A/N: This is a collaboration piece between me and my cousin Danica. You may notice a slight voice shift in the writing, this is because she shared the story for a time. Also, I'd like to thank Winail for his ever so helpful consultation.
He looked across the room as he began the meeting. "Now, the festival is approximately three months away. We still have to organize the..." As always his eyes drifted toward her. Machi Kuragi. She took her notes calmly and competently, completely oblivious to his gaze. He quickly looked away when she glanced up. This is turning into a habit, he thought, dismayed.
Outside, the breeze blew pleasantly, catching what leaves it could grasp. Fall had come and the colorful array of leaves was easily swept by the forceful wind. Even a gentle waft of air could do the job. Though, unlike the freedom of the leaves, the members of the student council are contained inside, discussing, complaining, and planning.
Three hours later, they finally got everything taken care of. Machi gave an inner sigh of relief. At least we got things done¸ she thought, going to her locker. That meant she didn't have to sit in an airless room, with the others, feeling completely out of place until the end of the month. If it weren't for Kakeru she would never have been on the Student Council. He decided he wanted to be a part of the school defense force, so naturally he persuaded everyone to vote for him. Then, he decided she needed something to do after school, so he pushed her academic records in front of the teachers. She had yet to decide whether or not to thank him.
"Machi?" a voice said from behind.
Startled, she blinked at him.
Yuki bent and picked up the books she had dropped. "I'm sorry, did I surprise you?"
She stared at the books he was holding out, as if wondering how they got there. Taking her books she said, quietly, "Thank you." As she continued to pick her things from her locker, she noticed he hadn't moved.
In a gesture of nervousness he ran his hand through his hair. "Ah, Machi, do you have any plans this weekend?"
Having taken a few steps away, she froze. "Why?" The suspicion in her voice was subtle, but it was there.
Yuki smiled, anxiously, and answered, "Because I want to take you to a movie."
Yuki felt his face heat. What am I doing? "The new Mogeta movie is playing and my cousins want to go. I'm chaperoning. Would you like to go with me?"
He wished he could read her face. Even her eyes were veiled. What was she thinking?
"Okay." He could breathe again. "I would like to go."
It was fascinating watching his purple eyes light up.
"Really?" Yuki asked, involuntarily.
The quiet girl held her books loosely, wondering if this was actually happening. Why had she accepted so quickly? Was it to be polite? Or did she having feelings for him?
The pause made Yuki uneasy. He watched Machi as she gazed mysteriously into the air. Then, out of the blue, she extended a pointed finger towards his chest. Yuki, surprised, did not have a clue what she was about to do next. Closer it came, and closer the boy grew nervous, until suddenly it had touched him. As quickly as it came, the finger withdrew.
"You're…" Machi finally said, "…real."
Hiding behind a wall stood three fuming girls whispering furiously.
"Did you see that, Minagawa-senpai" A pig-tailed girl murmured, having some strain not to yell, "She touched him!"
"Yes, Minami-san," Motoko replied, "I saw that treacherous woman poke our beloved Yuki."
"How dare she!" cried Mio.
"She has no right to!" They were making no attempt to whisper now.
"Hush, girls!" the older girl ordered, "We must delay our plans for the Witch. Right now, it is this… Kuragi girl's turn to face our wrath!"
The other two agreed, nodding, and soon they were off to their homerooms scheming their way towards Yuki's affections.
"I am sorry," Machi said, tonelessly. She had gone back to her indifferent stage. "I did not mean to touch you like that."
Yuki watched as she bowed and began walking away, leaving him wondering what her final answer was. He decided to give her some time and went home, hoping another talk with Tohru would replenish his thoughts. Though, he wasn't sure if he would tell Tohru what he had just done. The day seemed very awkward to him.
In her disordered apartment, Machi questioned the discussion she had meted with Yuki. She realized it was all too surreal. After all, nobody would want to bring Machi anywhere at any time, except her half-brother, Kakeru. That's why I said, "No." She knew everybody either did not want to be associated with her or did not know her. It was because of the silent tantrums, she knew. They just wouldn't understand, Machi concluded in her thoughts. Perhaps, the boy was ill, Machi considered.
A few moments later, the sound of a phone's ring could be heard throughout the apartment. Thinking it was her mother, she began scourging through her laundry piles, the sound growing louder every time she lifted a pair of socks.
