Title: The Sohma Institute
By Lady of the Ink
Pairings: Y/T, possible others
Rating: PG
Category: A/U Drama
Disclaimer: I don't own Fruits Basket, bit you knew that. I hope. But I do own this story and all the plot twists it contains.

Chapter One
Tohru


Tohru Honda shaded her eyes as she looked at the imposing building rising from the street before her. Sunlight glinted off its many shining windows, and she spared a moment to be thankful she wasn't in charge of keeping all those panes so spotlessly clean. As she neared the entrance, a small chill danced its way up her spine. Shaking off the strange feeling of foreboding that had come upon her, she opened the front door and took her first step into the lobby.

The first person she saw was a young woman seated behind a massive wooden desk, speaking to someone on a telephone. At the sound of the door opening, the woman looked up, sparing a quick smile as she waved toward a set of chairs off to the left. Taking a seat, Tohru clutched her hands in her lap, fighting a losing battle against her nerves. She knew that the first day was always the worst, and if she could just make it through this, everything would be easier from here on out. Closing her eyes, she took a couple of deep breaths, repeating that thought to herself as she did so.

"Miss Honda?" The other woman's voice startled Tohru from her relaxing technique with a start. Opening her eyes, she could feel a flush spreading over her cheeks when she saw the questioning look aimed her way. Forcing a slightly shaky smile, she got to her feet and took a few steps towards the desk

"Yes, I'm Tohru Honda."

"Hi, it's nice to meet you. I'm Ms. Almont," she said, offering her hand. "Welcome to the Sohma Institute." Ms. Almont slipped out from behind the desk, motioning for Tohru to follow. She led the way back a short hallway that ended in a set of glass doors. Beside the doors was a small metal rectangle, with numerous buttons lit up on its surface. "To get into any further into the building, you have to pass through this door, or one just like it. Each set is kept locked at all times, for safety reasons. After nine o'clock, there are also guards stationed at the doors on each floor for added security."

Quickly punching in a code, Ms. Almont continued to talk as they waited. "We'll get you set up with the codes and a pass key in just a bit." A loud buzz filled the air, along with the distinctive click of a lock releasing. Pushing the doors open, she motioned down the hall. "I'll give you a thorough rundown of the patients and your duties later, but we'll start with the nickel tour."

Tohru nodded as she struggled to keep up with the other woman's quick pace. The hall ended in a bank of elevators, their shining doors reflecting a distorted image of the two woman. Ms. Almont tapped the up button, idly smoothing a strand of her blonde hair back behind one ear. The doors opened, and they both stepped inside. As her companion pressed the button for the twelfth floor, Tohru took a moment to make comparisons.

Ms. Almont couldn't have been more than a few years older than her, though the tight bun she wore her light hair in seemed to add a few years. She also wore the same sort of outfit, with its plain, knee length skirt and loose shirt. Remembering the introduction packet she'd received, Tohru decided it must be a facility wide dress code. Smoothing her hands over her own skirt, she straightened as the elevator doors dinged open.

The hallway she stepped into was wide and well lit, with doors lining both sides. The entrance into each room was flanked on the left side with a plaque baring a two inch high number, with smaller words printed underneath. On the opposite side was a hook with a clipboard dangling from it.

Stopping at the first door on the right, Ms. Almont tapped the clipboard with one finger. Looking at Tohru, she explained, "Each of these charts contains all the pertinent patient information. Times for medications, any unusual behavior, and things you should watch for when caring for them. I'll show you how to fill them out later. For right now, I'll just give you the basics."

"In order to protect their privacy, and that of their families, the patients are known only by their first names. Only the administrator knows all their background information, and it's a good idea to follow a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy around here."

Tohru nodded again, filing that information away. She supposed that that made a lot of sense. If she were in this kind of position, she wouldn't want a bunch of people knowing everything about her, either.

"Okay, this hallway has the patients you'll be working with. The doctor visits them twice a day, and all you have to do medically is follow any notations that might be on their charts. Other than that, just keep them company, talk to them, play games, if they want.

"Pretty simple stuff, right?" With another of her there-and-gone smiles, she started down the hall once more. "These residents are here pretty much indefinitely, for one reason or another. They can't or won't socialize well with the outside world. So it's a good bet that you'll be working with the same faces most of the time. That will give you plenty of time to learn about, and figure out how to handle, each one."

They had reached the end of the corridor by then, and Ms. Almont pointed to a door that was different from the rest. This one had a glass inset, with no visible locks on the outside. "This is our office," she said as she turned the knob. The room was of average size, the walls painted a soft shade of blue. There was a desk against either wall, one covered with folders and other paraphernalia, the other completely empty. "Obviously, that one's yours." Taking a seat at the cluttered desk, Ms. Almont began digging through the piles of paper, apparently looking for something.

Tohru paused just inside the doorway, knowing that her confusion had to be written all over her face. "But, I thought that you were the . . . I mean, downstairs . . ." Her sentence trailed off awkwardly.

