Author's Note: This story takes place after Tohru meet Ritsu in anime episode 23, but before Tohru sees Kyo's transformation. The appearances/portrayal of characters and events are based off the anime rather than the manga, which I have not read yet. Akito is referred to as a male, Ayame's eyes are gold, and any romance involving Tohru will be more related to Yuki because I like that pairing. This story starts at the end of the school year in late May/early June and covers a period of about two months. I tried to keep the timeline as consistent as possible, but there may be a few flaws, which I hope readers will forgive. Hope you enjoy the story!
The Paper Crane
"I can't believe it's only a month until the Star Festival!" cried Tohru Honda as she walked towards her work. School was over for the day, but Yuki had to stay after for a student council meeting and Kyo had to go home, so she was going to work early that day on her own. It was a beautiful day with lots of sun and the cool breeze that made everything feel fresh and alive played with her long brown hair.
Tohru breathed deeply, a contented smile spreading across her face. I love spring, she thought happily. I really should get Yuki and Kyo and the other members of the Zodiac some presents for the Star Festival. They've been so good to me and have taken such good care of me…I really need to find a way to thank them properly. Tohru frowned slightly, thinking. Well, they like books, or at least, most of them do. And they all have their interests, so maybe I can find a special book for each of them about what they like!
At that moment, Tohru's blue eyes fell on a little store and she stopped. It was a small, traditional-looking building like Shigure's house and sat about two blocks away from where she worked, looking slightly squashed between a pair of more modern buildings. Books sat on display in the glass windows in neat rows on silken blue cloth draped over the stands and a sign hung over the pair of steps leading into the shop.
"The Paper Crane Bookstore," Tohru read slowly, excitement building in her voice. "Oh wow, a book store! That's exactly what I need right now! I can't believe I never noticed it before." Glancing down at her watch and seeing that she still had an hour before she needed to be at work, Tohru eagerly pushed open the door to The Paper Crane.
A tiny bell chimed sweetly as the young girl entered. The inside was all made of a dark, warm wood that seemed heavy with age, but not oppressive or enclosing. Directly across from the entrance was the main desk with a cup of pens sitting on the top, but no one was sitting behind it. Rows upon rows of bookshelves stood in neat arrangements for easy access, each one stuffed full of books in all shapes and sizes. Some were well worn, showing years of care while others had that special shine only a new edition could lay claim to. A pair of tables with some chairs for avid readers stood near the windows on either side of the door where the light was best, and around the corner of one of the book shelves, Tohru could see a comfy armchair with a lamp beside it for more reclusive visitors. With the door closed, the sounds of the outside world were greatly muffled, making the shop feel like it was completely cut off from the rest of the outside world. In that manner, it reminded Tohru of the Sohma House when she had been summoned by Hatori, but she didn't feel afraid or nervous here. It felt…safe. Comforting. Welcoming.
"Can I help you?" a soft voice that reminded Tohru of green and growing things, full of warmth and life, asked from the recesses of the shelves.
Tohru nearly jumped out of her skin, looking around frantically. "Wha-what? Who's there?"
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to frighten you," said the voice again, and a woman stepped out of the shadows holding a box of books in her arms.
Tohru, remembering her manners, hurriedly bowed. "No, I'm ok, I'm sorry for coming in unannounced like this," she said.
The woman smiled slightly. "That's quite alright. After all, this is a store; people are supposed to come in unannounced." She set the box of books down on the edge of the main desk and turned towards Tohru. "But where are my manners? My name is Tsuru Odoriko, owner of The Paper Crane. Welcome to my shop."
"I'm Tohru Honda. I'm very pleased to meet you," Tohru replied, straightening to get a look at the woman…and she couldn't help but stare in amazement.
Tsuru Odoriko was beautiful. There was no other word that could describe her. She was tall, almost as tall as Hatori, and wore an elegant deep green robe slit up to her hips to allow freedom of movement with tapering arm sleeves, similar to the ones Ayame always wore. Black pants sheathed long, slender legs and a pair of soft black slippers shod her feet, but she wore no jewelry. Long, straight black hair was pulled up in a knot, held in place by a pair of ebony hair sticks, while the rest was allowed to flow down her back, nearly to her waist. Her skin was pale and smooth and her face was filled with both serenity and stubbornness, creating an unusual beauty unadorned by cosmetics. A pair of deep, startling jade green eyes regarded Tohru with calm, warm interest, and she smelled faintly of sandalwood incense.
Suddenly Tohru realized that she was staring, and lowered her head, blushing. "I'm sorry, Miss Odoriko, I'm being so rude staring at you, and I know I shouldn't be because that is rude, but you're so pretty, I…" The girl trailed off, embarrassed.
There was a hint of gentle amusement in Tsuru's soft voice. "No need to apologize, Miss Honda. Indeed, I thank you for the compliment."
Tohru raised her own blue eyes to meet Tsuru's green ones and, seeing the genuine gentleness in them, she couldn't help but smile back.
"Now, Miss Honda, was there anything in particular you were looking for?" Tsuru asked.
"Oh yes!" cried Tohru. "I'm looking for some presents for my friends. I live with Shigure, Yuki, and Kyo Sohma, and I know a bunch of the other Sohmas, and they've been so good to me that I'd like to find books for all of them for the Star Festival."
