"When We Least Suspect It"
By COHugh

(Author's Note: Again, the original story did not use A's to denote scene changes, but this site will not allow me to use non-alphanumeric values.)

"And so, as you can see, the poet is really a tortured soul, not a madman as his critics suggest." The silver-haired twenty-seven year-old raised her steely blue eyes from the aged text, focusing on the occupant of seat number twenty-six, Aiko Tokuma. "Wouldn't you agree," she asked her second- most prized pupil, with a slight smile.

"Um... I suppose so."

She nodded, adding, "As such, we should attempt to ease his suffering by listening to his poetry and not passing notes while it is being read, yes?"

Aiko thought the teacher wasn't looking as she was passing the note from her friend Haru to the new boy who sat on her left side. She blushed and promptly put the note away. Her currier services were no longer going to be provided this day.

The rest of the class broke down into the usual assorted giggles and hushed murmuring. Yayoi, for her part, tried her best to calm the students down. It had been a very long week and the entire class was looking forward to the following day off, but she still had a few more poems to get through before the weekend claimed her students.

The soft chime informed Yayoi that any attempt to continue their education today was not to be. Sighing, she closed the text and set it down on top of her desk. "Alright class, make sure you read the assigned pages at home. There will be a test when you return."

The myriad of groans caused the teacher to smile. "Now, now. You know that this poor tortured man would not appreciate your unwillingness to read his work!"

"We know, we know!"

"Good." The teacher bowed to her students, who rose and returned the gesture.

"Dismissed."

The students quickly shuffled out of the classroom, laughing and chatting amongst themselves. It was amazing. It had been four years and many changes had occurred, but some things would always be the same.

Yayoi quickly began gathering her things. The Business Club had been using her room to have their weekly meetings for months now and she disliked having to listen to their deliberations over how and where the club dues should be spent, in addition to other things. If the club's meetings were any sign of the club members' future, they would all become top executives of multi-billion yen companies before reaching twenty-five. They could keep their accounts receivables and parties to the first party; Yayoi was and always would be a lover of literature and science.

She put her hair up in a ponytail with a loose band she kept in her desk. Gathering her books and papers to be checked, Yayoi quickly hurried for the door. As Yayoi approached the doorway, shuffling papers, she did not notice the rather tall and well-dressed student directly in her path. Slamming into the poor soul, he stumbled backwards, but righted himself quickly and caught Yayoi before she could fall to the floor.

"Excuse me, Ms... Schwael? Yayoi Schwael?"

Flustered, Yayoi nodded as she looked at her scattered papers and books. She frowned as she noticed her favorite book in pieces underneath her high- heels. Pulling away from the stranger, she bent over its remains and held back her tears.

"I can replace the novel, if that's what you're worried about."

Yayoi sniffled. "Unlikely. It hasn't been in print for over twenty years. Even if you were lucky enough to find a copy, it would probably be more than a lifetime's worth of your allowances, young man."

"I don't know; I have a big allowance."

Such a smart-assed reply demanded immediate reprimand. Yayoi shot straight up, staring her victim square in the eye for the first time.

Well, second time actually.

The gentleman smiled at Yayoi, bowing deeply. "I don't know if you remember me. My name is Hironobu Kamikochi. We were to be engaged at one point, or at least that was my mother's intention." The man's smile dimmed momentarily, but filled with life only after a moment's consideration.

Yayoi gave the man a questioning look. "Why are you in a school with these children? If you are planning any devious acts, I must inform you that I am a teacher at this academy and will allow no such thing!"

Hiro quickly waived off the accusation, "You wound me, ma'am. I merely sponsor the school's Business Club and I occasionally stop by to check on their activities. I've found that many of the students make good interns and eventual employees." Hiro flashed another one of his flawless smiles at Yayoi.

Yayoi, unimpressed with his teeth, quickly bowed back. "Well, since that is the case, I will allow you to proceed."

"Your gracious decision is most appreciated, Ms. Schwael," Hiro's response was sincere, as was his bow, "But I must insist: I must help you gather your things!"

"That is not required, but thank you." Yayoi bent down and gathered her things, not surprised in the least when Mr. Kamikochi kneeled to help her. He seemed a little more life-like than the last time Yayoi had seen him, but she remembered that where he was his mother wasn't further behind (usually in front).

Her other items collected, Hiro read the binding to her treasured book before handing it back to Yayoi. "I apologize again. It was entirely my fault."

Yayoi shook her head, her hair slightly bouncing from shoulder to shoulder, "No need, Mr. Kamikochi. The fault was mine."

