face and made her feel so incredibly loved, a feeling she knew all too well and yet it never failed to surprise her.

She gathered the book in her arms and held it tightly against her chest with an incredible amount of reverence.

She turned around, searching for her Nee-san's eyes and beamed at her.

"Can we read now, Nee-san?" She asked, beautiful green eyes sparkling with anticipation. She heard her Yuzu-nee snort softly at her request and tilted her head toward her with an inquisitive look in her eyes.

"Jeez, Atsu-chan, what are we going to do with you?" Yuzu teased. Atsuko could only shrug in response before turning back to Mei.

"It is still quite early, Atsuko." Her Nee-san replied in her usual kind voice. At home, reading time started at half past eight in the evening and carried for about forty minutes if not more. At the moment, it was already past Atsuko's bedtime but any semblance of her usual schedule had vanished over the last few days, so the child could not really tell.

"But…" Atsuko's delicate face sported an adorable frown as she started to plead her case.

"Alright!" Yuzu intervened, she could not wait to see Atsuko reacting to the surprise they had been concealing from her and it did not look like she was going to walk toward the balcony anytime soon.

"You're missing something, Atsu-chan." She went to sit on the bed beside her sister, head positioned meaningfully toward the open windows.

Confusion was replaced by curiosity on Atsuko's face. She finally went to see what the deal with the balcony was.

As predicted, the discovery had her cheer with excitement.

"..and finally." Yuzu sighed and quickly moved to reach her little sister while Mei enjoyed the scene with a bemused smile on her face.

Atsuko's eyes were as wide as ever as she clapped her hands together. She could not stop herself from bouncing on her feet, enjoying the feeling of the wooden floor absorbing her jumping, until Yuzu knelt by her and pulled her back into a one armed hug, putting a stop to her antics. She could not fault her sister for being happy but the room below theirs might be occupied and as weightless as Atsuko was, Yuzu thought it better to play it safe.

Atsuko half turned her head to look at her Yuzu-nee. The smile on her delicate face was infectious and it brought an identical smile to Yuzu's. Atsuko patted the arm that her sister had wrapped around her excitedly. She could not articulate her joy into words and was unable to contain herself.

"Cool, isn't it?" Yuzu nuzzled her sister's cheek playfully, being able to make the child so happy filled her with an incredible amount of pride.

Truth be told, it did not take much to make Atsuko smile. In spite of being inarguably more than a bit spoiled, Yuzu had no problem admitting it: Atsuko had remained quite easy to please. A trip to the candy store with her Yuzu-nee, sharing a book with her Nee-san, building Lego models with her mama, telling her papa bout her day or even being presented with a yummy omurice would suffice.

"Yes! It's super cool, Yuzu-nee!" Atsuko yelped out her approval while smiling uncontrollably at her oldest sister. A bath in the hugest tub she had ever seen and under the stars, no less. Followed by reading with her Nee-san! This was going to be the best night she ever had. She had no doubts over it.

"Your Nee-san and I wanted to surprise you, little samurai." Yuzu tugged playfully at a strand of Atsuko's dark hair.

"Thank you!" Atsuko turned around, and wrapped her spindly arms around Yuzu's neck, hugging her as tightly as she could. She felt Yuzu-nee kiss her cheek soundly more than a few times and quickly pulled back to return the favour, making sure her own kisses were just as loud.

"Thank you so very much!" She yelped one more time before burrowing her face into Yuzu's shoulder once again, quite unwilling to let her go.

"Ah!" Yuzu was returning her sister's hug with the same fierce affection. She had no need to turn around and look at Mei to know that her lover had a most delicate smile on her face and that her purple eyes were full of only warmth.

Since getting back together, Yuzu had been on the mission of providing her dark-haired lover with as many happy memories as she could. Atsuko had been a precious ally in this quest of hers.

"We share everything, sweetheart. Isn't that right, Mei?" Yuzu turned loving green to her beloved and Atsuko pulled back from the hug to turn toward her Nee-san. Nee-san was standing by the bed, a most delicate smile was on her face and her purple eyes were full of only warmth.

"Absolutely, Yuzu." Mei was quick to reply, her elegant voice sealing the deal with the utmost sincerity.

"All for one..." Yuzu declared loudly while pumping a fist in the air, her other arm firmly wrapped around Atsuko. She awaited her lover's reply, unsure if she would complete the famous adage.

"...And one for all." Mei was all too happy to humour her, if only because Yuzu had spoken an important yet usually undeclared truth.

Atsuko could only nod enthusiastically. The good and bad, the responsibilities and liberties, the happiness and sadness they were all meant to be shared among them.

They were a team.

The sight of Yuzu and Atsuko beaming at each other suddenly filled Mei's eyes and she found herself inhaling sharply.

