Disclaimer-well, if I owned it, I wouldn't be writing fanfic about it, would I? OCs, however, ARE mine and may you suffer in extruciatingly interesting ways if you steal them.

AN: This is an AU. General character relationships and personalities still apply, but various alterations have been made. Oh, and I hate Miaka. Ergo, slight bashing is expected when she appears/is mentioned at all. Also, went back to look at these and WTH? Where did all the line breaks go?

Chapter 1

"You can't be serious."

"I'm nothing but serious."

"What's all this crap coming out of your mouth then?"

"I see those years by yourself hasn't improved your language any."

"Language? You wanna see language? I'll show you language you goddamn old—if you weren't just some damn image in my bathroom mirror I'd-"

"Do you want my help or not?"

"Fuck you. Why the hell did I bother calling you anyway? Should've known you'd milk the frigging thing for all its worth… What happened to blood being thicker than water?"

"Actually, blood is mostly made out of water. And we're not really related anyway. Since when have you been particularly affectionate about family?"

"Who are you to talk? You didn't show up until after both of them died. And when you've got relatives like mine, would you put a whole lot of faith in your gene pool?"

"So you don't want my help?"


"What are you planning to do then?"

"I'll think of something."

"Really. Like what? Since you actually lowered yourself to call me, I thought that you were down to your last resort—"

"I said I'd think of something—"

Bang, bang.

"Looks like you have company."

"Shut up! Shit, I didn't think they'd come after me this fast—"

"And that something you were going to be thinking of?"

"I said shut up! Goddamn it…"

"Look, as annoying and undoubtedly exasperating as you may be, I'd rather not see you end up with your brains splattered all over the floor."

"Little ray of fucking sunshine, aren't we?"

"Don't stupid. If there is one good thing I can say about you, I'd like it to be that you are not an idiot. I'm offering you a way out. Take it or leave it."


"Well? You don't have much time left."

"I—shit, alright! Now get me the fuck out of here!"

The mirror shattered.

To begin with, a scream.


And another scream.


Turquoise hair rumpled and gray eyes blazing, Tamahome rushed out of his bedroom and ran straight into the solid bulk of Mitsukake, who was on his way downstairs. Since Mitsukake was half a foot taller and looked like he should be waving an axe and cutting down trees rather than studying medicine, Tamahome ended up flat on his back. But he was more preoccupied with being angry than hurt and waved away Mitsukake's silently offered hand.

"What's wrong, Tama-baby?" asked Nuriko, poking a violet-colored head out of his own doorway, long purple braid slipping over one shoulder. He was wearing a pair of pink pajamas that looked like they had been borrowed from his sister—which they might conceivably have been. Nuriko made no secret of his true sex, but the androgyne also was not shy about wearing clothes of both genders. He liked to think of himself as "gender-fulfilled." Nuriko yawned delicately. "It's too early to be yelling like that…"

Tamahome thrust the thing he had been carrying under his arm in Nuriko's face. "This! What does this look like to you?"

Nuriko blinked and studied the 2-D representation of thick blond hair, haughty good looks and arrogant blue-eyes. "A cardboard cutout of Nakago?" he asked incredulously, naming it, aka the Bane of Tamahome's—and by extension, the other residents of Suzaku House—life. Thank god the man graduated last year, off to law school to learn how to eviscerate his opponents with words rather than ki-blasts and pointy things. He GSI'ed at Shijentensho College, but the Chiriko hacked into the computer for the schedule and they avoided all his classes. "What are you doing with—"

"It was in my bed!" Tamahome snapped angrily.

Nuriko stared at the cutout, then at Tamahome before grinning. "And Nakago would be in your bed because…? Something you're not telling us, Tama-baby?"

Tamahome swelled. He was practically glowing red by now. "What? I didn't put it there! I just woke up and found it in my bed—What's so funny?" he demanded. Nuriko had collapsed against the doorway in mirth.

"Well, you gotta admit, it is pretty damn funny," drawled a voice from the stairway. Tamahome whipped around (nearly hitting Nuriko with the cutout as he did so) to face a vaguely wolfish looking young man about his age, with wild red hair. It was Tasuki, coming back from his morning run.

"Didn't like my present, Bakahome?" Tasuki asked wickedly.

"What? What do you—" Tamahome put two and two together. "You-! You put thisin my bed?"

Unnoticed, Nuriko quietly slipped out from the line of fire and headed to the bathroom. The door was locked. He knocked. "Hello?"

"Serves you right for hiding my tessen like that!" Tasuki was yelling.