As she put the receiver in her ear, she was greeted with Manabe's enthusiastic voice.
"Machi! We haven't talked on the phone for a while, have we?"
"Hello," Machi replied, ignoring his comment.
"I heard Yun-Yun was talking to you this evening," his voice becoming more cheerfully persistent, "I knew you liked him, Machi! Ever since you kept that leaf he gave you! I knew it! I knew it! Sooooo? What did Yun-Yun ask you?"
"He…" Machi usually would not care if she told Manabe anything, but today was different. She had never experienced something like this. "He wanted me to help him chaperone his cousins… at the movies."
"Chaperone?" Manabe sounded quizzical, "You mean he asked you out? Too bad, Machi, 'cause you won't be alone with him. Awww, no kissy-kissy for you!"
"I didn't accept," Machi said, suddenly. "I don't think I did…No, I'm positive I didn't."
"You didn't accept." He said, slowly. "Why not? Yun-Yun's a great guy and he's never asked anyone out before. It probably took him a lot of courage." A thought struck him. "DO YOU REALIZE WHAT YOU'VE DONE?"
"No need to shout." She had the phone away from her ear.
"Machi, you've ruined Yuki's life! You rejected him! He'll probably go crawl into a dark pit of eternal torment. The poor guy! Maybe he'll get himself killed in the army or spend the rest of his life as a hermit in the mountains. You've caused irreparable damage on him. Shame on you, little sister. Shame on you!"
Machi thought about all things she could say to that. "I'm sure he'll survive."
He made strangled sounds of frustration.
"Thank you for calling, Manabe." She said and hung up. He tended to dramatize everything. She didn't ruin his life. Plenty of girls, much prettier than she was, were throwing themselves at him. Surely, he'd realize how boring she was and prefer the likes of Kimi. Though Tohru Honda seemed the most suitable match for him. But he asked me, she realized, surely that meant he must see something no one else does. Something Manabe had said echoed in her mind. Yuki was a great guy and he really hadn't asked anyone out before. Her brother was an idiot, but he never lied to her. Guilt crept up on her. What an odd feeling. She probably should apologize for rejecting him. She tugged on her sweater.
Tohru glanced up at Yuki. He seemed a little off. "Yuki-kun?"
He blinked at her. "Yes, Honda-san?"
"You seem distracted. Are you all right?"
He shook his head. "It isn't important, Honda-san."
They were at the secret base, tending the strawberries.
Tohru put down her trowel. "Yes, it is. Yuki-kun, I'm your friend. I'm allowed to worry about you."
Yuki did not look at her. "I shouldn't burden you anymore. You're his now."
Tohru sighed. It was a slightly annoyed sound she hardly ever used. "Yuki-kun, I may be in love with Kyo, but I won't stop loving you." She reached up to cup his face. "You aren't losing me to him. I may be his love, but I am your friend. And I always will be."
Comforted, in more ways than one, he smiled softly at her. "There's this girl," he began. Her eyes widened in delighted surprise. "I…ah…asked her out today."
"That's wonderful," she squealed. "Is she the one you're bringing to the movies with Kisa-kun and Hiro-chan?"
Yuki nodded. "But it's…complicated."
"You're feeling awkward," she surmised, disturbingly accurate. "You have feelings for this girl and you don't know what to do about it."
He stared at her. "It never ceases to surprise me how thoroughly you understand me." He shook his head at himself. "Honda-san, you know that I'm not good with people. I'd like to be, but I'm just not. Machi isn't like anyone I've ever met, and I don't want to push her away."
"I'm going to give you the same advice you once gave me." Tohru told him. "Be yourself. I know you and I like you. She will too."
Suddenly, Shigure jumped out of the bushes. "Yuki-kun!" He wined. "There's a scary teenage girl at the door. When I asked her what she wanted she just looked at me with the most disturbing expressionless look on her face. It was creepy! Then she just sat there! She must be a friend of yours, tell her to go home!"
Yuki-kun got up and looked at Tohru. "Would you mind if I invited her in for dinner?"
Tohru blinked as Shigure cried out in agony. "Um, I don't mind. I'd love for her to join us."
"Oh, Tohru," Shigure sighed, "Why have you turned on me?"