Atsuko and Yuzu were simply perfect. There was no other way to describe them. Mei's lips relaxed into the softest of smiles and she knew it would not escape Yuzu's notice - One that invoked the very first smile that Yuzu had brought out of her many years ago, upon promising to help Mei with her father.

As expected, the smile did not escape Yuzu's notice and her beautiful green eyes widened in loving recognition.

Atsuko was quite familiar with that particular smile as well; she might not known the story behind it but she knew it to be one of her Nee-san's most special smiles. The beauty of the moment did not escape her and she could only beam at her sisters.

A wordless oath passed between the three of them as they swore themselves to each other.

"Alright!" Yuzu kissed Atsuko on the nose and got back to her feet, putting both hands on her shapely hips, enthusiasm vibrating in her every action. "But first, we need to-"

"Shower!" Atsuko interjected as she hurried towards the bathroom, not wishing to waste any more time than necessary.

The room with Atsuko in it had a completely different energy. It had become a maelstrom of activity as Yuzu and her little sister never failed to entertain each other. It was almost impossible to get a spot of silence when those two were together, moreover they would often erupt in riotous bout of laughers.

Mei would often join in with a chuckle of her own on most occasions, although now and then she would even laugh in full as some of their antics proved to be simply irresistible. A great deal of them were quite confusing though and their aims eluded Mei completely.

...Such as the one they were currently engaged in.

Mei was relaxing herself by simply soaking to one side of the tub, head resting on a rolled towel placed on the border. Atsuko was running about the tub, causing small waves to form around her and ripple through the warm water. Yuzu was chasing her, in a manner of speaking, as she would run after her by going underwater while holding her hands upon her head as if she were praying.

It had taken Mei a while to realize that Yuzu was pretending to be a shark. Some concepts were still too far from her realm of understanding and she could not grasp them right away. She was getting better every day though.

"It's not fair, Atsu-chan! How can you be so fast on land and on water!" Yuzu protested theatrically as the child kept dashing to the opposite side of the tub whenever she closed in on her.

In truth, Yuzu knew that the chances of catching Atsuko while crouching underwater were rather slim and her protests were mostly aimed to give herself the chance to take a breather.

"Father has been taking her for swimming lessons..." Mei intervened, she had picked on Yuzu's need for a pause and aimed to keep the conversation going.

"Yes!" Atsuko jumped up and about, causing the water around her small frame to swell agitatedly.

She sobered up immediately though and a small frown appeared on her face.

"I'm not very good though. I still needs armbands." She grimaced, unable and unwilling to keep any of her shortcomings from her sisters.

"Hey, now!" Yuzu slid close to her and gently tapped her forehead with her dipping index.

"Before becoming a little swallow you had to learn how to walk."

Being compared to the noble bird had Atsuko break into a wide smile and even the corners of Mei's lips curled up as she stared at the pair with love filled eyes. For a girl who often seemed to have her head in the clouds, Yuzu was every bit as attentive and observant as her mother was.

"I know because I was there, Atsu-chan." Yuzu smiled sweetly at her little sister and delicately pecked her forehead with her lips.

"As soon as you learned to walk, you never stayed in one place for too long. You kept us on our toes." Atsuko patted the water with her hands sheepishly and broke into a very pleased giggle, the thought of her family running after her while she explored the world for the first time was a most amusing one.

"Didn't she Mei?" Yuzu turned toward her love and took Mei's breath away.

Unlike the Aihara girls, Yuzu had opted to keep her hair down. It was so warm that it would not take long for her hair to dry once they left the tub. In spite of being quite fond of her love's penchant to always wear elaborate hairstyles, Mei could not deny that she found the sight of Yuzu wearing her hair down irresistible.

It gave her an adorable disheveled appearance and at the moment, she looked particularly alluring with her fringe and the top of her head damp while her wet golden locks ran along her shapely back. Her beautiful green eyes seemed even bigger, framed as they were by her long dark eyelashes-

"Mei?" Yuzu's voice almost had Mei jump, she had been so enraptured by her lover's sight that she had slipped away in her own world. Yuzu and Atsuko's twin set of green eyes were looking at her curiously, they both had their heads tilted to the left and they were giving Mei identical lopsided grins.

"I do recall it quite vividly, Yuzu." Mei replied with her usual cadence, her elegant countenance completely restored as she remembered her anxiety whenever the tiny Atsuko would waddle about the apartment with little regard of her own safety.

Mei had taken it upon herself to make the house as child-proof as possible. She did not have much experience when it came to practical matters but she had stubbornly refused to ask Yuzu for help and she had had no intention of troubling their mother. Power strips and sockets had already been covered by Ume the moment Atsuko had started crawling, the engineer had been ruthlessly efficient as was expected of her.

Walking brought a different set of concerns, Mei put latches on every drawer and cabinet. She put guards over the stoves knobs, making them too hard for Atsuko's curious hands to turn. She reworked the cords of the blinds in ways that made it impossible for Atsuko to reach. She placed rubber guards on every edge, sharp or not. And the cushions, of course, against every treacherous piece of furniture.

