Disclaimer: Some of these characters belong to Rumiko Takahashi—Ranma, Akane, Ukyou, Ryouga, Akari, Genma, Kasumi, Sasuke, and the Kunos. There may be a few others sprinkled throughout. The rest, the younger generation, are mine.

Two quick notes. First, this is the story I originally wanted to write with my other fanfic, but I wanted to write it sooner than I wanted to bring the story to this point. I'm lazy, you see. Since this is the same story, all rules that are going to be in the other story apply. Cologne will give Ranma water from the Spring of Drowned Man, and he'll get to use it. Unfortunately for him, that just means a reversal of the curse, so that he turns into a girl with hot water and a boy with cold water. The souls of Jusenkyo don't let people off that easy. Ranma's pretty happy with it, though. Secondly, Ayame means Iris. She isn't named that because it's similar to Akane, I promise.

Chapter 1

"It isn't fair, Ucchan," Makoto complained, toying with his okonomiyaki. Ukyou watched the boy with worry. He looked just like his father, he had the same blue eyes, the same honest, carefree demeanor. The only thing the boy got from Akane Saotome was the hair, his hair was a far cry from the perfect matte black on Ranma. Ukyou figured she was about the only person who could tell Makoto and his twin apart. It was a matter of their choice of words. Makoto called her Ucchan, while his brother called her Kuonji-san. That was only fair, since Makoto was always in her shop and Mochio only ever came to fetch his brother.

"Life seldom is, you know," she replied brightly, passing a cup of water to the teenager. "Not that I'm excusing your father, child, but the idea of an arranged marriage sort of came naturally to him. His arranged marriage turned out well, after all," she reminded the boy. He took a big bite of his okonomiyaki, a scowl on that handsome face. Too much like his father, she thought. Why was Ranma doing this to his children? Surely he of all people would. . .

"Yeah, if that's what you call turning out well, don't show me a failed marriage. When Mom found out about the deal he made with Hibiki-san, she chased him around the house with a broom for a solid hour! A whole hour, screaming at him about arranged marriages and stealing our choices and all. It was awful. And you know, the whole time Mochio and Yori Hibiki were screaming at each other, too. I didn't even know my brother knew some of the words he was using! I'm telling you, Ucchan, you're lucky your parents were sane," he took a swig of the water. Ukyou turned away from him, hiding the bitter smile. She told herself to leave the past where it belonged.

"So, have you two decided which twin gets the girl?" she said brightly, wiping down her counter as if she had nothing else to do. She really ought to toss him out and close her shop. It was well past time.

"Nah. Dad only told us about it today. He said he'd meant to tell us for years, but the Hibiki's just took so long getting to our place and he wanted them there in person. . . I don't think I buy this whole thing about them not having a sense of direction. I think it's all a big sham," he announced, shoving the okonomiyaki in angrily now. Ukyou snorted.

"Think what you like. I don't know about his daughter, but Ryouga-kun sure doesn't have any sense of direction. What is she like?" Ukyou asked. She hadn't seen Ryouga since. . . well, it had been quite a while. She hadn't even known he had a daughter, but she'd heard about his shotgun wedding with Akari. Apparently the little thing had died in childbirth. She knew Ryouga had lived with the Saotomes for about a year after the death of his wife, but she was avoiding them back then. She hadn't wanted to see Akane and Ranma and their children, a happy little family in a perfect little world. She hadn't had the strength to face it. How shameful.

"She's pretty wild," he said thoughtlessly, dismissing her out of hand, "Can I ask you a question?"

"Sure," Ukyou said, taking away his empty plate. She ought to make him wash it, the little rogue stayed after hours in her shop far too often.

"You've known my dad a long, time, right? You knew him before he married my mom?" Makoto asked. Ukyou turned her head, remembering.

"I've known him since we were children. This better be a good question," she warned. The boy tread lightly on scars, if he should happen to break them... there was a reason Ukyou lived alone. She had labored hard to form that scar tissue. She didn't want it broken.

"Well, what happened between my mother and Hibiki-san? Where they lovers once?" he asked innocently. Ukyou dropped the plate. He continued, "Every time he looked at her, he'd blush and start stammering. He watched her every move. It was kind of creepy, seeing someone look at my mom like that."

