AUTHOR'S NOTE: (December 15, 2013) Finally! The long awaited chapter! Sorry it's so late! See author's note at the bottom for details.

At first, I couldn't immediately think of names for Taro and Sora (Hotaru and Sachiko's children), so at first I called them "Hitotsu" and "Futatsu" LOL! (If you know Japanese, you know those words stand for "one" and "two" in one of the counting systems, hahaha!)

Anyway, ENJOY!

Chapter 23

The Proposal

"I'm going to ask Tohru to marry me," I told Hotaru the next morning.

He studied me cautiously for a moment. "Why do you want to marry her? Is it because of the baby?"

My stomach flip-flopped nervously. I hated talking about my feelings, especially about Tohru, to others. I shook my head. "No, it's not because of the baby that I want to marry her. It's because… I… I love her. I want to be her husband, and her my wife," I replied, my face growing hot. Although, feeling the baby kick for the first time really made things real… It really put things into perspective of what was most important to me.

A grin spread across his face. He put both of his hands on my shoulders and squeezed them gently. "That 'a boy! That's what I wanted to hear! It's one thing to get married simply out of a sense of duty because you knocked her up—"

"Oi," I interjected. I didn't knock her up! (Okay, in a sense, yes, I did… but… still! It makes me sound like a bad guy! Geez!)

"But if you want to marry her because you love her, then I fully support you and am proud of you to finally come to this decision. And not too late I might add!" he declared. He clapped his hands together. "Oh wait until Sachi-chan hears about this!"

"Heh? No, no!" I exclaimed, holding my hands up to stop him. "Don't tell anyone! They'll all act weird around her! I want it to be a surprise! I only told you because I need your help."

"Oh really?" he remarked, raising an eyebrow and rubbing his chin with his fingers (much like Shigure would have… Oh geez, really?). "Whatever can I do to help you with your little plan, hmm?"

Now he really sounded like Shigure… Must not hit him…

I scowled at him, but relayed my idea and where I needed his help…

The day before Christmas Eve, and Tohru was putting the finishing touches on the gifts she had wrapped for everyone in our bedroom. She lined them all up along the wall at the foot of the bed before she turned to me with a bright smile.

"I'm all done now, Kyo-kun. Do you need to wrap anything now?"

I shook my head. "No, I got mine wrapped for me. But I wouldn't mind wrapping you up," I reached for her and pulled her into my arms tightly, "and putting a big red bow on your head." I planted a kiss on her forehead.

She giggled and held me snugly.

I wished I could stay like this all day.

"Oh, the baby's kicking again," she announced, pulling away and holding her stomach.

I reached down and put my hand over hers on her stomach and nestled my head on her shoulder. Words could not explain how incredible it felt to hold her and feel our child moving inside.

I couldn't tell her how amazing she was and how much she meant to me. I hoped she knew. I hoped she understood how every moment with her was never taken for granted. I cherished it all.

We crawled into bed and I held her tight, engulfed in her scent and falling into a deep sleep.

Uo, Hana, and Hana's family came up for Christmas the next day. The house was not built to accommodate twelve people and a business taking up more than half the space on the main level AND the basement. This was probably the most people to ever stay within its walls at the same time.

"So Kyon-Kyon, how's living here with our precious Tohru, huh? You little thief, stealing her away from us."

Arisa's voice was already getting on my serves, and she only just got here! I was beginning to feel slightly claustrophobic with all the people crammed into the house. I tried to stay in a corner, so that I wouldn't accidently bump into any girls.

"Oi, don't call me that here! The locals might pick up on it!" Although, to be honest, I preferred Kyon-Kyon over Romeo any day, but there was no way I'd tell her that!

Arisa had given Tohru a big squeeze when she arrived and refused to release her. Instead, she picked her up like a rag doll and swung her around in a circle in the front yard. It was as if they hadn't seen each other in years.

They arrived in the afternoon and would be returning to Tokyo in the evening on Christmas Day. They all came to spend Christmas with Tohru. Even Hana's feeble old grandmother was planting kisses on Tohru's head and feeling the baby kick under her palms and smiling at Tohru between crinkled eyes.

