Sitting in class, surrounded by her classmates happy chatter, Touko was lost in her thoughts about her feelings for Yumi when Noriko approached her with a worried look on her features. "Is it that bad?" Noriko questioned softly.
"Not really," said Touko, offering a wry smile. "Just confusing. I know what I want to do and I know what I think I should do and I also know what Sachiko-oneesama wants. I just don't know how Yumi-sama feels or what she wants from me…"
"And that's where it gets confusing," finished Noriko with understanding. Sitting next to her friend, she said, "Why not stop thinking about what you know and go with your instincts? Honestly, Touko," Noriko said fondly. "You tend to overanalyze at times."
Releasing a sound of agreement, Touko looked at the girls in their class which were gathered in a large group, chattering excitedly and shooting speculative looks at them every few seconds. "I wonder what that's all about," Touko murmured.
"That?" Noriko turned to the girls and released a humorous scoff. "They're tying themselves into knots about the Valentine's Day card hunt that the newspaper has roped the en boutons into doing again. Although I doubt they're curious about where I'm hiding my card so much as spying on you to try and figure out where Yumi-sama is putting hers."
"Valentine's Day card hunt?" asked Touko, blinking.
"They did it last year and it was really popular," said Noriko with a shrug. "The en boutons each hide a Valentine's Day card and whoever finds them wins a date." She looked to Touko who wore a stunned look on her face. "I'm surprised you haven't heard about it."
"Sachiko-oneesama never spoke about it, neither did Yumi-sama," said Touko quietly. Turning her attention to the gossiping students in her class she thought about the card Yumi would be hiding and how she would feel if any of these girls found it and were able to have a date with Yumi. A sudden rush of jealousy filled her and Touko had the answer to her earlier questions. If Sachiko wasn't going to hate her for it and it wouldn't ruin their relationship then there really wasn't anything stopping her from doing exactly what she wanted. Which at this point at time would be finding that Valentine's Day card and winning a date with Yumi. Looking Noriko firmly in the eyes, she said, "I'm going to find that card."
"Yumi-sama's?" asked Noriko, her eyes going wide. Touko gave a solemn nod and Noriko grinned. "You've made up your mind then? That's good," Noriko huffed. "I was getting sick of looking out for you during your depressed moments."
Scowling at this, Touko gave Noriko a sly look and said, "I suppose the Rosa Gigantea will be looking for your card? Don't think I've been too depressed to notice how much time you've been spending alone with her."
"I hate you," Noriko muttered, turning red with embarrassment.
"Hate me if you must because I'm not depressed anymore," said Touko, smiling wide and shaking her finger at my friend. "In fact," she said quietly, eyeing the potential card hunting competition. "I know exactly what I'm going to do."
The last thing Yumi expected was to be told that Touko was standing outside her classroom waiting for her but there she was, standing and waiting, her hands folded over her book bag neatly, wearing a beautiful smile that lit up her face. "Touko-chan," said Yumi in something close to shock. She was struggling for what to say next when the younger girl reached out to hold one of her hands and stepped closer, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.
"I won't take much of your time, Yumi-sama," said Touko earnestly, looking up at the other girl with a mixture of amusement and solemnity. "I just wanted to tell you that I plan on being the one to find your Valentine's Day card."
"Touko-chan?" said Yumi with some surprise. "Why?"
"Because I don't want anyone else to go on a date with you," replied Touko, a dangerous spark in her eyes as she focused on the gathering crowd of students behind Yumi. Leaning close to the older girl, she said, "I won't ask for any special favors or hints about the location of the card but I wanted you to know I'll be looking and I plan on being the one to find it. Now," Touko pulled back and wore a wry expression on her features. "Whether Yumi-sama wants me to find it is entirely up to her."
"Touko-chan," Yumi whispered, tears forming in her eyes, hating herself for only being able to say the younger girl's name when there was so much more she wanted to tell her. Touko formed an understanding smile and began walking down the hall, she was several steps away when Yumi moved forward and cried out, "I want Touko-chan to find it! I only want Touko-chan!"
Continuing in her walk, Touko raised her hand in a friendly wave to Yumi who smiled brightly at this and released a happy laugh before skipping back inside her classroom to gather the rest of her things. Touko was around the corner and heading down the stairs when a disturbingly even voice remarked, "I wonder if this means you've made your decision."