She stared at those big blue eyes for a long time. At long last she laughed, a good, loud, round laugh.

"Not that your mother knew of, no," she said at long last. The boy blinked at her. She sighed, thinking she could not possibly have ever been as young as him. By the time she was sixteen she'd had her own shop, hadn't she? The Saotome children were so innocent. So pure. Like their father had been. She only hoped they didn't ruin as many lives.

"Your father turns into a woman when he gets wet, doesn't he?" she asked. Makoto blinked at her again.

"Well, yes, but we don't talk about that much. And its only when he gets wet with hot water. He takes cold baths just so he can avoid it, but I dropped tea on his lap once and he explained it to me," Makoto stammered. The memory was burned into his brain, but he desperately wanted to forget it. He had brought tea to his parents while they trained in the dojo, and his father had been wearing only his pants. . . he shuddered at the memory.

"He explained Jusenkyo to you?" Ukyou asked. The boy nodded. "Well, Ryouga also fell into a spring at Jusenkyo, and he fell in because your father knocked him in on accident. They used to be great romantic rivals, and great friends," Ukyou paused, thinking how best she could explain it. "You see, your mother had this pet black pig. She called it P-chan and it slept with her, it watched her undress, it followed her into the girl's locker room. Ryouga's curse was to become a little black pig," she explained. She watched as realization dawned on Makoto's face.

"So Hibiki-san knew her pet pig! Was he good friends with it?" he asked. Ukyou sighed. He was really much, much too similar to his father.

"Ryouga-kun was her pet pig, idiot," she snapped. Makoto's eyes grew wide.

"He slept with my mom?" he asked incredulously. Ukyou smirked. If the child only knew the half of what had gone on during his parents' engagement. . . he'd die of mortification.

"Well, yes. And Ranch. . . your father was bitterly jealous. Your mother never knew why he was so blasted jealous of a pet, but then. . ." she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, "your mother found out. Ryouga left then. He settled down with Yori's mother and had Yori." Ukyou shook her cleaning rag at Makoto. "That's enough ancient history for you, young man. Get out of my shop, we're closed," she announced. Makoto slid off his bar stool and smiled at her gratefully.

"Thanks for letting me in so late, Ucchan," he said, and was gone. Ukyou leaned against her counter, watching him go. He was just so like his father.

"Ayame, would you help your baby brother with his homework?" Akane Saotome asked, smiling at her daughter. Ayame sighed, but nodded. Her hair, which fell to her waist, was the same dark blue as her mother's. It swirled around her as she turned to face her glaring little brother.

"I am not a baby!" he shouted after his mother, but she was already in the kitchen cleaning. Ayame cocked an eyebrow at him.

"So, Takeo, you're a man? Wouldn't that make you eligible to marry the lovely Yori Hibiki?" she asked. Takeo regarded her in abject horror. Ayame smiled. She hadn't thought the Lost Girl was all that bad, a little rough maybe but. . . the way her brothers had reacted she would have thought the girl was Godzilla. So she wasn't dainty and small-boned. Big deal.

"I take it all back, I'm a child." He glared at her again, a sudden intensity flaming in his eyes. "I'm a child who needs NO HELP with his math! Do you understand? We do NOT need to work on math!" he shouted. Ayame sighed. Always the same routine. Why couldn't her mother take care of the blasted homework? Her mother didn't have her own homework to do, all she had to do was manage a household and a dojo. She didn't even have to cook. The twins did all the cooking.

"If you don't settle down and do your work, I'll punt you into next week," she said calmly. She was so engrossed in staring down her youngest brother that she didn't even notice someone else coming into the room.

"I'll help," Goro said behind her, and Ayame jumped. She glared at the young man standing in her doorway. He was tall and broad, a giant leaning against her doorframe. She looked him up and down. Dirty, she saw, from chores.

"I don't need your help," she said stiffly. Goro shrugged and walked away. Everything her family did was so blasted old-fashioned. Her father arranged marriages for his children. Her mother only wore skirts, except when she was practicing in the dojo. Most irritating to Ayame, if a student had no place to stay, the Saotome household was always open. Goro had been staying with them for almost two months now.

"What are you staring at, Ayame?" Takeo asked scornfully. Ayame realized, too late, that she had been watching Goro walk down the hallway. She scowled at her brother, but she never got a chance to answer.