Yuki walked back with them behind him. He fell strangely nervous. He was about to introduce Machi to Tohru. Why did he feel so nervous? For some reason he hoped Tohru would like the girl, even approve of her. Perhaps that was something to look at later.
As the three neared the home, Shigure's insistent bantering of how "scary"
Machi was came to a point where Yuki hit him. Of course, Tohru became concerned and began muttering her "eh!"'s.
"Wah, Tohru! Yuki hit me!" Shigure whined. He headed towards Tohru with bantering eyes and an annoying pout. "Tell him to stop!"
"Ah! Eh!" Tohru felt unsure about giving orders.
"Don't worry, Honda-san," Yuki interrupted, smiling pleasantly, "I won't hit him hard."
When they got home there was no Machi in sight.
"Oh, did she leave already? I didn't even offer her any tea..." Tohru looked around, distressed.
Yuki noticed a lock of hair glide swiftly through the kitchen sliding doors. Machi. As he walked, briskly, off the steps of the patio, his dark, violet eyes were fixed on the sliding doors.
"Yuki-kun, did you see Machi-san?" Tohru questioned.
"Yeah, I think so," he said, softly, and slowly slid the door.
The door led to the kitchen. With its clean walls, spot-less counters, and no dishes in sight, you might think this kitchen was... perfect.
Back faced to the three, the guest stood near the counter. Her hand rested near a pair of knocked over containers labeled "S" and "P."
"Huh? You're still here?" Shigure blinked.
Machi turned, abruptly. Surprised someone came in without her noticing. Her face remained expressionless as she said, "I'm sorry. I'll clean it up."
Just like before, Yuki thought.
Tohru shook her head furiously, "Oh no! I'll clean that! As our guest, you must relax and enjoy your stay here!" She began cleaning non-stop while repeating kind words to Machi.
Out of nowhere, Shigure appeared beside Machi. "Hello! I'm Shigure. We started off at a bad start earlier and so let's start over, okay? Hi! What's your bra size?"
Tohru stopped, mid-wipe. "EH!"
Yuki couldn't take it anymore. He brought the flat side of his hand down the center of Shigure's head. Hard. He crawled out of the kitchen in tears.
"Ah! Shigure-san!" Tohru frantic, "Ah, but Machi-san!"
All the while Machi stared, wide-eyed, at all the attention she was receiving.
"Machi? Do you want to sit down?" Yuki had noticed her intimidated posture.
The girl looked up at Yuki. She then turned to Tohru, who was still cleaning, but still very concerned. About her? Machi answered with a question. "Where am I?"
Tohru smiled, finally finished with the salt and pepper, and replied, "You're at the Sohma house, Machi-san!"
There was a small silence.
"I…I came…to..." Machi then remembered why she had come in the first place, "I came to apologize... to Yuki-san."
Yuki blinked. Did she come to cancel? "Eh? What for, Machi?"
Machi stared at the floor. "Ah…I would like to go to…the movies with you…and your cousins…"
Tohru sensed the awkward and confused silence. "Um, that's nice of you. I'm sure you'll have lots of fun together." Machi looked up at her.
"Would you like to stay for dinner?" Yuki asked, still slightly confused.
Dinner? Would it be alright? Machi frowned. "I don't want to trouble Honda-san."
"Oh, it's no trouble at all. There's more than enough for five. I hope you like Miso soup." Tohru chirped cheerfully.
As Tohru got dinner started. Machi watched her, with a curious look on her face. "Honda-san is…kind. Why didn't you ask her to the movies?"
Yuki stared at her. "Because I wanted to go with you."
"She has…a boyfriend…doesn't she? Kyo-san."
What was it about women that they knew…everything? Yuki wondered. "I still could have asked her, but I wanted you with me."
Machi didn't know what to say to that.
Dinner was a silent affair. Kyo said nothing to Machi short of "Yo."
When she left, Yuki helped Tohru with the dishes. "That was nice." She said. "It isn't often we have guests for dinner."
"So, what did you think of Machi, Honda-san?" For some reason it was important, vital, that Honda-san liked Machi.
Tohru chuckled. "Do you want my permission to date her, Yuki-kun? Are your intentions honorable?"
Tohru giggled, and kissed his cheek. It was a motherly gesture both of them had gotten used to. "I like her. She seemed shy and a little unsure of herself, but I like her."
"You like everyone, Honda-san." Yuki relaxed beside her.