"I did try to make the house as safe as possible for you, Atsuko." Mei informed her sister, failing to keep a tiny note of pride from her voice. A snort from Yuzu caused Mei's eyes to turn sharply on her.

"That's an understatement." Yuzu offered her love an adorable impish grin. "We still have most of the cushions you bought in our closet. And they fill half of it!"

Mei could only shrug at the remark, she had indeed bought an inordinate about of cushions and proofing the house had proved to be a very taxing job. It had all been worth it though, as it had prevented Atsuko from hurting herself on more than one occasion.

"It was necessary, Yuzu." Mei shifted about and gracefully got into a straighter position, folding her legs under her. "The safety of our sister is not something I am willing to take chances with."

"Thank you, Nee-san!" Atsuko chirped, her small frame agitating the water around her as she all but bounced about. Her beautiful green eyes were filled with genuine adoration as she stared at her Nee-san with a most honest smile on her cherubic face.

"Of course." The corners of Mei's lips curled up as a delicate blush bloomed about her cheeks.

"Jeez…" Yuzu raised her green eyes to the beautiful starry sky. "What are you two like?" She asked aloud while playfully twirling about in the warm water.

She got no reply and she did not expect one as Mei and Atsuko were still looking at each other. An impish grin conquered Yuzu's lips and she could not resist the temptation of splashing her little sister. The awed expression on Atsuko's face made for a far too inviting target.

Atsuko's huffed out in outrage when the water hit her and promptly retaliated by answering Yuzu's declaration of war in kind.

It was Mei's cue to go back to her corner and let the warm water lull her into a state of utter relaxation. She leaned back to rest her head on the border of the tub and after taking in the sight of the brilliant star-filled sky, she closed her eyes. Yuzu and Atsuko's laughter cradled her to a state of perfect contentment.

Less than a minute later, Mei was hit by quite the wave, only the years she spent sharpening her will permitted her to avoid an undignified knee-jerk reaction.

She rose into a sitting position and stared at the culprit with steely eyes of purple, while setting her face into a neutral expression, her lips drawing a straight line. It had to make for quite the sight as droplets of water kept running down her face and sliding off of her chin.

"I didn't mean to, Nee-san" Atsuko's green eyes had never been wider, she shook her head adamantly while pleading her case with utmost sincerity. "I'm sorry, I really didn't mean to!"

Yuzu chuckled from the opposite side of the pool, she was resting with her arms along the border of the tub and looked quite amused. Mei did not permit the alluring sight that her lover provided to break her composure and simply shifted her steely gaze on her. Yuzu refused to be fooled though, she knew exactly what was going on.

"Yuzu-nee moved away, Nee-san!" Atsuko turned toward her mirthful oldest sister, a burning scowl was hatched onto her delicate face. She looked like a mightily displeased lion cub.

"Really, now!" Yuzu protested in mock outrage. "Was I supposed to stay still while you threw a tsunami at me, Atsu-chan?"

"...Yes!" Atsuko had no other answer for her. The child's attention abandoned Yuzu when Mei, still silent and still wearing her most neutral face, slid close to her. Atsuko looked up at her Nee-san and grimaced. A most sincere apologetic expression appeared on her face and she looked quite adorable.

"I was not part of the game, Atsuko." Mei's voice gave nothing away. It sounded as if she were stating something mundane and certain like the fact that the Sun rose in the east and set in the west.

"I know, Nee-san. I'm sorry." Atsuko looked directly into Mei's eyes. She seemed ready to accept any consequence her Nee-san would deem fitting for her indiscretion.

"I know you are, Atsuko but—" Mei abandoned the sentence midway and quick as a cat, she turned around, using both hands to move quite the amount of water and hit Yuzu with the biggest wave that the volume of the tub would allow her to create.

"—that is how you do it." Mei finished her lesson with quite the wide smile on her face.

If Atsuko was confused by the latest development, her face did not show it as she erupted into a riotous bout of laughter.

Had Atsuko been playing along as well?

Mei could not say for sure, but the thought amused her greatly.

"Fine, fine." Yuzu said in between sputtering and rubbing the water off her eyes.

"We're even now, Mei. Kind of…" She conceded, demonstrating a great amount of fair-play since she had been hit by twice the amount of water her beloved Mei had been. She quickly collected herself and upon taking in the sight of Atsuko smiling face, she playfully narrowed her eyes at her.

"—how is that you are the only one that didn't get drenched, Atsu-chan?"

Quick as a swallow, Atsuko took safety behind her Nee-san while sporting a most adorable impish grin on her face. Her attention was soon stolen by her Nee-san's back. Atsuko could feel how toned it was under her small hand. She wanted to grow as strong as her Nee-san. Her Nee-san was as strong as Papa. Atsuko could tell because they both lifted her up effortlessly. Nee-san would be so good at kendo as well - she was so quick and so strong!