"You marry the she-devil then! I wish you a happy future full of monstrously large children! They'll probably be hairy and smelly too, just like your beloved!" a deep voice yelled. Ayame closed her eyes, praying for patience. The twins were home.

"Would you quit overreacting?" one yelled back. That would be Makoto. Mochio never reconciled. Well, it was rare.

"No, you left me alone to deal with dad and that she-devil! You ran off to stuff your fat face, while I had to sit and listen to them all preaching about family honor and responsibility!" Mochio yelled back. Ayame walked out into the main hallway to see the twins fight. She watched them yell back and forth.

::Fifteen years under the same roof as them, and that's still uncanny,:: she thought, watching them shout. It looked like someone was shouting at his mirror. She leaned against the stairs, watching them for a moment.

"Boys," she said quietly. They ignored her. She said it again, louder. After a few moments, she took off her shoe and threw it at the nearest twin, Mochio. He turned to glare at her.

"Stay out of it unless Dad is forcing YOU to marry some demon," Mochio growled, throwing her shoe back at her. She smiled at him, an angelic smile she'd learned from her Aunt Kasumi.

"The demon in question is in the bathroom. She and her father will be staying a while. And I bet she heard every word," Ayame informed them. She walked back into the dining room to help the most normal of her brothers.

Koemi Kuno gazed into the fires. They told her nothing. She gazed into them and willed the future to come to her. The future refused. The future laughed at her and made snide remarks.

Koemi was above such petty things as Tarot cards or crystal balls. She was however, gifted. All Kunos are gifted in some manner. Her gift was the future. All of the future belonged to her, and she belonged to it. She was a slave to the fires when she watched them. Knowing the future means the responsibility of changing it, if change must occur.

A face formed in the fire, and she smiled. The smile was small, tight and unfeeling. The face forming was smiling back at her, an ugly face, an inhuman face. After a few moments she realized she was seeing the face of a bird. That was ridiculous. What significance did the bird have?

Someone pounded at the door, and the firebird disappeared. Koemi's hand flitted to the bokkan that never strayed far from her side. Her fingers closed around the smooth wooden handle, and she rose to her feet. She stepped to the door, holding the wooden sword out in front of her.

She slid the door open, slashing with her bokkan as it opened. She stopped the dulled blade a hair's width away from the neck of the man, knowing the air pressure from her stroke would bruise him. The stranger did not flinch.

Dangerous, this one. She regarded him coolly, beginning with the poorly concealed gun tucked in his belt. He was lanky, dressed in denim from head to toe. His hair was long and stringy, hanging in his face, and his eyes were a most disconcerting pale grey. She pressed the blade against the fresh bruise and he blinked. He didn't wince, he blinked. He was surprised.

That was good.

"Who are you?" she asked evenly. He looked her up and down, his eyes raking over the formal kimono and long black hair. She pressed the blade harder.

"Who are you?" she asked, more firmly. He grinned at her. His smile was feral, sudden, and obviously heartfelt. He was beginning to frighten her.

"I'm Roka, Yizume Roka. Is your mother home?" he asked. His voice was sweet, low, and melodic. Surprise surprise. She narrowed her eyes and tightened her grip on her sword imperceptibly. She thought, briefly, of telling him her mother preferred to live as far from her father as humanly possible, but she refrained.

"Why do you ask? Why have you come to my house?" she asked. His smile never faded.

"I am an old friend of Kodachi Kuno. I was. . . hoping to catch her at home," he said. Koemi's eyes narrowed further.

"My aunt has been married a long time, Yizume-san. She lives in Switzerland now, with her husband and her six ugly brats," Koemi said bitterly. If he was a friend of that old, twisted, bitter woman, she wanted nothing to do with him. All her childhood Aunt Kodachi had humiliated her, called her a bastard daughter. She wasn't. She'd looked it up, found the marriage license.

She was, however, unwanted. Her father, her mother, and her aunt had all made that abundantly clear. She knew her mother never mourned for the loss of her. She'd seen it in the fires.

"I am aware, I had hoped she kept contact with her brother," Roka said quickly. Too quickly. The man was hiding something. Koemi glared at him openly. He only smiled back. He had a young man's smile, but his face was old. Old enough to know her aunt. Koemi readied her hand for the strike. This man, this man who intruded on her family estate carrying a weapon, he was not to be trusted.