Ms. Almont turned to look over her shoulder, raising one eyebrow as she did so. "You thought that I was the secretary? No, I was just filling in while I waited for you to arrive. Our usual receptionist took a late lunch today." When Tohru would have apologized for her mistake, Ms. Almont waved it off. "No big deal, really. I've been called worse than a receptionist, believe me."

The dry tone used to deliver that little bit of information discouraged Tohru from asking any further questions. Cautiously taking another step into the room, she shifted her weight from one foot to the other as she looked around. Besides the desks, there were few furnishings to speak of. The only seats were the usual office-type chairs that went with the desks. Against the wall opposite the door, there were three filing cabinets painted the same nondescript shade of tan. A small plant sat atop one, its browning leaves drooping dejectedly.

"Ah, here it is!" Ms. Almont turned from her search, a thick three-ring binder in hand. "This is the manual on all the rules and regulations for the Institute. You'll want to read through it until you're sure you understand every word. Then you should read it again. Mistakes by employees are not taken well, and you'll be much better off if you keep that in mind at all times."

Taking the offered folder, Tohru clutched it to her chest. She had known this job was going to be difficult, but she'd decided the experience and knowledge she'd gain from it would be worth the work. After all, it wasn't often that someone still in training got the chance to work with actual patients, and at a private facility, no less. Most of her classmates had to settle for dusty textbooks or brave crowded public wards to get the kind of hands-on practice she was getting. And they weren't getting paid for it, either.

"Okay." Slapping her hands on her thighs, Ms. Almont got to her feet. Pushing her chair back into place, she twisted to look at a paper still on her desk. Scanning over its contents, she frowned a little. "It says here that your last class of the day is at three. Is that all week?" Tohru nodded. "All right, so you'll have no problem making it here by four-thirty to start your shift. For the first couple of weeks, I'll be staying late to help you get used to what's expected of you. After that, you'll have the floor pretty much to yourself."

Gesturing for Tohru to proceed her into the hall, she followed, closing the door behind her. "That's just about everything for now. I'll give you a quick rundown of the patients, and then you can head on home." She motioned to the first door on the right. "This is Yuki's room. He's an introvert, hardly acknowledges the outside world at all. Don't be surprised if he doesn't seem to know you're there. You shouldn't have any problems with him. He's pretty tame, compared to some of the others.

"Across from him is Kyou. Here's where you might run into some trouble. He seems to have taken an extreme dislike to Yuki since the day he arrived, and he's been known to start fights with him if he can. We try to keep them separated except when Kyou's in one of his better moods, which doesn't seem to be very often. Expect some hostility from him; he appears to have a problem with the world in general and doesn't mind letting people know about it.

"Next to him is Haru. You have to take him on a visit by visit basis. One moment, he'll be as calm and in control as you could hope for. Leave the room for five minutes and come back, and you could find a completely different person. Name calling, lewd comments, you name it, he'll do it. Think of a two-year-old's worst temper tantrum, multiply it by a hundred, and you might come close what he's capable of. You have to make sure to keep Haru and Kyou as far apart as possible when either one is having a bad day. They'll set each other off in no time at all, and believe, the results are never pretty.

"Over here," Ms. Almont said, pointing to the door across from Haru's, "is Momiji's room. He's a little different from the others. He's a teenager, but his mind seems to refuse to acknowledge that. For all intents and purposes, he's your average five year old. There are times, though, when he'll pop out with an insight you'd never expect. Then he'll climb onto your lap and ask you to read him a story." She shrugged lightly, then glanced at her watch. "Well, I think that that covers the major points. Other patients might be moved in later on, but for now, these four are all that you have to worry about."

Tohru nodded, struggling to keep all the information she'd just received straight in her mind. She wished that she'd thought to take notes, but it was too late now. She didn't want to seem inept by asking Ms. Almont to repeat herself, so she just followed the older woman down the hall.

"The rest of the left side is a large activity room. There's a TV, plenty of movies and games, books, and a whole bunch of other things that should keep everyone occupied. On the right, there's a lunchroom, though most of the time, all four of them prefer to eat in their rooms. You can eat in there or in the office, your choice." By that time, they'd reached the elevators. On the ride down, Tohru could feel the nervous adrenaline that had kept her going begin to wear off. Struggling to keep her shoulders from slumping, she forced herself to focus on Ms. Almont's words as they passed through the security doors again.

"Your pass key and all the codes you'll need are in that binder, as is everything else important. Look that over like I said, and you'll be all ready to start." Offering her hand, she smiled slightly. "See you on Monday, then, Miss Honda."

"Yes, Monday," Tohru managed to reply with a wavering smile of her own. Crossing the lobby, she was grateful when she finally stepped back out into the sunny afternoon light. While the Institute was far from dark, there was something almost smothering about the air inside it.

"Must be my imagination," she muttered to herself. "I'm just nervous about this new job, that's all. There's nothing unusual about that building." But the strange feeling followed her all the way home.