"Yes, but not everyone is the right one for Yuki-kun."
Yuki blinked. The right one? What did she mean?
As Machi left for school the next day, the Yuki Sohma fan club cornered her in an alley.
"Hello, Kuragi-san," Motoko said, coldly. "Care to have a little chat?"
Machi stared unblinkingly at them. "No."
"It's about Yuki-kun." Minami said, slightly disturbed by the girl. "You touched him yesterday. Don't do it again."
"Who are you?"
They stared at her in disbelief. "We are the Yuki Sohma fan club!" Mio said, indignant.
"You must abide by our rules if you want to survive at school." Minami growled.
She cocked her head at them. "I will be late." She stated and walked past them.
"That girl," Mio said, rubbing her shoulders," isn't normal."
"I know what you mean," Minami was thoroughly creeped out. "She's only a little less scary than Hana-jima."
"We must stay strong girls," Motoko told them, her voice wavering a little. "It is our duty to protect our dear Yuki."
"Yes," they said in unison," Our duty."
Word had spread like wildfire. By lunch everyone knew that Machi was going with Yuki to the movies.
Somehow, Machi Kuragi was completely oblivious to everything going around the school, until she heard murmurs about her during a break in class.
She can only hear bits and pieces of their conversations, but they were enough:
"Yuki and Machi!"
"Oh, my beloved Yuki!"
"...going to the movies"
How could they have known? Machi lifted her head and gazed around the class. All eyes were fixed on her. Just as she lowered her head, she sensed that someone was beside her. She did not look up.
"Hey." A voice drawled.
Was this a greeting? Or a way to get her attention? Machi glanced up, instinctively, her eyes fixed upon the black and white strands of hair. She immediately knew this was another Sohma. After all, the random hair colors were a trade mark for them. Her eyes remained vacant.
"Is it true? You and Yuki, I mean." He seemed laid-back, as usual, but he wasn't looking at her. His eyes were gazing at the window, telling a different story. A mixture of doubt and regret were in them.
"You don't trust me..." Machi concluded.
Haru seemed taken aback, but just as quickly, he returned to his usual expressionless aura. "Yuki…he never does this kind of thing. Must have taken a lot of courage for that guy."
Deja vu. Kakeru had said that earlier and, as if knowing what he would say next, she involuntarily said, "I'm sure he'll survive."
The class continued whispering, paying no attention to Machi and Haru's conversation.
Haru was looking at Machi differently now. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to-"
He interrupted himself, answering to the comment Machi said earlier, "You'll take good care of him. I'm sure of that."
His face softened into a smile and Machi felt her face heat. What did that mean?
After the bell had rung, Machi saw Haru leaning against a random locker. She had reflected upon the chat she had with him all through the class and decided to utter one more thing before going to the movies with Yuki and his unknown cousins.
She made a slight shifty noise and caught the boy's attention. She bowed, staring at the floor as she spoke, "I will try my best, Hatsuharu-san."
"Who was that, Haru?" A blonde Sohma questioned, peeping beside Haru, as the bowing girl turned and swiftly walked away.
"Yuki's new girlfriend," he answered as he walked the opposite direction, followed by the persistent Momiji.
What do you mean, Haru? Aw, come on, Haru! Tell me!
Tohru was concerned. She had seen a strange look in Yuki's eyes all day. It was the same one Kyo wore when she caught him gazing at her. He must be looking forward to his date, she thought. "He looks so happy." She murmured. "I've never seen him like this."
"Yuki Sohma's waves are strangely lighter today." Hana-jima commented. "He must really like this girl."
"Tohru's worried." Kyo remarked.
Tohru looked at him in surprised.
He rapped her head, lightly. "I know you. You're worried about what will happen to Machi."
Tohru smiled softly. "It still surprises me." She shook her head.
"Actually, I wouldn't put it past them." Arisa remarked. "She doesn't have friends to watch out for her, like you do, Tohru."
"I kinda feel sorry for that rat. No matter who he's friends with or how close he gets to someone, his little fan club will always be there." Kyo and Yuki would never be friends, but they understood one another. "Glad I don't have that problem."
Arisa kicked him. "You could show a little bit more concern for innocent bystanders."
Good luck, Machi, Tohru thought.
Machi sat on a bench after school. She had wanted to finish her book before her date with Yuki. Date. That word was so foreign to her. Boys were an odd lot. The one taking her to the movies tonight had to be the oddest of them all.