"Who cares about that stupid heirloom fan!" Tamahome shouted back. "Besides, you had laced my lunch with laxatives—"

"Hey, are you done in there yet?" Nuriko had to raise his voice over his two housemates' to be heard. He knocked harder. "Hello? Is anybody in there? Hello—"

The door opened to reveal the refined, aristocratic features of Hotohori, dressed with impeccable style as usual. He flipped long, silky brown hair over one shoulder. "I apologize for taking so long."

"Oh, that's all right," Nuriko said. "Sorry I had to yell; the two idiots are arguing again."

Hotohori sweat-dropped as he watched. "I see…"

Downstairs, Chichiri was in the kitchen, making pancakes. His arching blue bangs bounced as he deftly flipped one in the pan. As the oldest, Chichiri was the only one who wasn't currently a student on campus and generally acted as the house manager. He also was always one of the earliest up in the morning and ended up cooking breakfast a lot of the time—especially since he lived in the one bedroom downstairs. Mitsukake was already at sitting at the kitchen table, feeding scraps of pancakes to his small cat, Tama-neko. Suddenly there were loud crashing sounds as Tasuki and Tamahome (who were wrestling each other) rolled down the stairs. They landed in an uncomfortable heap at the bottom. Chichiri peered over at them.

"What are you fighting about now no da?" the ex-monk asked, immediately regretting it when they started shouting again. His volatile friends had done this enough times that Chichiri didn't bother asking whether they were hurt. "Maa, maa," he said, waving his hands, "I'm sorry I asked no da. Just eat your breakfast."

Tasuki and Tamahome shot each other one last dirty look before doing so. They knew from previous experience that Chichiri would probably give them a cheerful thumping with his monk's staff (a relic from his Theology thesis) if they caused a mess downstairs.

The first thing that Meian thought upon seeing Mai again after three years was how little she had changed.

Stepping out of the taxi, Meian saw her old friend sitting on the front steps of the house, hunched together tightly in the same way as in middle school, sitting outside the principal's office while their parents (or in Mai's case, guardian) filled out the necessary paperwork. The jeans and shoes were still scuffed with wear, the hair still tangled ink brushwork, and the eyes still warily scanning the street. Once the taxi driver had finished uploading Meian's luggage onto the sidewalk and gotten his fare, Mai unfolded and came to met her.

"Hey," she said.

"Hi," said Meian, just as awkwardly. Also a little self-consciously—she had forgotten how tall Mai was. At 5'5", Meian didn't consider herself a shortie, but Mai was a good head taller than she.

Mai, correctly interpreting her look, gave that familiar wry half-smile. She shrugged. "Well, I never did crack six feet," her accent a little more pronounced than Meian remembered, "but close. You should've seen the looks I got in—never mind," she said abruptly, and dug into a jean pocket. Fishing out two pairs of keys, she tossed one to Meian, who managed to catch it for once. "Wanna look inside? I was waiting for you to get here."

"Oh! Oh, sure. Umm…I hope you weren't waiting long…"

"Nah. Got here just a few before you did."

A few minutes later, Mai let out a low whistle when they finished bringing all the luggage inside. "Damn. She really did get a hell of a place."

Meian had to agree. It wasn't big—before being evolving into the student district, this area had been a rather fashionable for well-to-do once upon a time. This place, just the right size for two, was probably the guest house for that huge Victorian house they currently shared the backyard with. It had a nicely open floor plan, with the frontway merging easily into the common room and the kitchen/dining area behind that. The laundry room was next to the garage. The stairs to the second level were to the left of the front door, leading to a bathroom with two sinks, a shower, and a tub, and two bedrooms each supplied with their own balcony. The place was even furnished.

Mai tucked her hands in her pockets as she looked around one of the bedrooms. "Well, fuck me. Sure as hell beats the shithole I was living in. Though personally I thought that the mold gave the place some fucking character."

Meian winced-three years in an all-female college before transferring here had unacquainted her with the…saltier potentials in common vocabulary. And Mai's vocab was salty enough to cure fish.

"Yes, I'll have to thank your grandmother—"

Mai scowled. "She's not my—"

An explosion of noise drowned the rest of her sentence. Opening the doors to the bedroom's balcony, they stared across the fence that divided the backyards and listened to the morning ruckus.

"God," Mai said, leaning against the railing. "Is it gonna be like that every morning?" Standing on tiptoe, she leaned precariously over the rail and narrowed her blue eyes like she could see inside the house. "Hmph. Well," she said sliding a glance at Meian. "You, uh, want this bedroom or the other one?"