I caught myself staring at them as we sat around the kitchen floor at dinner, trying not to let the closeness of everyone get to me (although sitting between Tohru and Hotaru was the safest place to be). Tohru's biological family may have kicked her out, but here was a family that truly loved and supported her. And as much as they irritated me at times, I knew I could count on them to be there for me too. It seemed so strange to me… seeing all these people laughing and chatting together like we were one big happy family.

"So Kyon, what did you get Tohru for Christmas?" Arisa demanded after dinner and everyone was getting ready for bed. There would be four people sleeping in each of the three bedrooms. I was growing anxious and knew that sleep might be even more difficult with three other people snoring around me. Not to mention that Tohru would be in the other room with Uo, Hana and Sora instead of beside me.

"Like I'd tell you!"

"I sense something small, expensive, and circular," Hana said softly next to Arisa.

"No way! Really?"

"Oi!" I snapped. "You stay out of this Hanajima!"

Hana gave me this all-knowing smile and for some reason it made me shudder.

"I'm all done in the bathroom now, Kyo-kun. It's your turn," Tohru appeared, dressed in a pair of pink flannel pyjamas.

I nodded curtly before I made my way to the one and only washroom in the house. That's right. Twelve people, one washroom. Cooperation was vital.

"Don't be too long in there Kyon-Kyon," Arisa shouted over my shoulder. "I'm next."

I resisted the urge to turn around and hiss at her, instead I slowed my pace and took my time going there. That ought to be just enough to piss her off.

It seemed like minutes later before I was kissing Tohru's cheek goodnight and heading into the boy's room with Taro, Megumi and Obaa-san (she got Taro's bed while the three of us had to sleep on the floor).

Obaa-san was out cold before I even crawled under my blanket. Her snores filled the room after a day filled with laughter, travel, and good food.

An hour must have passed of me staring up at the ceiling, unable to sleep as I wondered what would happen tomorrow. Would I know for sure when to ask her? How should I ask her? Would the words come to me, or should I rehearse them?

Most importantly, would she say yes?

"She'll say yes, just go to sleep already," Megumi's voice next to me whispered.

I glanced at him with wonder. Damn that kid was freaky! Why was he and Hanajima so weird, but Taro and Sora were normal?

But more importantly, was he right?

I watched as the room grew lighter with the rising of the sun. Morning was here already. I barely slept; my mind was too wound up, and my body too jumpy.

Hotaru knocked on the bedroom door before cracking it open and poking his head in. "Merry Christmas everyone! Time to get up! Sachi-chan is already making breakfast, so you better get up while it's good and hot! Kyo-kun, can you give me a hand with something?"

He winked at me while everyone else in the room was rubbing sleep from their eyes. I nodded and pulled myself up.

"Boy! Put some clothes on, gosh dang it! Grandma doesn't need to see that!" Obaa-san declared, pulling the covers over her eyes.

I stood there in my boxer shorts and immediately felt my face grow hot. "Well, it's not my fault you're sleeping in the boy's room!" I shot back.

"Is that anyway to talk to your betters?"

Hotaru snorted from the hallway before he tossed some clothes at me. "Here Kyo. I already woke the girls up so I got your clothes for you."

"Gee, thanks."

"Hurry up boy, Grandma can't breathe under these blankets."

"Yes ma'am."

"Don't you ma'am me!"

Man, she was feisty in the mornings!

As long as she didn't pound me through the roof, I should be fine.

"She'll settle down after she has something to eat," Hotaru told me as I joined him out in the hallway.

"Okay. So what's up?" I asked.

He pulled me into his room across the hall and shut the door behind us. "I've made the arrangements with Suzuki-san," he whispered. "He'll be here at 3pm. I'll give him a quick call when Tohru opens the card so he knows when to start."


"I've also informed Sachi-chan—"

"Hey, I said to keep this a secret!"