"Hosokawa," Touko said her name with some distaste but kept her gaze focused ahead as she kept walking. "Can I help you?"
Walking at a steady pace at Touko's side, Kanako murmured, "Not really. I simply wanted to say it's good to see Yumi-sama looking so cheerful. I was afraid she wouldn't ever wear such a bright smile on her face again."
"I'm glad you're pleased with Yumi-sama's expressions," said Touko, looking irritated.
"You've made a decision then?" questioned Kanako, her eyes moving vaguely about the campus. She came to a stop when the shorter girl paused in her walk. "Will you pursue your own desires or stand permanently aside out of respect for the Rosa Chinensis? Despite the misery this might cause Yumi-sama?"
"I've made a decision," said Touko, looking back at Kanako with a stern expression.
"But you won't tell me?" asked Kanako, lifting an eyebrow.
"I'll be the one to find Yumi-sama's Valentine's Day card, isn't that all the answer you need?" questioned Touko, turning her back to Kanako and resuming her walk across campus.
Watching Touko go, Kanako formed a slow smile and murmured, "I suppose it is."
Staring at the Valentine's Day card she was supposed to be hiding, Yumi tried to figure out where would be the best place to put it. The places that held the most meaning for her in Lillian Academy would be easily guessed by the students seeking her card and she wanted to make it just a little difficult to find. Difficult for everyone but Touko, that is.
But how could she know the perfect place to put the card that would make it easy for Touko to find but hard for everyone else? Frowning deeply, Yumi tipped her head back and stared up at the sky, tapping the red card against her chin, totally unaware of the small crowd her actions were attracting.
Then it hit her. She should put the card somewhere special to Touko! If she did that then surely the younger girl would find the card and everyone else would be lost in the Valentine's Day chase. Jumping to her feet, Yumi was ready to get to hiding when she noticed several eager looking first years fixated on the red card in her hand and the direction she was headed. It was then that she decided it would be best if she hid the card during a less conspicuous time of day.
And so, a half an hour after the Yamayurikai meeting had ended and it was the dark of night, Yumi pulled her coat close to her and smiled at the sight of her breath on the air. Running across campus, Yumi pushed through the trees and by memory she made her way to the small grove where she had first informed Touko of her true intentions. It was here that she felt their relationship truly began because here was the place that she spoke to the younger girl from her heart. She let Touko see all of her hopes and her fears and somehow, despite all that, it ended so beautifully. With Touko accepting them with a kind and gentle heart. Stopping in the center of the grove, Yumi carefully put the red card into place.
Crouching down to arrange it perfectly, she couldn't help but think if Touko knew to come to this place that maybe they could have a second chance. That it meant Touko could accept her once again with a kind and gentle heart, that she could deal with Yumi's uncertainty and the hold Sachiko would always have over her, and she would love her despite all of this. Yumi knew it was a lot to ask, especially of one person but somehow she just felt if Touko could find her way here…
They could find their way to one another, no matter the circumstances.
Standing up and walking away from the card perfectly placed in the center of the grove, Yumi stared at it, thinking somehow it was like her heart perfectly on display. Left out in the open for one special person to find but safely hidden from everyone else. She hoped that it would remain that way until Touko could find her way to it. Because if she couldn't find her way then Yumi truly knew all was lost.
The popularity of the Yamayurikai never ceased to amaze Touko.
Perhaps it had to do with being their personal acquaintance but it baffled Touko how most of the school held them up to this strange higher standard. As if they were the celebrities of the school and everyone else was but meager peasants. They were nothing more than girls, friends in some instances, to Touko. Of course, Sachiko and Yumi were so much more than that. Sachiko was her beloved big sister whom she admired more than anyone else in the world and Yumi…
She was the most precious person that Touko could imagine. Someone whose true value could never be properly explained and that was why she found herself scowling darkly amongst these teeming masses who treated Yumi like she was some sort of delicate idol to be placed on shelf, never to be spoken to, never to be touched, always lonely in herself. Bouncing up on her feet, she caught sight of the older girl and managed to hold her gaze for a moment. Seeing that she had Yumi's attention, she jerked her head to one side and was rewarded with an eager nod of agreement for her efforts.