"Koemi! Why do you threaten this man?" an old and shaking voice asked her. Her eyes grew wide as her focus shifted from Roka to her old family servant, Sasuke. Sasuke stood out in the cool clear night, his round little face determined.

"He carries a firearm and claims to know Kodachi," she answered, her voice strong and firm. Her eyes were fixed on Sasuke, pleading. He must not ask her to compromise her safety. He wouldn't, would he?

"Do not threaten a guest! If he knows a Kuno, he must be treated as a guest," Sasuke admonished. Koemi, tears glittering in her eyes, lowered her sword. Sasuke had practically raised her, she could deny him nothing. Sasuke hopped up to the stranger, his body a mass of that strange clumsy quickness he'd always exhibited. He slipped the firearm from the man's belt and stepped back with it.

"I apologize my Master Kuno could not be here to greet you," Sasuke said. Koemi silently willed him to keep his mouth shut. He didn't. "The master is away on business in Hawaii. I'm sure he would have loved to greet the friend of his beloved sister."

"Beloved. Ha," Koemi muttered. She returned her gaze to the stranger. He was staring past her, past the door, into. . .

He was staring into the fires. Koemi turned quickly, trying to see what he could see. The fire blew out in an instant, as if a gale had ripped it to shreds. A fine trembling crept into her small shoulders. She looked at the stranger in fear. He just smiled up at her. Sasuke was speaking, but she couldn't make out the words.

The only words she could formulate in her mind were; This man, this man has my gift! He is not to be trusted.

"Crying?" Ayame said to herself, trudging past the bathroom. There it was, the unmistakable sound of sobs. She paused outside the door. She was tired, she was bruised, she was frustrated. Her mother insisted she train two hours a night after homework, whether she wanted to learn or not. Mochio had gotten her good only once, but it still hurt. She wasn't up for comforting.
Yet, there it was. Someone was crying in the bathroom. Hibiki-san was learning Shogi from Grandfather Panda, mom and dad were still in the dojo with the twins, and Takeo had, supposedly, gone to bed a long time ago.

Which left Yori. Ayame wasn't sure she could handle Yori. When they'd met earlier in the evening, the strange girl had looked at her in such obvious disgust Ayame shrank back. She wasn't even sure the Lost Girl would welcome her company.

::Well,:: she told herself, taking a deep breath, ::If I can beat both my brothers at once, surely this Hibiki girl won't pose a threat.:: With that reassuring idea, she opened the door.

A brush flew at her head. Ayame caught it as it sailed past her, and blinked at the offending object. Since when did objects attack her? She looked further into the room, and saw Yuri, fully dressed, crying in front of a mirror. There were sticks and leaves all around her, and a dead, mangled squirrel off to her right. Ayame regarded the scene with horror.

"Get out!" Yori sobbed, standing up and clenching her fists. Ayame put her hands on her hips and glared at the larger girl. They glowered at each other for a while. Ayame was the first to break the silence, keeping her gaze locked firmly on Yori.

"I'm not going anywhere, I want to take a bath. Besides, I'm not in the habit of letting my guests cry all night in the bathroom. It will wake Takeo," she said gruffly. She pointed at the dead squirrel. "And just where did THAT come from?" she asked. Yori burst into tears and sat down hard.

"I...I.... I was trying to brush my hair and all of this just came out!" she wailed. Ayame looked at her in horror. She'd just assumed it was curly and bunched up. . .

"Shh, shh, shh," she said soothingly. She took a slow step towards Yori, then another. When she could touch the sobbing girl she gently ran her fingernails up and down the girl's shoulders. It helped soothe Aunt Kasumi's brood, she figured it might work on teens too. Her plan turned out well. Yori took a few last shuddering sobs, then she was relatively quiet.

"Don't worry a bit. With someone else to help you, your hair will just fall into place," Ayame said with an enthusiasm she didn't feel. She glared at the mass of dark hair and, in her mind, boasted she could vanquish the demons within it. "This may hurt a bit, though," she warned. Yori stiffened.

"I can take pain. It's frustration I can't deal with," she announced. Ayame pulled back a section of her hair, from the front, and began by brushing about three inches from the bottom. She worked her way up, bottom to top, humming as she worked. Yori stayed silent, only flinching every once in a while.