"Nee-san, may I wash your back?" She asked sweetly while wearing a most adorable expression on her face.

Mei paused for a moment. That was a task usually and happily taken by Yuzu, but it was difficult for her to deny her younger sister such a simple request. She felt something prod her leg under the water and looked to her lover, she was smiling sweetly at her. It was all the impetus she needed.

"You may, Atsuko." She nodded and turned around presenting her back to her younger sister. Atsuko swiftly retrieved a cloth from the deck and set herself to task, taking the cloth in both hands and running it firmly on her sister's back. She took care to make long strokes and to always follow the same direction, from the top of Nee-san's shoulders to her waist where water surrounded her.

Yuzu slid in front of Mei, offering her a cloth and turning around to present her lover with her shapely back. She swept her hair from her back and over her shoulder, so that her beautiful locks could rest on her front and not hinder Mei. She heard her lover take the longest of sighs and her face relaxed in a flattered expression.

Mei placed the cloth on Yuzu's slim shoulders, purple eyes taking in the sight of their perfect shape as Yuzu sat in a straight position. As always, it was the back of Yuzu's neck that captured her attention first. Earlier, she had explored it thoroughly and she still had the feeling of it against her lips. Her senses were lit on fire as the vivid memory of their earlier encounter became her only thought.

"Are you alright, Nee-san?" Atsuko's sweet voice broke the spell Yuzu had cast on her. Her neck, her face and her ears were quite heated. Of course, Atsuko had not missed such sudden blush.

"The water is rather warm, Atsuko." She answered deftly in her usual cadence, concealing her feelings masterfully. As far as Atsuko was concerned at least, as she was quite aware that keeping her love in the dark had become almost impossible these days.

"Seems fine to me, Mei." Yuzu said in the most innocent of voices.

Mei could only sigh in response. She was caught between a rock and a hard place.

The time to leave the tub eventually arrived and it did not trouble Atsuko in the least as her favorite activity awaited her: Reading with her Nee-san.

She stood still while her Nee-san dried her off with the fluffiest of towels. She felt a little guilty because she could have done it herself, or at least tried to. She just could not resist the temptation of letting her Nee-san take care of her. She did it with such diligence and gentleness, treating her as the most precious of treasures and it made Atsuko feel so loved.

After all, as Mama always said, she would not remain a child forever and she would soon have her own responsibilities and burdens. Mama also said that because of that, she should make full use of the time she had now - Something that Atsuko took to heart.

On aiding Atsuko in putting on her nightwear, namely the traditional garment provided by the inn, Mei was hit by the realization that she and Yuzu had yet to unpack their pajamas. She and her lover had had no need for them during the previous nights of their stay, but the situation was different now.

It only took a few looks. Yuzu darted her eyes toward the closet and then back to Mei.

Mei simply nodded in response. Like her, Yuzu was keen to avoid the potentially awkward and embarrassing conversation with their observant and inquisitive younger sister as to why they were yet to wear their pajamas.

"Atsuko." Mei spoke clearly and concisely. "Have you brushed your teeth?"

The impromptu question was weak, but it had the desired effect. Atsuko's gaze was immediately set upon her Nee-san as her other sister made a hasty move for the suitcase in the corner of the room. They only needed a few seconds.

"Of course, y-" Atsuko's response was interrupted by a loud thud.

Both Atsuko's and Mei's eyes were now fixated on one corner of the room. Yuzu, pajamas in hand, then slid the suitcase back against the wall, seemingly having accidentally yanked it across the floor while trying to retrieve her and Mei's nightwear.

They had been caught.

The gears in Yuzu's head whirred into life. She needed to formulate a proper response to the question that was sure to follow. One that would best reduce the probability of Atsuko probing any further. Mei's eyes had grown wide, confirming to Yuzu that the same process had started in her head too.

"Yuzu-nee?" Atsuko started, as was expected of her.

"Y-Yes, Atsu-chan?" Yuzu replied while trying to steel herself emotionally.

"Why do you have a shower and a bathtub?" Atsuko queried, placing a finger to her lips in contemplation.

Yuzu's mouth was agape. It was not the question she was expecting and she had no immediate recourse.

"Well, Atsu-chan." Yuzu paused, desperately trying to buy herself a few more seconds of time. "M- Your Nee-san... You know how much she likes cleanliness."

She looked to Mei with pleading eyes. Her teamwork was needed more than ever. It was already bad enough that their mother seemed to have looked through their limp excuses earlier in the evening with complete transparency.

"Yes." Mei's tone was as neutral as ever. "It is also nice to have options, I think"

Atsuko paused, finger still sat at her lips as she considered her sisters' words. Finally, she smiled and nodded.