Dropping down to her feet before her fellow contestants noticed her movements, Touko did her best to listen to the instructions of the newspaper staff all while loathing the idiocy of the entire thing. Honestly, Yoshino was right when she spoke about how it was wrong to auction off their free time. It was kind of creepy if you stopped to think about it, being forced to spend time with a complete and utter stranger that had an unnatural fixation on you just because you're a student council member.
Noticing the eerie gleam several girls had when they looked at Yumi, she knew there wasn't much choice. She had to find that card before any of them. Jealousy or not, it just wouldn't be a good thing for that kind of person to be near Yumi. When it came to Yoshino and Noriko she wasn't nearly as worried because she had faith that they knew how to take care of themselves. And it wasn't so much that she thought Yumi wasn't capable of that but more that she was too innocent to understand this level of insane fixation. After all, Touko snorted inwardly, look at how she handled Hosokawa Kanako.
Starting at the high pitched whistle, Touko watched the girls scatter like so many cockroaches approached with a can of Raid. Releasing a quiet sigh, she made her way over to the side of the building where she had nodded to before. Seeing Yumi slipping away, she knew they would only have a few minutes, if even that, to themselves before they were interrupted by nosy card seekers. Hurrying over, Touko stood in wait for Yumi who appeared a few moments later, breathless but smiling.
"Touko-chan," Yumi said, huffing slightly. "You wanted to see me?"
"I don't want any hints, Yumi-sama," said Touko seriously, stepping close to the other girl and looking into her eyes. "I just wanted to let you know I'm going to do my best to find your card. Not only because I don't want anyone else to find it but also because I want to be the one to spend that time with you."
"I want that too," said Yumi quietly, reaching out and gently pushing a stray lock of hair behind Touko's ear. Her hand fell away to caress the younger girl's cheek and ducking her head, she murmured, "I know Touko-chan doesn't want any hints but…" Yumi looked up, her expression sweet and longing. "After you came to see me, I decided to hide the card someplace special to us. Someplace I thought that only Touko-chan would know where to find it." Seeing Touko blush at this admittance, Yumi turned red herself and her expression was nervous as she stammered, "I didn't think it was against the rules--!"
"I don't it is either, Yumi-sama," Touko laughed, moving up to cup the other girl's face in her hands, warming her skin with her touch. She tilted her head to one side, curls bouncing as her eyes twinkled playfully. "After all, you're not telling me where this special place to us is, are you?"
"No, I'm not!" Yumi exclaimed aggressively, shaking her head adamantly.
"Then it's not against the rules," said Touko softly. Hearing the sound of footsteps approaching, she reluctantly pulled away. "I'm afraid we're about to be discovered so I should be going. But I want you to remember one thing, Yumi-sama."
"Yes?" asked Yumi, her eyes wide.
"I will be the one to find your card," said Touko strongly, flashing her most arrogant smile before dashing off.
Watching Touko run away with a quickly pursuing crowd of girls after her, Yumi couldn't help but believe she was right. She would be the one to find her card and all of the other precious things that went along with it.
"I decided to hide the card someplace special to us."
"Someplace I thought that only Touko-chan would know where to find it."
These words echoed through Touko's mind again and again as she rushed about the Lillian Academy campus. Pausing every now and again to throw her pursuers off track. When she was finally certain that she had lost the last of them, Touko sank to the ground, mindful to not get her skirt dirty, and thought of all the possible places that Yumi could have meant.
The first place she thought of was the greenhouse but it was such an obvious choice and one that didn't hold those all important words close to it. That it wasn't a place special to them alone so that removed it from the possibilities. Then there was the stage where Yumi solved so many of her problems and went to retrieve her that important day…
Thinking back on that day, the day that Yumi told her of her true intentions, it wasn't the stage that was the most special place to them. No, it was the small grove, isolated and far away from the prying eyes of the other students. A grove that only Touko would be able to find because she had been the only one there with Yumi that day.
Standing up hurriedly, Touko peered around the corner and released a sigh of relief on seeing that the other card seekers hadn't found her out yet. Then with a determined smile and nod of her head, she took off in a run, dashing into the woods and making her way by memory to that grove where Yumi first asked for a chance.