Hotaru raised his hands as if to calm me. "I had to tell her in order for the plan to work. She can keep a secret… for a few hours anyway." He winked again.

I sighed. "Okay, fine."

"You'll know which one is for you and Tohru because it's small and can only fit two people. Everyone else will sit in the other two bigger ones. You and Tohru will veer off away from the rest of us; Suzuki-san knows exactly where to take you. He said you'd know the moment you pull up that that is the spot. You can take it from there, 'kay?"

I nodded, feeling a nervous lump form in my throat. He wrapped an arm around me and gave a playful little squeeze. "Stay cool, Kyo. You can do it. You don't have to worry about a thing—except to have the ring on you of course. Don't want to forget that!"

My eyes suddenly shot open. The ring! "Where is—"

"In the breast pocket on the inside of your jacket. You can't miss it in that little box."

I sighed with relief. He really had thought of everything. I basically asked him for help with setting up one thing and he took care of the rest.

All I had to do was not screw this up!

I followed him downstairs, where the kitchen was a zoo with Sachiko, Hanajima's mother, Hana, Arisa and Tohru all trying to help out with Christmas breakfast.

"Best to just go into the shop, eh?" Hotaru whispered in my ears. "Too many cooks in the kitchen!"

The apothecary shop was closed for the day. They had set up a little Christmas tree in the east window last week and now there were presents all around the base of the tree.

"So, where is…" I trailed off, as I examined the tree.

"Your gift? It's tucked into the back of the tree. If you can't find it when it's Tohru's turn to open it, then I'll pop in and give you a hand," Hotaru replied. "I'm going to bring some chairs in here, wanna give me a hand?"

I nodded, but kept my eyes on the tree until I spotted what must have been my gift to Tohru. Satisfied, I hurried after him.

We set up the folding chairs in a semi-circle in the middle of the room with the tree in the opening, that way we could keep everyone off the laminate floor. Even though it had been mopped after we closed the shop the day before, Hotaru insisted that it was wisest just in case. "Plus it will be easier on Obaa-san and Tohru-kun," he added.

Was it just me, or was he starting to behave like a doting father to Tohru as well? Maybe it was her father's spirit looking after her? That thought occupied my mind as everyone began to gather into the room and fill up the chairs.

Tohru sat down on one of the chairs with a big plate loaded up with muffins and a glass of milk. "Come sit beside me, Kyo-kun. I brought enough muffins for both of us."

She smelt delicious—like freshly baked apple cinnamon muffins. My favourite.

The apple cinnamon muffins on her lap were still warm from the oven. I sat down beside her and snafued a muffin from her plate. I stared into her doe brown eyes and she began to giggle as I bit into my muffin and crumbs fell down my chin.

"Ugh! Get a room already!" Arisa declared as she sat on Tohru's other side.

"Mind your own business, Yankee!" I shot back.

"I will when you stop drooling all over yourself!"

"Welcome everyone to our home for Christmas!" Sachiko announced then as everyone took their seats around the circle.

I was satisfied when Arisa held her mouth shut and sat back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest. Hanajima sat down beside her with a thick stack of pancakes overflowing with syrup.

"I'm very happy to have you all here today," Sachiko continued. "Once everyone has had a chance to eat breakfast, then we will open presents—starting with the children. You may not know it, but we have a tradition here where we all take turns opening one gift at a time."

Oh geez, this could take forever!

I caught Hotaru's eye then from the other side of the circle, his chair closest to the front door, and he winked at me. Dude, stop winking at me! It was getting creepy!

Sora was the first to open a present since she was the youngest and antsiest, followed by Megumi, then Taro. We each opened one gift and instead of going straight to round two, Sachiko insisted on waiting half an hour before opening more!

This will take all freaking day! I groaned at the thought of it. I needed sleep. Maybe they would let me squeeze in a nap?

Maybe that was the plan all along? To push everything off so that my gift to Tohru would be the last one to open—at three o'clock in the afternoon.