"The bath is fun!" She exclaimed, mercifully not noticing the relieved slump of both of her sisters' shoulders.

.

Hagakure

.

Upon leaving the bathroom, Mei was greeted by the very familiar sight of Atsuko waiting for her on the bed while holding a book tightly against her chest. The sides of her lips curled up delicately as the anticipation on her sister's face never failed to make her smile.

Yuzu too was on the bed, sitting cross-legged at the end of it and leaning back to rest on her hands with her inseparable smartphone balanced on her knee. Yuzu turned around and swiftly winked at her, clued onto her arrival by Atsuko's smile reaching her eyes.

Mei sat on the bed at last and took her usual position with her back resting against the headboard, her long legs stretched out in front of her and crossed at the ankles. She beckoned Atsuko closer by raising her left arm and inviting her to take her usual spot against her side.

"Yay!" Atsuko squealed and all but scampered to settle against Mei. There were few places that were as familiar to her as the curve of her Nee-san's side.

Mei draped one arm around her sister's small frame and drew her closer while Atsuko handled her the book

"Hakagure: The Secret Wisdom of the Samurai." Mei read out the title authoritatively before opening the book on the page they had last read. She had no need to put reminders in any book she was currently reading with her sister as she never failed to recall where they had stopped last.

Precious books were to be treated accordingly.

Yuzu took in the sight of her dark-haired beauties with greedy eyes, wanting to impress the scene into her memory down to every detail and since she did not trust her memory to be as accurate as Mei's, she resolved to let technology aid her. She started taking pictures of the reading pair.

She had no choice but to keep the flash on as the room was only dimly lit by the lantern-like lamps and even though Mei had switched her bedside light on in order to read comfortably, there was still not enough light to properly take pictures.

She had expected Mei to protest the flash but when she did not, Yuzu realized her love wanted to have pictures of this moment as well. Yuzu silently promised her she would take the best pictures ever. It was not very hard though as she had the most beautiful of subjects.

On realizing that her Yuzu-nee was taking pictures, Atsuko looked up at her and presented her with the widest of smiles. It only lasted a few seconds though as she immediately went back to reading with Mei. Still, her antics in front of a camera were yet another proof that the child was Yuzu's little sister indeed.

Atsuko waited for Mei to finish reading the current sentence before putting her index on the page.

"I don't know this one, Nee-san."

Mei sounded the kanji out and explained her meaning to Atsuko, mindful to use words that would make it accessible to the child. She then closed the book and took a delicate hold of Atsuko's hand, guiding her into writing out the strokes with her finger on the cover of the book.

"By yourself now, Atsuko."

Atsuko followed on and proceeded to trace the kanji upon the cover by herself, careful to transcribe the invisible strokes in the correct order.

"Again, please." Atsuko complied eagerly, knowing how important it was to commit new kanji to memory.

"One last time, Atsuko." Mei encouraged gently as a strong note of pride colored her voice. Atsuko's will to learn was indomitable and it never ceased to impress her. Atsuko traced out the kanji on the book cover with her index one more time, following the correct order perfectly.

"Splendidly done." Mei praised her once she had finished and kissed her head delicately. Few things filled her with such profound joy as seeing her sister's mind flourish did. She made a mental note to review that particular kanji with the child tomorrow so that Atsuko would be able to lock it into her mind's vault permanently.

"Aaaaah" Yuzu sighed out happily as she let herself fall onto her back while spreading her arms out. She closed her eyes and inhaled sharply as a smile started to soften her lips.

"Yuzu?" Mei called out gently while raising a questioning eyebrow.

A single green eye appeared as Yuzu turned her head to look at Mei. She rose on her elbows to give her love full view of her face as slowly but inevitably, her smile spread to reach her eyes. Mei had no need to ask, as she knew how profoundly happy her beautiful Yuzu was. After all, she felt exactly the same.

"Nee-san?" Atsuko regretted interrupting the moment her sisters were obviously sharing but she truly needed to go back to reading. She did not know for how much longer she would be able to remain awake and she wanted to learn more. They had already skipped two days after all.

"Alright!" Yuzu intejected and winked at Mei before scuttling over to her dark-haired beauties. She went to sit by Mei's other side and leaned delicately into her, resting her head slightly sideways on her lover's shoulder. "Back to reading now. Atsu-chan needs to learn all of this to become the best samurai she can be!"

"Yes!" Atsuko agreed wholeheartedly with her oldest sister before relaxing against her Nee-san once again.

"Very well." Mei turned the page and set to task once again. Her voice rose through the air. Her tilt was too elegant to break the silence, it simply vibrated through it, the finest of bows caressing the strings.

"There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A person's whole life is a succession of moment after moment. There will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue. Live being true to the single purpose of the moment."

She paused, letting the wisdom of the ancient words she had just read hang in the air, so that their beautiful meaning could be fully tasted by her captivated audience.