They both looked exactly the same to Meian, but she appreciated the gesture. "This one is fine, if you don't mind—Mai, what are you doing?" Meian asked suddenly.

"Hmm?" Mai was climbing on top of the thin metal railing. Hands in her pockets, Mai hopped lightly over the four foot gap between the balcony bedrooms like a kid jumping a sidewalk crack.

Guh. Meian fought against the urge to have a heart attack. They were on the second floor! That was another thing she had forgotten—her old friend apparently still subconsciously believed she was part cat, part monkey. Oblivious to Meian's heart palpitations, Mai rattled the outside knob. "Damn, left my keys—"

"Oh, um…" Meian began looking for the house key she had been given. "Where—" She looked up in surprise at the small click.

Mai tucked the lock pick back into her thick black braid and opened the door. "Hey, toss me my stuff, will you?" she asked. Meian, still a little taken aback, did so and was further shocked by the fact that there were only two duffels.

"Is that all you have?" she asked.

Mai shrugged. "Yeah. Well, the rest was kinda blown up—"

Meian frowned. "Blown up? What do you mean?"

"Uh…" Mai was clearly regretting that she had said anything. "Blown up? Did I say blown up?"

Well, even if Meian had forgotten about the curses and the monkey behavior, Mai's dissembling skills were as bad as ever. "Yes, you did."

"Well, not exactly blown up, more like… Look, just forget it. You don't want to know."

Meian blinked. "What—"

"No, you don't. It's a long, annoying, incredibly shitty story." Meian continued to give her a skeptical look. "Look, I wasn't doing anything real bad. You just wouldn't agree and since that old hag already told me that she didn't agree, I'd rather not hear it."


"Meian, you'd better get some sleep," Mai said, abruptly changing the subject. "We don't have to go to class 'til tomorrow anyway, and I didn't spend hours driving over here from my parents." She stepped inside her bedroom and closed the door with a little more force than necessary.

"Kusanagi, Shirou…"

The class had just begun and already Tasuki was having trouble staying awake. He hated this class and not just in the general way he disliked school either. English Literature…who gave a damn about a bunch of dead white guys and what all the drivel they had written about meant? If he read a book (which was rare; there were plenty of more interesting things that he could be doing with his time), he wasn't thinking about the author's message, theme, comment on the fragility of the human condition or whatever they were calling it these days. He was just reading. Why did they have to muck everything up with analysis? What was the point?

"Murasaki, Nodoka…"

It didn't help that Kazuki, the teacher for this class, was a straight-laced, anal-retentive prude. Can you imagine a guy who actually dressed like everyone's stereotype of a college professor? All brown tweed, horn-rim glasses and the expression of someone with a pole stuck up their butt. And he had to be the only teacher on the whole friggin' campus that still took attendance everyday. Of course, the longer roll call took, the less time they had to listen to Kazuki drone on and on about some writer's vision but still. It made things damn hard to cut class for one thing. Miss out too much and Kazuki would actually come looking for you.

"Yamane, Keisuke…"

Not that Tasuki actually paid much attention in this class or any other anyway. School was not one of his favorite things; he kept his grades passing and that's it. Well, except chemistry class, where he did better than pass—but that was only because he liked learning how to blow things up. At his high school, Tasuki and his friend Kouji (who attended the local college back home) were infamous for exploding the school science lab with a thimble of acid, a piece of cheese, and a Ping-Pong ball. But otherwise…whenever possible he simply copied the notes from someone else. In Kazuki's particular hell, he had gotten lucky—Tamahome, Nuriko and Chiriko all were in his same class. Of the three, he preferred to copy Nuriko's notes; Tamahome's were usually covered with sickening little love-doodles of his girlfriend Miaka and Chiriko's, while of a caliber only a thirteen-year old genius could achieve, were too much to copy by hand. Seriously, you could publish a book out of the notes Chiriko took.

"Yamamoto, Hanaka…"

Tasuki thought that Kazuki had caught on to him though. Several times Tasuki caught the professor sending him dirty looks and he certainly seemed to enjoy singling Tasuki out for in-class questions. But Tasuki was not an idiot and slacked intelligently; he scanned the notes for the last class beforehand and his answers weren't any worse than anyone else. And his test scores weren't bad enough for Kazuki's "personal intervention" to be justified.