The day wore on in this manner. Tohru had gotten some maternity clothes—which she definitely needed since she was starting to get too big for her current clothes, and other girly things. Obaa-san's gift made Tohru blush an extremely bright shade of red, and she refused to show everyone what had been inside the box.

"Come on, dear, show us what Grandma got you for Christmas," Obaa-san egged on, her smile was so big that you couldn't see her eyes between the wrinkly folds on her face. "At least let Kyon-Kyon see it—he'll like it!"

Okay, that was disturbing.

I tried to sneak a peek inside, thinking she might let me at least see it, but she refused and tucked the box under her chair. That made me even more curious, but at the same time, what could be so embarrassing that Grandma got her?

Maybe it was best that I didn't know…

I got a sweater from Tohru, a couple of karate DVDs from Hanajimi and Arisa, and an mp3 player from Hotaru and Sachiko. Obaa-san didn't give me a gift, but I didn't expect her to since this was the first time I met her. It was probably better this way anyway, judging from Tohru's expression when she opened Obaa-san's gift.

I noticed Hotaru frequently checking his watch as it drew closer to three o'clock. Sachiko noticed it too and tried not to appear distracted by her husband.

"Have all of the presents been opened yet?" Sachiko asked.

Sora looked around the base of the tree for any small gifts that were hiding.

"Hey Kyon-Kyon, where's your gift to Tohru?" Arisa asked.

I glanced at Hotaru and his eyes met mine. He gave his head a slight shake. Now was not the time.

Crap. What do I say?

"Oh? Does Tohru-chan have another gift to open still?" Sachiko asked.

I narrowed my eyes at her. What was she getting at? She knew the plan. Unless… "Yeah, she hasn't opened my gift yet," I replied.

"Oh, well, she will still have to wait 30 minutes before she can open it then," Sachiko smiled brightly.

It was a diversion!

"Aww come on!" Arisa roared.

"Now, now," Hanajimi soothed her heated friend. "This is their tradition and we must be respectful of it."

"It's stupid!" Arisa grumbled, looking annoyed. "Tohru's the last one with a gift left and we have to wait 30 more minutes?" She grumbled under her breath for a minute before she stood up suddenly. "I'm getting a drink. Tohru, you want one?"

Tohru blinked at her friend, but nodded. "Hai, I would love a glass of water if you don't mind."

Arisa nodded before marching into the kitchen.

I exhaled with relief. Damn that was close!

Hotaru looked relieved too. I saw him flash his wife a wide smile and she beamed back at him.

We all chatted as we waited for the time to pass. Arisa returned and stole Tohru's attention from me, but that was fine. I needed a moment to breathe, to think, to plan…

Fifteen minutes passed and something outside caught Hotaru's eye. He cleared his throat and turned to his wife. "Come on honey, I think everyone is curious as to what Kyo got for Tohru. Don't you think we should let her open his gift now?"

Eager eyes from around the circle turned to Sachiko as she put her hands dramatically on her hips.

My heart thundered in my chest.

She sighed. "Oh, I guess so." She turned to me. "Kyo-kun, you can give Tohru-chan your present now."

I swallowed and nodded my head. I got up and walked on trembling feet to the tree. I reached behind it for the little box. When I pulled it out, gasps filled the room.

My face grew hot as I presented it to Tohru. Her eyes were round as saucers and a rosy glow began to fill her cheeks.

"OMIGOD! NO WAY!" Arisa yelled, jumping to her feet.

Hana grab her arm and pulled her back down to her seat, telling her softly to settle down.

Tohru looked afraid to accept the small box until I put it in her hand.

"Open it Tohru-chan!" Sora's face was lit up with excitement from her seat beside Hanajima.

I sat down again beside her. I saw her swallow. She raised her right hand over the lid of the box and carefully pried it open.

"LET ME SEE IT!" Arisa demanded, leaning over Tohru and peering into the box.

Tohru's face clouded over with puzzlement.

"WHAT THE HELL MAN?" Arisa shouted. She gave me a dirty look. "A BELL? YOU GAVE HER A BELL?"