"That sounds just like my Yuzu-nee!" Atsuko's voice did actually break the silence as she exposed her sudden revelation to the whole room. She had risen into a straight position and was looking at both of her sisters with expectant green eyes.

Her Nee-san was smiling at her. It was her proud smile, Atsuko could tell by the way her lips curved, a corner slightly higher than the other. It pleased Atsuko greatly to have put such a precious smile on her Nee-san's face.

Her Yuzu-nee had raised her head from Nee-san's shoulder and was just staring at her with wide green eyes. An incredulous expression was on her face and her mouth was slightly open.

"That is quite true, Atsuko." Mei's intervention only served to embarrass her love further as a blush rushed to engulf Yuzu's whole face.

"I…" Yuzu started feeling all attention on her, she found herself unable to continue any further though.

"Yuzu." Mei said in a kind yet authoritative voice. "You know it to be true."

She gave Yuzu her softest smile and tilted her head in gentle encouragement while Atsuko nodded her head enthusiastically, completely agreeing with her Nee-san's words.

These simple gestures never failed to anchor Yuzu and ease her mind as they felt like home.

"Well-" She started again, the boisterous quality of her voice restored in full. "We can all agree on how cool I am then." She flashed her brightest smile to her girls and went as far as to make her trademark peace sign before resuming her position against Mei's shoulder.

She still found herself in awe whenever Mei and Atsuko's admiration was revealed to her in such uncertain terms. It should have no longer surprised her, but she was glad it still did. It was such a precious gift.

"Please, read the next one, Atsuko." Mei encouraged her sister to take the lead, as she deemed the next sentence to be one that Atsuko would have no trouble reading.

"Bushido is realized in the presence of death. This means choosing death whenever there is a choice between life and death. There is no other reasoning."

Atsuko put a lot of effort into playing out the sentence using the same cadence as her Nee-san. She did an admirable job and above her head, her sisters traded sweet smiles.

When the last word fell past her lips and her eyes remained glued to the page, it was clear that she was trying and failing to decipher the meaning behind the words.

"Atsuko, this means that you should stay true to yourself no matter what." Mei supplied an explanation, having noticed her sister's predicament immediately.

It did not surprised Mei how her beautiful Yuzu fully embodied the spirit of this tenet as well. After all, Yuzu never failed to stay true to her heart, not even in the darkest of times and no matter the consequences. She truly walked the way of the samurai.

It, also, did not escape Mei how often in her life she had behaved in ways that completely opposed such ancient wisdom. Fortunately, she had not one but two samurai in her life that were more than willing to show her the way. She could not have been any luckier.

"You read the next one, Yuzu-nee!" Atsuko's enthusiastic voice pulled Mei back into the present. A present that had Yuzu blushing adorably at her sister's request.

"Not a good idea, Atsu-chan." Yuzu rubbed the back of her head nervously. "I can't read serious stuff and remain serious...that's Mei's thing."

"Please, Yuzu-nee." Mei knew that Yuzu could not resist those pleading green eyes any better than she could, yet she felt the need to add to it by giving her love a pleading gaze of her own. Yuzu all but crumbled under the potency of such a mercilessly coordinated assault.

"Fine, fine!" She blurted out in feigned annoyance. "Let me see…" She leaned closer to look at the page and as soon as Mei's finger pointed the current row to her, she started reading.

"No matter if the enemy has thousands of men, there is fulfillment in simply standing them off and being determined to cut them all down, starting from one."

"...hey, that's pretty cool!" She said with enthusiasm as soon as she finished the line. She had not forced her voice to sound solemn or serious while reading and instead used her usual easy and cheerful tone, which was exactly what Atsuko and Mei wished for. They would never want their perfect Yuzu to stop being true to herself.

"...but what does it mean, Yuzu-nee?" Yuzu had to chuckle when Atsuko's big green eyes settled on her. They carried so much curiosity and were full of only trust, her wish to learn was as genuine as it was passionate. It was no wonder her Mei was completely resolved to never fail such gaze.

"Well, Atsu-chan..." Yuzu had no trouble venturing into such uncharted territory. After meeting Mei, her relationship with books had changed and over the years she had become quite the student. Still, she was not one to ever present her views as absolute, no matter the situation.

"... to me, it means that standing up for yourself and what you believe in, even when faced with terrible odds, is a good thing. I agree completely, little samurai."

"Yes! I agree too!" Atsuko beamed at her and raised her fist, wishing to seal their shared belief with their special gesture. Yuzu could only nod and smile brightly at the child, before raising her own fist and bumping it gently against Atsuko's smaller one.

Mei got back to reading duty right after, ten minutes later Atsuko had started blinking as her eyelids grew heavier. Atsuko was like her Nee-san and never fought against the incoming sleep.

When her head startled to wobble, she burrowed deeper into Mei's side, grabbing at the fabric of her pajamas and releasing the hugest of yawns. The action never failed to make her look like a little lion cub and to curl Mei's lips in a bemused smile.