As Mio and Minami approached her, she continued to read.
Minami cleared her throat. Machi still inadvertently ignored them.
"Machi Kuragi." Mio said, through her teeth.
Machi glanced up. "Oh, hello. Yuki Sohma fan club."
"We have names!" Minami snapped.
Machi went back to her book. "You introduced yourselves as the Yuki Sohma fan club. I have to assume that's who you are."
Her negligent comment gave them pause. She was right. But they had a job to do.
"Who do you think you are? Going to the movies with Yuki-kun?" Mio demanded.
"You have no right." Minami said, coldly.
"He wanted me to be with him." She turned a page. "Is that bad?"
They were thrown by her frankness. "W-What makes you think that he wanted to ask you?" Mio growled. "H-He probably felt sorry for you."
"Yes, because you're so boring and ordinary. Pathetic really. It's probably a favor to Manabe-kun."
Machi shut her book with a snap. She didn't spare them a glance as she walked away.
"I don't think we accomplished anything, Minami-senpai." Mio said, mournfully.
"We mustn't give up." But she could hear the lack of enthusiasm in her voice. Machi's earlier comment stuck out at her. "You introduced yourselves as the Yuki Sohma fan club. I can only assume that's who you are." How much longer will Yuki be around for her to worship?
Yuki walked to Machi's house with Hiro and Kisa in tow. He was unspeakably nervous. Tohru had to help him get dressed. He had unconsciously put on separate pieces of his school uniform and his New Years dance clothes. Several times he considered calling her and canceling, but Kyo would never have let him live it down. With sweaty hands he knocked on her door. His breath caught at the sight of her. She wore a simple pink dress, and her hair curled softly around her face. In short she was dazzling.
The way he was staring at her was beginning to make her nervous. "Honda-san and her friends came over to help me prepare. If it's too much I could…"
Hiro nudge Yuki out of his trance. "Um, no. Machi." He smiled, trying to be charming. "You look beautiful. Shall we go?"
She blinked as Hiro stepped forward. He surveyed her. "Strange girl." He stated. "You look like someone who would unwittingly put children in danger."
Yuki blanched. A headache building up behind his eyes. Hiro. His cousin had a bad habit of doing this every single…He stopped mid-thought as Machi leaned into Hiro's face, her head tilted to one side. He saw the boy edge back. "Then it's a good thing Yuki is here isn't it?" Yuki smiled at the speechless expression on Hiro's face. Kisa giggled. She nodded at them and glanced expectantly at Yuki. "Shall we go?"
Machi found it difficult to concentrate on the movie with Yuki sitting so close beside her. She had turned to ask him something, but discovered he had fallen asleep. He really is very handsome, she thought. She felt a slight blush hit her face as his head dropped on her shoulder.
As soon as the movie was over, she wrapped her knuckles gently on his temples. He shot straight up, disoriented. "The movie is over." She stated.
He stared at her, as if wondering why she was there, and then his eyes widened in realization. "Machi! The movie…I fell asleep…I'm so sorry." He was embarrassed beyond bearing, she could tell.
She shook her head at him. "It's alright. I enjoyed the movie and…" She frowned at herself,
"And?" He prompted.
She looked into his eyes. "You smell nice."
He flushed. His knee bent a little as he felt someone kick him.
"If you're through flirting, we would like to get home before the sun rises." He remarked. He took Kisa's hand and walked toward the exit.
Yuki found himself alone with Machi at her door. Hiro had insisted that he could take Kisa home himself, and proceeded to ditch them. "Despite nodding off on you, I really did enjoy being with you, Machi." The nerves that seemed to have disappeared earlier came rushing back full force. "Would you consider doing this again? Maybe dinner or something next time?"
She stared at him intently. "Are you asking me to be your girlfriend?" She asked, bluntly.
Yuki face went several hues of red. Is that what I've wanted? For this girl to be mine? Always? He nodded. His voice, having abandoned him.
She smiled a rare and beautiful smile. "I would like that." She stepped forward, and wrapped her arms around his neck.
He blinked as she leaned up to kiss him. Amazing. Just as she about to pull back, he pulled her to him and drank deeply from her lips.
She gave an involuntary sigh as he let her go. Wow. "I-I'll see you tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow." He said, And long after.