I ignored her and whispered into Tohru's ear as she stared at the jingle bell in confusion, "What does it say inside?"

"Sleigh bells ring."

"What's that dear?" Obaa-san asked, craning her right ear towards Tohru.

"It says," Tohru announced, finding her voice again, "Sleigh bells ring."

The room was quiet as the words filled their minds. Then, as if on cue, the soft jingle of bells filled the silence.

"Are you listening?" Hotaru whispered, loud enough for all to hear.

Sachiko went to the window and pointed outside. "In the lane!" she exclaimed.

I got to my feet and watched Tohru's eyes fill with wonder. She looked at me then at the window. I urged her to get up. She complied and let me lead her to the window. Everyone followed and peered outside to see three horse-drawn sleighs, two big ones and a small one with a glistening white horse in the back.

"Kyo-kun," Tohru breathed in awe, "what is this?"

"My gift to you, and everyone here," I replied gently, "is a sleigh ride this Christmas day."

Her eyes stared back into mine as everyone around us got excited. They hurried about to grab their winter clothes, while our eyes just held each other's in silence.

"Come on love-birds! Sleigh-ride's waiting!" Hotaru declared, breaking our eye contact by throwing our jackets at our faces.

Talk about killing the mood.

We all got bundled up, except for Obaa-san, who declined being outside for more than five minutes. She said she would have hot chocolate ready for us when we got back.

Hanajima, Sora and Arisa all wanted to share one of the big sleighs with Tohru, but Sachiko told them that I had arranged for a private sleigh-ride alone with Tohru. They groaned in protest as they watched me help Tohru into our cozy little sleigh.

Tohru ran a hand over the sleigh as she climbed on. It was decorated with green pine tree branches, pinecones and silver jingle bells, all tied together with a bright red ribbon. Excitement sparkled in her eyes as we embarked on a snowy adventure.

The driver of our sleigh turned and introduced himself as Suzuki Naoki and his two sons were driving the other sleighs. He winked at me with a grin on his face and crows' feet in the corner of his eyes before he turned his attention forward.

And before we knew it, we were moving forward in the freshly fallen snow.

"Kyo-kun, this is really amazing," Tohru whispered to me as we followed the other sleighs out of the town and into the countryside.

I smiled at her. "I hoped you'd like it."

"Un," she replied. She had a scarf wrapped around her face and a matching woollen cap on her head. Naoki had large blankets in each sleigh for the occupants to cozy-up under. She looked so cute.

I held her gloved hands under the blanket in mine and looked into her eyes.

She blushed after a moment and turned her gaze to the open fields we were trotting through. The tree-covered mountainside surrounded the fields that were blanketed in white. "Where are we going?" she asked.

I shrugged. "Suzuki-san is in charge now," I replied. "He knows the best route."

"Oh okay."

We watched the countryside fly by. Soon we found ourselves slowly climbing up a mountain. Tohru's eyes were filled with awe as she watched the town draw away and become smaller and smaller. The path on the mountainside must have been frequently used because there were trees everywhere, except on our path. Snow coated the branches and gave the scenery an added winter wonderland appeal.

We made our way around the mountain and fell into its shadowed east-facing side. Tohru snuggled up against me, as it was much colder on this side without the sun to keep us warm. I had noticed that the sun was already getting lower in the sky and would be setting soon.

"We'll reach the summit in about half an hour," Naoki called back to us.

I nodded. So it was at the top of the mountain that I would pop the question.

The ring box felt like a brick in my breast pocket. I hoped Tohru didn't notice it because it felt huge and obvious against my chest, though I knew it was just my anxiety making it feel that way to me. She certainly didn't seem to notice it.

She nestled her head on my shoulder and I held her close. She looked as though she was enjoying the ride.

I was a bundle of nerves though. I kept running over the words in my head; how I would phrase it, visualize my movements, get down on one knee or hold her tight?

Time flew by as we glided through the snow, climbing higher and higher, and making our way to the west side of the mountain. The sky was darkening and I knew that the moment was near.