Pushing her way through the low hanging branches, scowling as the leaves got in her eyes, Touko made her way to the grove moved by a kind of desperation she couldn't explain. Some part of her felt that if the card wasn't here then she wasn't right in her hopes for a relationship with Yumi, that she had gotten everything wrong, and no matter what Sachiko said she couldn't be the one to make the other girl happy again. Breaking through the last of the branches, Touko stepped into the small grove and her eyes were immediately drawn to its center, where a small circle of light broke through the trees, perfectly illuminating the single red card that stood there, looking as if it was waiting for Touko's arrival.
Slowly walking forward, Touko dropped to her knees and reached for the card with shaking hands. Hating herself for showing such foolish emotion, it was just a card, wasn't it? This was just some silly school game, nothing more. But if that's all it really was why did it matter so much that she found it? Why did it feel as if this card had been placed here just for her and for a very special reason? Holding the card up, Touko opened and released a strangled laugh on seeing Yumi's neat cursive script.
Happy Valentine's Day, Touko-chan.
It was written to her. Despite the fact that she knew how many other countless students were looking for this card and could have possibly found it, Yumi wrote the card to her. Hoping that she would be the one to find it, having faith that she would be the one, and leaving it out in this place that was hidden, yes, but still so open…
Yumi believed in her.
Holding the card close to her heart and rising shakily to her feet, Touko angrily rubbed at her eyes, not wanting tears to fall on the card and ruin its perfect appearance. Besides, she paused to look at her watch, time was almost up and she had to return to the council building soon to let everyone know she had found Yumi's card. Along with everything that went with it.
When they announced the winners of the Valentine's Day card hunt, neither Yumi nor Touko were anywhere in sight. Sachiko had watched out of the corner of her eye as Touko took Yumi's hand and led her into the woods, no doubt to the same place that Yumi hid the card. Smiling softly, she hoped this would be the final step that would lead them to one another. Then she could rest easy and not have to worry about Yumi's happiness and try to focus on her future.
However unpleasant a thought it might be.
"You're sure that you're fine with this," said Rei quietly, studying Sachiko with a worried light in her eyes.
"I was the one to bring them together, so I hope I should be more than fine with it," said Sachiko, keeping her gaze forward and smiling at the mass of students that still surrounded them. She paused a moment and closing her eyes, she allowed just a small part of her real feelings to slip out. "Touko will make her happy, Rei. That's a good thing."
"What about you?" Rei questioned, her brow furrowing in slight annoyance.
"I will be happy knowing she's happy," offered Sachiko, opening her eyes and walking to the newspaper staff that were approaching her with questions about how to further arrange future events. "That is enough."
Frowning deeply as she watched her friend walk away, Rei murmured, "I don't think it is."
"Rei-chan don't frown at me!" Yoshino declared, appearing at her side and hooking their arms together. "I don't even know this strange girl I'm supposed to go on a date with. How do you I think I feel?"
"Yoshino?" Rei blinked at her cousin. "No… it isn't that…" Trailing off, Rei didn't know what to say next. Unsure if she would upset Yoshino by revealing she wasn't jealous but instead was worried about Sachiko. Deciding that even if she did upset Yoshino she still would appreciate hearing her opinion, she said, "It's Sachiko. You know that Touko-chan found Yumi's card?"
"Sachiko-sama is upset by it?" asked Yoshino, appearing puzzled at the idea of this.
"No," Rei shook her head. "She insists that she's happy about it. But how can she really be happy, Yoshino? She loves Yumi-chan." Focusing on the Rosa Chinensis who was surrounded by students and wearing her usual beatific smile on her face, Rei continued, "She says she just wants Yumi-chan to be happy and then she'll be happy as well but can that really work?" Looking down at Yoshino with a troubled expression, Rei said, "What's left for her?"
Understanding why Rei was so bothered, Yoshino sighed quietly and rested her head on the taller girl's shoulder. "Sachiko-sama has to make her own decisions, Rei-chan," she said softly. "Even if they're not the smartest ones for her head or her heart. I think she will be happy knowing Yumi-chan is happy but you're right too. That's not enough for her. But it's her decision to make." Yoshino looked up at Rei with a sardonic expression and remarked, "Stupid as it is." When Rei gave a sad chuckle Yoshino moved closer in her arms and murmured, "Just make sure she knows you're there for her, Rei-chan. Because when she finally does realize what a dumb choice she's made she'll be sure to need you."