"You really have lovely hair," she told her. Yori stiffened and began to pull away. Ayame tugged at her hair, and she fell back to where she was. "You aren't going anywhere until I finish this," she announced. Yori growled.

"I thought you wanted to take a bath," she snarled. Ayame pulled at an especially hard knot, and a rock fell out. The knot eased. What had this girl been sleeping on?

"It can wait. Hey!" she said, as if the idea was just occurring to her, "You ought to come with us to school tomorrow. It's the last day, so we won't be doing any work. It'll be fun, you can meet people before we let out for summer and. . ."

"Don't make fun of me!" Yori cried. She pulled away, and the brush clattered to the ground. Ayame stared at her in amazement. She was shaking, head to foot.

"You popular types with your make-up and your blasted social graces!" she cried, tears forming in her eyes again. "I just knew it, I knew the second I looked at you. . ."

"Knew what?" Ayame shouted, surging to her feet. All around the girls lay stones, twigs, and a few vole skeletons. Yori's hair was only a little more than half-brushed, and she looked wilder than ever with part of her subdued.

"That all you ever want or think about is attracting boys! That you cringe whenever you see someone different than you! You live in a dojo, but I bet you're too damn prissy to learn a single kata!" she screamed. Ayame stared at her. She seriously considered knocking Yori's head in. How dare she, how dare she...

"I try to help you, and this is how you repay me? You're a blasted ingrate!" Ayame snarled back. Yori drew back her hand for a punch. Ayame saw it coming with plenty of time. She could beat the twins, she could beat her mom, she'd even, once or twice, beat her dad. Speed is the key, and she had her father's speed. If this little ingrate thought, for one second...

Ayame stepped inside the blow and picked Yori up by the throat. She held her there, suspended, gasping for air. Her father never used these techniques, but her grandfather and Happosai did. They'd taught her the true implications of Anything-Goes Martial Arts. She didn't like it, but she knew it.

"Do not challenge me," she said quietly. She lowered Yori and released her. To her credit, Yori didn't sputter, or scream, or start sobbing again. She only looked at Ayame in utter shock.

"But you're smaller than me," she said. Ayame smiled.

"Faster, too. Are you going to let me finish with that hair, or what?" she asked, trying to let the tension flow from her shoulders. The night had been too long. Yori, amazingly, sat down quite docilely and let Ayame continue brushing her hair.

"I'm sorry," she said at ling last. Ayame snorted.

"You ought to be. Apology accepted," she said. Yori took a deep breath. "Stop moving."


"Oh, shut up. Are you coming to school with me tomorrow or not?" she asked, her frustration finally leaking through. Usually she had more control than this. On the other hand, usually she didn't have to comb through a forest's worth of garbage just to get to friendly terms with someone.

"But I don't have a uniform," Yori replied, her voice very quiet. Ayame sighed.

"You can borrow my spare," she said, trying not to lose her patience again. Bad things happened when she let her temper go. Once, she'd nearly killed Mochio when he'd made her tear her favorite skirt. He'd had to stay in the hospital for a whole month.

"But you're so much smaller than me, how will I. . ."

"We'll figure something out. Don't you worry," Ayame assured her. She finished Yori's hair and began to brush through all of it again. Her hair was thick and soft, a very dark shade of brown. Ayame resisted the urge to play with it.

"Is it done?" Yori asked, her voice soft. Ayame stared at her.

"Yeah. I take it you're going to be nice to me now that you know I can kick your ass?" she said, without preamble. Yori turned to look at her, blushing slightly.

"It's more that I know now you're not the kind of girl I thought you were. That type would never learn to fight," she said. Ayame grunted, surveying her handiwork. Yori's hair was still fizzy from so much neglect, but she knew how to remedy that.

"Well, I'm not terribly fond of fighting, but I am pretty good at it. I'm afraid, you see. I put my brother into the hospital once," she confessed.

"Which brother?" Yori asked.

"Mochio," Ayame replied. Yori's mouth spread into a grim smile.

"I'm sure he deserved it," she whispered. Ayame giggled.

"He might have," she replied. She glanced at her watch and cursed. "Chikushou! Hey, you haven't had a bath yet, have you?" she asked. Yori shook her head. "Let's hurry up and get washed. It'll be morning before you know it."