Then our sleigh veered off from the path and we saw the other two sleighs disappear as they began their descent down the west side of the mountain. Our sleigh continued to climb up the mountain but I could see the clearing ahead and knew that was the spot. My stomach fluttered with butterflies and I could feel myself beginning to sweat despite the cold.

Naoki looked over his shoulder at us. "I'm going to pull over up here in the clearing and check on Snowflake here. Make sure she's okay," he said.

"Okay," Tohru replied. She looked like she was still enjoying the sleigh-ride even as the sky began to grow dark.

He pulled the sleigh to a stop. The drumbeat of my heart just kicked it up a notch. Oh boy, here it goes.

"Kyo-kun, look!" Tohru declared, pointing at the purple and pink-streaked sunset.

The sun was just grazing the peaks of the rolling mountains in the distance. Here in the clearing, we could see for miles. The wilderness was blanketed in white that glowed purple from the setting sun. The parting of the trees allowed for the most beautiful view I had ever seen in nature. I watched as Tohru's eyes filled with amazement. I knew this was the time Hotaru spoke about.

"Marry me."

It came out like a squeak, to which she cocked her head at me in puzzlement. "What was that Kyo-kun?"

I cleared my throat. That came out wrong.

"Come on, let's get a better look at the sunset," I told her.

I stood up and gently tugged on her arm, urging her to come with me. She did and I helped her step off the sleigh. The snow was up to our knees and she laughed as we tromped through it towards the sunset. I stopped when the mountain's edge resulted in a steep drop down. This was the spot.

I looked at the sunset reflecting in her eyes and let her take in the moment. Then, I turned toward her and took both of her gloved hands in mine.

"I…" I began, my tongue tripping over my words as my breath formed little clouds in front of our faces, my eyes fixed down on her hands in mine, "I know I'm not perfect, and I never will be… I can turn into a jerk one moment… and a monster the next… but… but you once told me… that… more than anything…"

I pulled my eyes up and peered into hers, which had grown wide in surprise and shone in the purple-pink light.

"Isshoni… together… from now on, you wanted to be together."

Her words whispered through my mind from that first time she saw my true form. ["I'll take the bad with the good."]

"Through good times and bad times, you said you wanted to be with me. And you risked it all to even go to Akito for permission. And I…" Where was I going with this? "I want that too. I want to be with you too. Not just for now, but for always."

I got down on one knee, the snow crunching beneath me as I unzipped my jacket and reached inside for the box in my breast pocket. I pulled the box out and looked up into her eyes, which were now brimming with tears. I opened the box and held it up to her.

"Will you marry me, Tohru?"

A noise escaped her lips, followed by a sob. She nodded her head, a huge smile spreading across her face as she sniffled. "Yes!" she finally managed to croak out.

I pulled my gloves off with my teeth and, with shaking hands, took her glove off and slipped the ring on her finger.

A perfect fit.

I stood up and pulled her into my arms as tears of joy fell down our cheeks.

She said yes!

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Yay! Finally! *melts*

Hana: "I sense something small, expensive, and circular." Then Tohru opens the box and it's a bell, hahaha! (it is small and circular, although not expensive, hehe!) Bet you didn't see that coming! (Me so bad!)

I was having too much fun with Hana's grandmother, can you tell? HEHEHE!

I was working diligently on this story and then the job I had at the time started to really screw me over, so in what little free time I had, I spent looking for a new job. I got a new job in mid-August, moved in with my boyfriend and his family… then his mother had a series of heart attacks and was in the hospital for about 9 or 10 days. The three men in the family and I were all trying to maintain the house while working at our various jobs and someone had to be at the hospital 24/7 because she doesn't speak English well (to translate) and then about two weeks after she was released, she had heart failure again and was in the hospital again for another week. She's doing much better now, but me being the only girl home when she wasn't home meant I had to do all the cooking and dishes when I wasn't working. It's been a very stressful transition! So my mind had not been clear/focused on writing.

Hope you enjoyed this chapter!