"She'll need all of us," said Rei with a sigh.
Watching Sachiko play the part of perfect student council member, no one seeing the real her, only this ideal she helped create with the help of her family, Yoshino whispered under her breath, "Yumi-chan especially."
They stood silently in the center of the grove for several minutes before Yumi finally spoke. "I knew that Touko-chan would find it," said Yumi softly, looking at the younger girl with shining eyes. "I knew that she would remember our special place."
"Is that why you wrote the card to me?" asked Touko, ducking her head and feeling her cheeks heat with embarrassment. Getting irritated with herself for feeling that way, Touko looked up at the older girl and wore a chiding expression. "That wasn't very smart, Yumi-sama. What if someone else found that card? They'd be writing more articles about us in the paper!"
"I don't care about the articles," Yumi murmured, moving closer to Touko and smiling gently. "Do you?"
Still red in the face, Touko muttered, "Not really. Still," she insisted stubbornly, meeting Yumi's gaze head on. "You shouldn't have addressed it to me. How would have another girl felt if she found it?"
"But I knew Touko-chan would find it so why bother to address it to anyone else?" asked Yumi innocently.
"Yumi-sama," Touko released a growl of annoyance. "You're doing this just to bother me, aren't you?"
"Just a little," admitted Yumi with a giggle. When Touko scowled at her, Yumi released a sigh and pushed a lock of hair back from Touko's eyes. Her hand drifted down to cup the younger girl's cheek, stroking the soft skin with her thumb and she murmured, "It's over, you know. Between Sachiko and I. She's still my oneesama, of course, and I will always love her but it won't ever the be same."
"I know," said Touko, closing her eyes and leaning into Yumi's touch. "Sachiko-oneesama told me."
"That doesn't surprise me," Yumi said in a whisper. Her thumb stopped it's steady caress and Touko's eyes opened. Smiling at this, Yumi dropped her hand down to hold Touko's and continued, "At first, I might have just been doing what she suggested. Trying to replace her with you by making you my petite soeur. But the more I got to know you," Yumi lifted her gaze and looked at Touko with dark and longing eyes. "The less I thought of her. Slowly I was filled with thoughts of you and the more I was with you the less I ached for her. I know that this is what she wants and I know it might seem like I'm still just doing what she has planned but it isn't like that anymore, Touko-chan!" Yumi exclaimed, now clinging to both of Touko's hands and looking at her with an expression of desperation. "I want you and it has nothing to do with oneesama, nothing at all!"
After saying this, Yumi clung to the other girl, burying her face in her shoulder and crying in earnest. Smiling sadly at the older girl as she stroked her hair, Touko said tenderly, "Yumi-sama is still such a delicate creature, isn't she?" When Yumi released a dry and barking laugh at this, Touko chuckled quietly and pressed a soft kiss to her hair. "I believe you. After all, why would you go to such trouble of bothering me all of the time if it was only because someone else told you to? It makes no sense. There had be something you got out of it as well."
"Touko-chan," Yumi breathed her name more than said it as she lifted her head and looked deep into the other girl's eyes. Touko met her gaze almost anxiously and seeing this, Yumi wore the sweetest of smiles as she murmured, their faces just an inch apart, her expression one of utmost solemnity, "I'm falling in love with you." No immediate response came, Touko's skin paled and her eyes went wide and to Yumi, it appeared as if the younger girl went into a state of terrible shock. Panicking on causing such a reaction, Yumi immediately exclaimed, "Not that I expect anything from you! I just wanted you to know how I feel. I'll wait as long as you need and just like before, if you don't want to be with me, or you want me to stop trying all you need to do is tell me to stop and I--" Gentle fingers pressed over her lips and Yumi looked at Touko with confusion, the younger girl had her head lowered from Yumi's view and as her fingers fell away, she whispered, "Touko-chan?"