"Wake up, wake up!" Ayame shouted at Yori. Yori sat up abruptly, her hand going to her side. She blinked, and looked down at her hand.

"My staff is gone," she said, musingly. Ayame pulled her up out of bed.

"Of course it is, you dolt. Get up and put this on, we're going to be late for school!" Ayame snapped, tossing a bundle of blue cloth at Yori's head. Yori watched her run from the room, dazed. She looked down at the bundle of cloth, and her eyes widened.

"I hate skirts!" she shouted.

"You're too tall for my pants! At least that junk is the same color as our uniforms!" Ayame yelled back, already in another part of the house. Yori looked for her own clothing, and found it lying by the mat she was sleeping on. She'd gotten this whole room to herself, her father had been sent to sleep in Goro's room. She grabbed her bra off the top of the pile of clean clothes and started getting dressed. ::Akane-san must have done laundry,:: she thought.

The pile of clothes happened to be a light blue peasant blouse and a dark blue skirt. The skirt was too tight, it pinched in at her waist instead of falling to her hips. The shirt was too tight across the shoulders and chest. Yori scowled down at herself.

"What are you doing?" Ayame cried, bursting into her room. Without further preamble, she attacked Yori's hair. Within seconds, it was all pulled into a tight bun at the back of her head, with shorter strands hanging in her face. She brushed them aside, and turned to glare at the shorter girl. Before she could say anything, however, a pair of socks was thrust in her face.

"Your legs look much better today. They really aren't so bad, shaved," Ayame smiled. Yori accepted the socks, blushing. The night before Ayame had almost fainted at the sight of her legs, and taught her how to shave. She'd never done it before. She was leery of it at first, but Ayame was so damned persuasive. . .

"AYAME!" a deep voice thundered downstairs. Ayame grinned at her and ran off. Yori hopped on first one foot, then the other, trying to get her socks on. She jogged down the stairs and into the bathroom, wondering how she'd ever agreed to go to the stupid school in the first place. . .

Then she saw the mirror. She stopped in her tracks, fascinated. She hadn't seen her own reflection much before, but now... now it was like a different person was staring back at her. She was still big, but she looked. . . different. Maybe too different. She wasn't sure yet whether she liked this or not.

"YOOOORIIII!" Ayame yelled. Startled out of her reverie, she used the bathroom quickly and ran back out. Ayame was standing there, tapping her toes. She shoved a piece of toast in Yori's hand as she walked by.

"Take your lunches," a deep voice ordered. Saotome-san was leaning by the doorway, holding out two little wrapped boxes. Ayame took them and kissed her father on the cheek.

"Thank you, Papa," she smiled, using the American term. He winked at her.

"Be careful, your mother made those," he said to her. She giggled and ran out the door.

"I heard that, Ranma!" Akane-san yelled as Yori ran out after Ayame. She shoved some of the toast in her mouth. Ayame tossed the lunches in the first bushes she saw.

"We may want that!" Yori said reproachfully through a mouth full of toast. Ayame laughed at her.

"We won't, trust me. We'll get some lunch from my friends, they always bring more than enough," Ayame assured her. Yori sighed, trying not to think about the strange feel of the skirt flapping around her legs. She couldn't even remember the last time she wore a skirt. So far, she didn't like it. She planned on changing right back into her old clothes when she got to the Saotome house. . . even if they were hideous. She frowned, thinking of all the insults Mochio had thrown at her.

"I hope your brother oversleeps and gets detention," she said grimly. Ayame gave her a strange look.

"They left before we did. The twins like to walk Koemi Kuno to school."

"Koemi-san!" someone cried. Koemi turned in the direction of the cry. Two dark blue heads were racing towards her. She sighed. She thought she was leaving too early for the twins to catch her. Apparently she was wrong. They ran toward her, their hair, eyes, uniforms, lunch boxes . . . everything was blue. She smoothed her hair and began walking toward school.

"Koemi-san, wait up!" one of them cried. She didn't but he caught up to her anyway. She fixed him with a cold eye, and he grinned back. She really, really wasn't up to face the blue twins.

"If it isn't Blue Boys one and two," she said as the second twin caught up to her. They walked one on each side of her, like prison guards.