Yayoi was as beautiful as Hiro remembered. The longer hair merely accentuated her beauty. As he quickly scanned her fingers, he noticed no ring. A bonus. He found himself wishing he hadn't let his mother do the talking the first time Hiro laid eyes on Yayoi.

Stammering slightly, Hiro managed to sputter out, "C-Call me Hiro."

Yayoi nodded. "Until we meet again, Hiro," Yayoi bowed a second time towards the gentleman and quickly pushed past him and towards her home.

Hiro watched as the young woman glided down the hall. "Still gorgeous," he whispered with a sigh.

Suddenly, one of the female club members grabbed his arm and dragged him into the classroom. "C'mon, Mr. Kamikochi! We need you to settle this argument!"

"I'm coming, I'm coming!" Hiro made a mental note to request this classroom for the next club meeting as he sat in the seat of honor and began listening to the raging debate.

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Yayoi opened the gate, wincing as it scrapped across the cement. One of these days, she was going to have to work on fixing it properly.

But what was the use? The house didn't belong to her anyways. If Dr. Sanada had a problem with the obnoxious noise emanating from the main entryway, he could fix it himself. Maybe he could get one of the residents of his household to fix it in his stead. Kazuki, perhaps?

Yayoi entered the household, removing her shoes and putting on the customary house-slippers the Sanada's stored for her. As she entered the home, she narrowly averted a collision with Akane and Ayuko as they carried some more items downstairs. "How's the packing going, Akane?"

Akane just rolled her eyes and continued with her box of assorted items into the living room. The entire living room area was covered with boxes stacked almost to the ceiling. What the Sanada's and Rara's couldn't take with them onboard the artifact ship, which ended up being a lot, they had to either sell or put in storage. The stacks of boxes therefore were separated by what was going onboard the artifact ship, what was to be sold, and what was to be stored. Out of the boxes that were going to space, Mitsuki Sanada's name appeared on more than twenty percent.

Yayoi smirked and headed for the kitchen. She had graciously agreed to help around the Sanada household by preparing dinner a week ago, thankful that she wasn't asked to help move.

There was only another week until the crew left for the great unknown. The artifact ship was finished well ahead of schedule, mainly because Dr. Rara and Dr. Sanada had had a very large fight that almost became physical. Once Akane caught wind of this, she forced the men to sit down and decide one way or the other on all the points of contention in one night. Those matters settled, the ship was quickly assembled and prepped for launch using information gathered from Zinv and the inactive artifact remains that Dr. Rara had been discovering across the planet.

Dee was doing well in school. She had almost finished her accelerated High School curriculum and would be done within the next couple of days. Mitsuki Rara had finished culinary school long ago and had been studying various mechanical manuals in preparation for the voyage. She rarely appeared outside of her room. As for Kazuki...

Yayoi sighed heavily at the mere thought of Kazuki and Mitsuki Sanada being engaged. The wedding would not be held until they arrived on the first inhabitable planet they could colonize as a symbol of commitment to each other and the new homeland, but with each passing day it grew closer. For Yayoi, it would be like a funeral. The death of any hope between her and her shinning knight Kazuki.

"Ask not for whom the bell tolls..."

" 'It tolls for you.' Isn't it a little late to be lecturing on literature, Yayoi," Dr. Ken Sanada smiled at his neighbor as he pulled up a chair next to the teacher. Dr. Sanada closely examined the ingredients she had pulled for tonight's dinner, putting them together in some sort of complex equation that would end up in his stomach regardless.

"Not at all, Doctor. It is never too late for literature," Yayoi was quite insistent, closing her eyes and holding up a finger as she scolded him. Luckily, she opened her eyes soon enough to notice him picking at some of the rice she had set aside and quickly slapped his hand away.

"Ouch!" Dr. Sanada retracted his injured hand and frowned.

"Don't you have some packing to do, Dr. Sanada," Yayoi inquired, moving the food out of his reach.

"Oh no, no. I finished that days ago." Of course, packing for Ken Sanada meant a couple of star charts and maybe a change of underwear, cargo capacity permitting.

Yayoi stared at him suspiciously, "Really?"

He nodded with a big grin. "Although, I will need to check on the core robots this evening and wouldn't mind a companion who doesn't disagree with every word I say," Dr. Sanada of course was referring to Dr. Rara.

"Why not ask Akane to go," Yayoi began cutting up the assembled vegetables.

Dr. Sanada rubbed his head and looked around, "She's kind of busy with the whole going into space and possibly never seeing home again thing. Besides, any time I mention the core robots and how we should check them before we go, she just gets teary-eyed."