"I don't want you to stop," said Touko in a hush, her head kept low and from Yumi's gaze. Slowly she lifted it, looking up at the older girl, eyes shining with tears and so many emotions that Yumi couldn't possibly interpret them all. But one emotion was stronger than all of the others and it shone so clearly that she gasped at it. Love, clear, pure, and unfettered. Her voice hoarse and breaking, Touko declared, "I don't need to wait, Yumi-sama! I love you. I always have."
"Touko-chan," Yumi said her name again, feeling discouraged at her lack of ability to say anything else. Shaking the cobwebs from her mind, she smiled sadly at the younger girl, reaching for her hands and stepping closer. "You don't have to say that because you think that's what I want, what will make me happiest. I'm willing to wait for you, Touko-chan. I want to wait until you really can believe you're the one that I want, not oneesama."
Growing still and stiff in the older girl's grasp, Touko yanked her hands away in a jerky movement, stamping her feet and looking at Yumi with flashing eyes as she put her hands on her hips. "Mou!!" she cried in out frustration. "I don't want to wait anymore! I love you and I want to be your petite soeur. What do I have to do to make you believe me?"
Laughing happily at yet another cute instance of Touko's stubbornness, Yumi's eyes twinkled playfully and hopping close to the younger girl, she put their faces close together and said mischievously, "Kiss me."
Silence and Touko seemed to freeze and her features were so comical to Yumi that she laughed again and was about to tease the girl further when Touko darted forward, pressing her lips gently against Yumi's for the kiss that had been requested. And it was just that, a kiss, a simple and sweet touch of two lips together but somehow it was so much more than that. It was promise of what was to come, of a new beginning for them both.
"There," Touko muttered as she pulled away, a blush dusting her pale features and her eyes lidded, hidden from Yumi's gaze, attempting to protect herself from the rejection she still thought might come. "Now do you believe me?"
Watching the other girl, Yumi slid her hand under her chin, raising her head so their eyes could meet. Once they did, a quirky smile tugged at her lips, loving but almost naughty at the same time. "No," Yumi said plainly, unable to help chuckling when Touko's eyes flashed with anger. Lowering her head, she put their lips a breath apart, her brown eyes light and filled with an easy contentment that hadn't been there in weeks. "So Touko-chan will just have to do it again."
A slow smile spread across Touko's features, lighting her like the sun and Yumi was able to laugh happily one more time before Touko claimed her lips again. This kiss was nothing like the first. It wasn't just a kiss, simple and sweet, meant to express the mere surface of the purest of emotions. Instead it was like a tidal wave, sweeping them up, one kiss leading to another, until they knew nothing but the touch of one another. Lips tugging at each other in a practiced harmony, Yumi's soft moans filling Touko's mouth as they moved backwards, propelled by their passion and Yumi was pressed against the rough bark of a tree, Touko's hands on her hips, who eagerly pulled the older girl more firmly into her. When Yumi opened her mouth, it seemed the most natural thing for Touko's tongue to slip in and finally taste the girl she loved so long but had kept herself from and Yumi sighed at this touch, losing herself into the melting taste of Touko and never wanting this to stop. It seemed as if they could have kept kissing forever.
That's only if Yumi's hair hadn't gotten tangled in a nearby branch. They parted with gasps and Yumi's desperate cries for freedom from the branch, comically pleading with it as if it was person, so she could continue with their previous activity.
"Yumi-sama," said Touko with dry humor, tilting her head and causing her curls to bounce as she looked at the older girl with good humored affection. "Stop struggling," she continued, carefully untangling Yumi's hair from the branch. When she had all of the strands separated, she tossed the branch aside and looked at Yumi with dark eyes filled with mirth. "You're free."
"Yes," Yumi said sweetly, hands winding around Touko's neck, pulling the younger girl to her once again. Smiling as their bodies pressed close and their lips met in another kiss that was better than all the rest. Deeper and harder and filled with such depth of emotion she thought she might start crying at it. Losing herself in that kiss and the feeling of happiness that welled inside of her, she whispered, "At last."
And while it was very clear that Touko had finally accepted her role as Yumi's petite soeur it would be several hours before she received the rosary. Simply because performing the ceremony meant they would have to stop kissing. Something that, for them, just was not an acceptable option. So the rosary ceremony would wait as the kisses continued, for a very great while.