"That's good! Are you a poet in secret?" Blue Boy one asked. She rolled her brown eyes.

"Don't be ridiculous, Makoto," she sighed. He frowned at her, his expression dimming.

"I'm Mochio," he told her. She shrugged. They were equally irritating, why differentiate?

"You look tired," Makoto noted, from her other side. She nodded.

"I stayed up late," she informed him. She let them guess, loudly and incorrectly, what had kept her up. She let them argue, without comment, all the way to school. She certainly wasn't going to tell the twins about Roka. They might try to set up a guard outside her house or something equally ridiculous. What she looked forward most to in the summer was being rid of them.

Once they were in the school yard, she found a tree to sit under. They followed her, bickering about something else now. She was used to tuning them out. She smoothed her skirts and waited for the morning to drag on. She didn't want to be at school. On the other hand, she didn't want to sit in the house all day with Roka. There was no telling what he might do. On the other hand, she didn't want to leave him alone to conceive of mischief.

She'd tossed the problem around in her head all night, as she sat up with her katana, not her bokkan, next to her. She'd watched the fires all night, praying for some clue. The bastard had blocked her second sight, she was sure of it. He didn't want her to know anything about him. That worried her, it worried her a lot.

If the Idiot Twins weren't so prone to fighting each other, she might even have asked them to help her out.

Ten minutes to the bell. She gazed out over the busy schoolyard. Blue, blue everywhere. She hated the color blue. Yellow, she decided, if ever she became superintendent of a school she'd make everyone wear yellow.

" . . . . Ayame sure runs slow," Makoto noted. The name brought her back out of her head and into their conversation. She looked toward the gates, and there she was. Ayame Saotome was running towards them, her long dark hair streaming out behind her. Ayame thought she could forgive the color blue, of all of it were that exact shade. She watched Ayame's school uniform whipping around her legs, and she smiled. There she was, the beautiful Ayame, strong and kind.

Then she noticed the girl running beside her.

The stranger wore blue, of course, but not a school uniform. Her hair was tucked back, with only a few stray strands flying back from her face. She ran with a natural grace, as if most of her life were spent running. Koemi noticed with a sinking feeling that she was very pretty, if a trifle on the big side. She was everything Koemi was not, where Koemi was delicate she was strong.

"Who is your sister's friend?" she asked the nearest twin. He was also staring at the new girl.

"I have no idea," he admitted truthfully. "Hey sis! Slow down, you have a few minutes," he called out. Ayame saw them, and smiled. She waved at her brothers, apparently oblivious to the lady on the grass. Koemi thought her heart would break. She turned her gaze to the safer girl, the stranger. What se saw surprised her. The stranger was watching the twins with an undisguised hatred.

"Hey, Ayame, who's your friend?" one of the twins asked. The stranger glared at him, putting one hand on her strong, wide hip.

"You're a blind idiot, Mochio," she snapped. The twin she'd snapped at blinked at her.

"You can tell us apart, just like that?" he asked, somewhat awed. She snorted in derision.

"Of course," she said airily, "And a good thing too, I wouldn't put any dirty trick past you two."

"You're Yori!" the twin who had not spoken before gasped. She gave him a small, tight smile.

"Bingo. Smart lad, Makoto," she said, her voice not quite as bitter. It was then Mochio's turn to snort in derision.

"Why bring her on the last day of school, sis? I bet the big dumb lug can't even read," he announced. The big dumb lug proceeded to slap him across the face. Hard. She left a big red print of her hand behind.

"I thought she might meet some friendly people. You know, people who don't insult her at every turn?" Ayame answered, her tone sardonic. She led Yori away, off into the building. Mochio swore and walked after them, not hurrying, not catching up, just going to class. Koemi turned to Makoto.

"Who is that?" she asked, keeping her tone level. Makoto looked at her as if he'd never seen her before, then shook his head as if to dispel a dream.

"Oh, our dad and her dad made some deal a long time ago. Supposedly one of us twins has to marry her, but I don't think mom will stand for it. She's against arranged marriages, after all," he said absently. Koemi took a deep, relieved breath. Her Ayame had not found someone else. It would have been her own fault if she had, Koemi was too much of a coward to admit her feelings.

She only realized then that the entire morning, Ayame had not even acknowledged her presence.