Yayoi shared that sentiment with Akane. She couldn't believe that soon she would be exploring space with these people and might never see Earth again. Granted, Yayoi's friends and family would be going with her, but the possibility of never feeling a warm summer's breeze or watching the cherries blossom felt heart wrenching at times. So much so that Yayoi had still not even begun to pack.

"Yayoi?"

Shaking her head, she turned and faced the good Doctor, "Hmmm?"

Dr. Sanada gave her an odd glance for a moment before commenting, "Your thoughts seemed to be a mile away, my dear. You haven't moved an inch for about two minutes."

"Oh," Yayoi's cheeks reddened. "I'm sorry! What were you saying?"

Dr. Sanada smiled. "Not a thing, Yayoi. I'll leave you alone so you can finish preparing dinner. Smells delicious, by the way."

"Thank you and thank you, sir." Yayoi bowed towards the Doctor before returning to her work.

Finishing her work ahead of schedule, Yayoi trotted upstairs, again dodging Akane and Ayuko, to inform the children that their dinner was ready. She first approached Dee's door, tapping softly.

"Come in!"

Kumu let out a friendly bark as Yayoi slowly opened the door. Dee had been studying since she had returned home from school that afternoon and had spent very little time with her. The poor dog was probably just hungry for affection.

That made two.

"Oh! Hello, Yayoi," Dee's ever-cheerful reply greeted Yayoi as she pushed open the door carefully.

"Hello, Dee. How is your studying going?"

"Alright, I suppose," Dee pouted slightly before continuing, "I just wish I had more time. Why can't Dad invent a time machine or something and help a good daughter out? I might have to ask him this at dinner... Which reminds me, when is dinner?"

Yayoi never ceased to be amazed at how the girl could change thoughts mid- statement so quickly without even taking a breath. Smiling momentarily, she replied, "It is ready now."

"Great!" Dee tossed her book onto the desk and snatched up Kumu, darting for the door. The young woman barely gave Yayoi enough time to clear the doorway for her as she sped into the hallway and down the stairs.

Smirking, Yayoi continued down the hallway, consciously skipping the second door on her right and continuing to the third. Knocking on the door gently, she simply stated, "Mitsuki, Mitsuki, dinner is ready."

After listening for a moment, she heard Mitsuki Rara reply softly, "I will be down in a few minutes. Thank you, Ms. Schwael."

Yayoi frowned at the more formal greeting. It had taken some getting used to, but Mitsuki Rara had been referring to everyone as Mister, Misses, or Miss for almost two years now and every had just come to accept it.

How that girl could continue living in the same house with the man she loved after receiving the rejection Mitsuki Rara received was beyond Yayoi's understanding. What was even more astounding was the fact that she slept in the same room as the woman Kazuki had chosen over her. He even chose her to be his wife, no less. Either she was very strong or very stupid. Or both.

Finally approaching the middle door, she knocked and waited for an answer.

A male voice replied, "Yes?"

Yayoi inhaled deeply before turning the knob. She always had to prepare like this before opening the door.

As it slid open, she forced a smile across her lips, stating sweetly to both Mitsuki Sanada and Kazuki Yotsuga, "Hello you two. How is your studying going?"

Mitsuki sighed heavily. Both of them were attempting to major in computer engineering, but she was obviously doing better than her counterpart. Kazuki gave his normal nervous smile that he made whenever Mitsuki Sanada had been particularly difficult.

Noticing Yayoi's continued staring at Kazuki, Mitsuki stepped in-between his and her line of sight. "We'd be doing a lot better if certain people would focus!"

"Hey! I can't help it if I don't understand this figure here!" Kazuki held up a book and pointed to a complex diagram that Yayoi just shrugged off as out of her league.

"That is no excuse, young man! Study, study, study!"

Kazuki smiled at his fiancée. "Young man? Is this any way to speak to your future husband?"

Mitsuki Sanada's cheeks reddened. Her tone softened greatly as she replied, "I-I-I apologize."

Kazuki's smile widened. He obviously enjoyed how mentioning the pending marriage had a way of splashing cold water on Mitsuki Sanada's fire. Unfortunately, he did not notice how it also stabbed like a knife into Yayoi's broken heart.

"No need to apologize, Mitsuki," Kazuki smiled and patted her cheek, a move that would have promptly resulted in a missing hand four years ago, but now caused her to blush even more. Turning towards Yayoi, he inquired, "Did you need something, Yayoi?"

Longing for the same touch Mitsuki Sanada took for granted, Yayoi almost forgot why she had come upstairs to begin with. Shaking herself back to reality, she nodded and stated calmly, "Dinner is ready when you two are." She quickly turned and headed down stairs as fast as proper behavior would allow her.