Mei heard Yuzu's chuckle and felt her warm breath tickling the skin of her cheek. She was going to keep reading for at least five minutes more, knowing that Atsuko would fall into a deeper slumber if the sound of her voice led her into it. Not to mention that such practice greatly lessened the chance of Atsuko's peculiar sleep talk happening. They had shared enough conversations about socks in the last few days and could go without hearing them for a while.

Once the time had passed, she delicately closed the book. Yuzu gently retrieved it from her hands and sat it on the bedside table with utmost care. She exchanged a short look with Mei and promptly stood to walk to the other side of the bed.

Mei gently pried her shirt out of Atsuko's grip with one hand, careful to caress the child's head with the other as she did, otherwise the sudden loss of contact might wake her sister up. She took pause in the feeling of Atsuko's hair. It was exactly like hers. As always, the thought of how much her sister resembled her made her smile, although it was Atsuko's eyes she could never look away from.

In the meanwhile, Yuzu had readied the child's pillow, so that Mei could turn her around and place her head on it. They had performed such routine a thousand times and it went as smoothly as ever.

Atsuko promptly curled against her pillow, her breath remained soft and even as she was sleeping quite deeply.

Yuzu moved closer to her, careful to keep her moves light and delicate. She leaned over the child and softly kissed her forehead.

"Sweet dreams, little samurai." She murmured ever so gently before sliding back to give Mei the chance to do the same.

Mei was already close to the child, so all she had to do was bend her head and rest her lips on Atsuko's temple for a few seconds.

"Goodnight, Atsuko. I will see you tomorrow." The whisper left her lips with practised ease and familiar affection. She had used the sentence the first time she had bid Atsuko goodnight and never changed it.

On the other hand, Yuzu would always follow her whims, often giving voice to quite the creative goodnight speeches. Ume would always sing her wishes instead and Mei would never tire of hearing the woman's voice. Mei had no clue over how Shou bid goodnight to Atsuko and had no memory of how he used to bid goodnight to her. If he ever did.

She wished that she knew though and the fact surprised her. Now was not the time for pondering over such matters though.

She pulled back and slid off the bed as gracefully as ever, her purple eyes searching for Yuzu. She found her love standing on the balcony threshold with a most enigmatic smile on her beautiful face.

When Yuzu walked through and disappeared into the balcony, Mei could only follow her.

.

二十四

.

Mei found Yuzu sitting on one of the wooden steps that led onto the balcony. She was resting back on her hands, her head was tilted back as she stared at the starry sky above with the softest of smiles on her lips.

She looked quite delicious and her hair had dried up quickly as she had predicted it would. She had gathered her golden locks to one side, pushing them over her shoulder so that Mei had full view of her delicate profile.

Mei took a seat beside her partner and Yuzu's green eyes abandoned the sky to set on her love's beautiful face.

Yuzu was wearing a pair of frilly white shorts and a pale yellow loose camisole. The casual attire suited her and the clear colors highlighted her tanned skin nicely. Mei enjoyed a few things more than the sight of Yuzu being so relaxed and content. It filled Mei with peace to share quiet moments with her love.

For as much as she appreciated the occasional fancy dinners and the elaborate dates, there was a primal sort of happiness in the simple act of just sitting with Yuzu under the night sky.

"Fancy another dive, Mei?" Yuzu asked cheekily, eyebrows wiggling meaningfully. Her delicate face never failed to add a delicious note of innocence even to her most saucy suggestions. It was a captivating blend that enticed Mei endlessly.

"Do not tempt me, Yuzu." Mei sighed out, lips relaxing into an easy smile. They had to leave rather early in the morning and taking yet another bath would be unwise, pleasant surely, but unwise, especially with Atsuko sleeping nearby.

"We should get a tub like this at home, definitely." Yuzu proposed boldly while kicking her legs up, a childish gesture that Mei found adorable.

"We lack the room for it, sadly." Reality had to be taken in consideration as Yuzu had sounded more serious than she had any reason to be in her suggestion.

"Well, we should get a bigger place then, Mei." It was difficult to tell whether Yuzu was jesting or not. Her honest green eyes had a dreamlike quality about them and she was looking directly into Mei's eyes.

"I mean…" Yuzu reached for Mei's hand, the two weaved their fingers together as soon as they hands came into contact. "A house big enough for us all to share, Mei."

The radiant smile Yuzu was blessing her with lead Mei to indulge her imagination. The idea of a bigger house was a splendid one. Atsuko would no longer be forced to move in between two apartments, even though Mei knew her sister did not mind the arrangement. Still, it could not be easy for the child to live in two places.

Moreover, a single house would provide them with a garden and Mei knew how much Yuzu would love being able to grow flowers and plants. She had not missed the longing looks her love had been sending toward the gardenias that decorated the immaculate garden of the inn.