Tsuru raised one elegant eyebrow. "Are they relatives of yours? I know you said your last name was 'Honda,' but…"
"No, we're not related," Tohru explained. "They've been letting me live with them and they are my dearest friends, besides Uo-chan and Hana. When my Mom died last May, I didn't want to be a burden on anyone, so I've been working as a cleaner in the building just down the street to help pay for school, and I was living on my own in a tent. Only thing was, it was on Sohma property and my classmate Yuki Sohma found me and offered me a place with him and Shigure. Kyo came to live with us then too, and since then I've met a bunch of the other Sohmas." Tohru smiled brightly. "I'm so lucky to have such good friends. They're all like family to me."
Tsuru remained very quiet during Tohru's story, listening intently and watching as Tohru's face got brighter and her smile got wider as she spoke of the kind Sohmas.
"Oh, but listen to me ramble on," said Tohru hurriedly, fearing that she was boring her hostess. "I am sorry, Miss Odoriko."
"No, I enjoy your stories of the Sohma family," Tsuru said with a smile. "Although…I am sorry about your mother. I know how hard that is."
Tohru nodded. "Yeah, it gets rough sometimes, but that's why I'm so happy to have friends like Yuki and Kyo. They look out for me."
"It certainly sounds like it," Tsuru replied. She turned towards the book shelves. "Now, let's see if we can't find something for your friends, shall we?"
"Oh, yes, thank you!" said Tohru. "That is, if it's not too much trouble, I don't want to be a bother, Miss Odoriko…"
Shaking her head with another small smile, Tsuru said, "It's no bother at all. Come on. Tell me some more about your friends, the Sohma family. Maybe that will give us some better ideas of what to look for, Miss Honda."
As Tohru told more stories about the Sohmas, Tsuru listened and ran her fingers along the spines of her books, searching out titles and making suggestions as to what she thought they would like, based on what Tohru told her about their hobbies and personalities. They found books for Uo-chan, Hana, Kagura, Haru, Momiji, Kisa, Hiro, and Ritsu, but not for Yuki, Kyo, Shigure, Ayame, or Hatori.
"I think I know the perfect books for your other friends," Tsuru announced after nearly forty minutes of searching through the shelves. "Unfortunately, I don't think I have them in stock right now, but if you're willing to wait, I can order them for you and deliver them to your house."
Tohru looked up at Tsuru and began to flutter her hands nervously. "Oh no, that's alright, I'm sure they'll like one of the other books here 'cause they are all very nice, and it would really be too much trouble for you—"
"Miss Honda," said Tsuru, gently taking Tohru's hands in hers. "It's no trouble. I'm happy to help; that's what I'm here for. The Star Festival is still a while off so you have time, and I really think that your friends would like the books I have in mind. I need to restock anyway, so when they arrive, I'll deliver them to you." Again, Tsuru smiled at the younger girl with genuine warmth in her eyes. "Really, it will be my pleasure."
Tohru hesitated. Her selfless nature was telling her not to be a bother to Miss Odoriko, but when the lady herself said it was no trouble…and from the descriptions, those books did sound perfect…
"Alright, but only if you're sure it's no trouble," Tohru said.
"Cross my heart and hope to die," Tsuru said solemnly, but her green eyes sparkled with good humor.
Tohru smiled back and then looked at the small pile of books. "How much do I owe you for all of these?" Tohru asked.
"Well, today is a special sale," said Tsuru. "Everything is half off, plus a bonus-buy one, get one free."
Tohru's eyes went wide. The books were reasonably priced to begin with, but with this sale, it was amazingly cheap…and well within Tohru's meager finances. She looked up at Tsuru. "A sale? Really? But I didn't see any signs…"
"I was just about to put up the sign," Tsuru explained, "but you've been such a sweet and endearing young lady that it slipped my mind until this moment."
Blushing, Tohru counted out the money to buy the books while Tsuru carefully wrapped each book individually in paper and placed them in a small wooden crate, making sure it wasn't too heavy for the girl.
Suddenly, Tohru remembered that she had to be at work in about ten minutes, and she couldn't possibly take the books with her because they would only be in the way. Tsuru, seeing Tohru's sudden agitation, laid a gentle hand on the girl's shoulder.
"Miss Honda," the raven-haired lady said, "why don't you leave the books here with me until the others arrive? That way I can bring them all at once and you won't have to worry about leaving them at work by accident or anything like that."
"Oh, I couldn't! That would be—"
"It's no trouble at all," said Tsuru. "Many customers wait until their orders are filled before taking their books home. I'll just need the address of where you are staying so I can deliver them. I promise they will be quite safe here until then."
Tohru bowed, eyes filled with gratitude. "Thank you so much, Miss Odoriko. You've been so nice to me and so helpful, thank you."
Tsuru bowed back, another genuine smile coming cross her face. "No, thank you for coming, Miss Honda. I enjoyed talking with you. And Miss Honda?"
"Yes?" Tohru asked.
"My friends call me Tsuru."
Tohru smiled. "And mine call me Tohru."
The girl quickly scribbled the address of Shigure's house along with a few quick directions on a slip of paper, handed it to Tsuru with another bow, and left the shop to continue her journey. Tsuru watched her go, holding onto the paper as if it was something very precious, with a small, almost maternal smile on her lips. "Until we meet again, Miss Tohru."