A garden would provide a safe space for Atsuko to play in. Mei could already imagine Yuzu and the child running about, having the time of their lives while she and their mother sat on the patio, one with a book and the other with a cold can of Sapporo.

She would truly love being able to relax under the Sun while reading a book. She had lived her life in the shadows for too long and since Yuzu had introduced the Sun to her, she had found herself unable to get enough of it.

Mei would be able to have a proper study in a bigger house. They all could. She would no longer be forced to think of creative ways to fit bookcases into too small rooms.

"It is not a bad idea, Yuzu" Mei's lips relaxed into the softest of smiles as her fingers tightened around Yuzu's hand ever so meaningfully.

Yuzu simply nodded at her before shuffling about and lying down to rest the back of her head in her lap. She guided her joined hands on her chest, beautiful green eyes looking up at Mei adoringly.

"Mei" Her name was spoken as if Yuzu's whole world existed within its simple sound.

"Yuzu." Mei could only reply with the sound that made her own world.

Yuzu's gaze had a particular softness that evening. It played a nostalgic yet certain note. A song belonging to the past yet meant for the future.

"Can I stay by your side forever?" Mei's purple eyes widened ever so slightly as the melody was quite familiar to her. She felt her heart skip a bit in recognition.

"Yes." This time, her reply was not an embarrassed whisper and the certainty in her voice was absolute. There was not other answer. There had never been any other answer.

"And hold hands?" Yuzu continued while tightening her hold around Mei's hand ever so meaningfully.

"Yes." Her purple eyes were full of endless devotion, pledging herself to Yuzu felt as natural as breathing. She had been doing it every single day for the last seven years, and would keep doing it for the years yet to come.

"Dates too?" A chuckle parted Yuzu's lips as the next question was spoken. Perhaps it had been childish of her to rehearse such a scene. Yet, that moment had meant everything to her. She had tasted true happiness for the first time that many years ago in the library.

"Yes." Mei chuckled out the answer. As bizarre as the situation appeared to be from a logical perspective, she found herself inordinately happy about the chance to reply to such questions once again.

She had been absolutely honest in her answers the first time around, yet her heart had been agitated by the dark knowledge of what the future had in store for her. It was no longer the case as she was the sole master of her destiny now and no matter what road should she decided to walk, Yuzu would be by her side.

"And from here on too..." Any trace of mirth had disappeared from Yuzu's face as she formulated the final question. The love she felt for Mei was too vast to ever be spoken in words. So she had Mei feel it by looking at her as if her world started and ended with her.

"...is it okay to love you, Yuzu?" Yuzu's face went slack and her heart skipped a beat when Mei stole the last line from her. The feeling reflected in Mei's purple eyes perfectly matched what Yuzu felt in her chest. They had stopped chasing and running from each other a long time ago. They ran together now.

Yuzu felt tears well up in her eyes and chided herself from ruining the moment, but when a salty droplet hit her cheek from above, she could only surge toward Mei.

Mei's arms wrapped tightly around her, holding her upward. Her incredible purple eyes were brimming with tears as well. Yuzu lifted a trembling hand to her beloved's face and rested it against Mei's soft cheek, her touch delicate and reverent, as if touching her love for the very first time.

Mei's features relaxed into the softest expression that Yuzu had ever seen. Even Mei's smile, one of that Yuzu was quite familiar with, seemed softer somehow.

A lone tear started her slow descent over Mei's pale cheek, Yuzu leaned in to take it on her lips. She remained as she was, with her mouth against Mei's smooth skin.

She could have stayed like this forever.

Or at least, until the fact that she had yet to answer Mei's enquiry hit her and made her pull back in a rather hurried and embarrassed fashion.

Her love chuckled gently. Mei had figured her out, as she always did, and was tenderly amused by her forgetfulness.

"Yes!" Yuzu almost yelped her answer, not caring about the fact that people were sleeping, including her precious little sister. "Yes!" She repeated with the same ardour, wishing to make up for her delay. "Yes, Mei!"

Mei moved forward then and kissed Yuzu with ferocious passion. She had to keep that girl of hers quiet.

People were sleeping.

End of Chapter Ten AKA The one where Mei closes her position.


Note:

Nej:

Thank you! We put a lot of thought into creating those relationship, we are happy when readers enjoy them as much as we do! Wait no more, Chapter 10 is here!

Rhiane18:

Thank you! Glad you are enjoying the story! Wait no longer, chapter 10 is here.

Guestyzm:

Glad you gave Milk a chance! I am not fond of oc either as a rule although I am quite happy over how Atsuko turned out. Joe and I tried to write her in the most natural way so that she would fit the Citrus universe seamlessly We wrote this story out of love for the source material, so we try to keep our story as close as possible to the original source as far as characterization is concerned. It is rewarding when readers pick on that. Thank you.