"Chian, Mai." Kazuki got to the last name on his list, and waited. The students stared back at him in silence. She was evidently a last minute add-on; it was always the last to be called and not in alphabetical order…playing havoc with the professor's obsession with order and neatness. The mystery student also had to be the only person that Kazuki hated more than Tasuki—Tasuki at least showed up for class most of the time. "Chian, Mai" didn't, not once in the two weeks since term started. No one in their class seemed to know who she was, though he'd heard she had enrolled in other classes on campus and even showed up for some. She avoided Kazuki's though (not that Tasuki could blame her), and no one seemed to know where she was staying or how to reach her. This bugged Kazuki to no end and he always said her name with particular venom. The fewer girls in class the better, or so Tasuki thought, but he did wonder who she was.

At that moment, Chian Mai was sitting at home. Well, not home—Mai had never stayed anywhere that she would call home in the way the word was supposed to be meant. Perhaps the closest was those seven years she spent at her adoptive grandmother's, but she still didn't think that quite cut it. By comparison, this two-bedroom house that she shared with her friend Meian was barely more than a place to put her head down. Especially since she wasn't here by choice. Okay, so that wasn't quite true. She had had a choice between coming here and living or staying where she was and dying and chose the former. It was the obvious decision but in the last two weeks she had wondered if she might have preferred the latter.

Especially since she was so damn bored. Though being bored here was still preferable to being bored in some stuffy classroom.

Mai turned sideways and flopped on the couch with her head pillowed on the arm. Meian would throw a fit if she knew Mai was skipping class. Not a very spectacular fit, considering that Mai had seen some that involved bullets, knives and grievous bodily harm, but enough that Mai had been very careful not to let her friend know. To be fair, she didn't skip all her classes all the time. Taiitsukun had to be keeping some sort of tabs on her, so she made sure to make token appearances every so often. Except for that stupid English Lit class—she never even bothered to show up for that one. Mai was fluent in English (a by-product of a childhood in Hong Kong; she knew Chinese too) but didn't understand the need to analyze its literature to death. She had had enough of that in high school; she needn't deal with it in college too.

But now she was bored. Bored, bored, bored. There was nothing to do around here. Meian had timidly suggested Mai take a look at some of the campus organizations—Meian had already found a gardening club she liked—but Mai didn't even think that worth considering. These soft little middle-class citizens weren't likely to enjoy the same kind of things she did. But now she had nothing to do. It was frustrating. All the rest of her friends were overseas, but she couldn't even phone them to talk to for the same reasons that she had to choose coming here and living. Grr.

After a few more minutes of mental growling and scowling, Mai decided she'd better blow off some of this steam before Meian got home. She didn't want to snap at her only friend in this stupid place only two weeks in and the way things were going she would. Punching something would make her feel better, and the only way to do that (here, anyway) would be at the gym.

The campus gym was both old and new—that is to say, the existence of a gym had been well established but the facility had been recently updated and partially rebuilt. Tasuki and Tamahome went there several times a week, and entered the door with consequent familiarity. Sometimes they came here to use the equipment but most often it was to spar. That was part of the reason why they fought so much; nobody else they knew was good enough to go one-on-one with (except Nakago, but the less they had to do with him, the better).

The gym had a few more private rooms behind the main areas for those who would rather work out alone and they headed for the biggest of these. To their surprise, there was already someone in it, and clearly a girl to boot. Females weren't unusual in this place, but they'd never seen one back here before. A thick, black braid danced around her back like a cat's tail as she slugged the red, vinyl punching bag set up in the corner, hammering away at it with a look of terrifying concentration. Pausing to wipe the sweat from her face, blue eyes flicked over to the door and saw Tasuki and Tamahome standing there. She lowered her arm and glared. "Oh, it's you," she snapped. "What? Got nothing better to look at?"

Tasuki bristled at her tone, recognizing her as the same girl he and Tamahome had seen at the gym a few times before. Each time reinforced Tasuki's opinion that she was the most irritating girl he had ever met, quite possibly even more so than his stupid sisters. He was about to snap back when Tamahome (who was less temperamental than his friend) grabbed his shoulder and shrugged. After all, the girl didn't seem to be interested in anything other than the punching bag—that left the rest of the space free for their use. Dumping their bags in a corner, they walked to the center of the blue mats and started. It was a good workout, Tasuki thought, but starting to get a little tedious. The problem was, they had been fighting each other too long and already knew all of each other's moves. Sometimes they could go for fifteen minutes without laying a single hit on each other. It was more like dancing than sparring—and while that was cool itself, it also meant that neither of them was getting any better.

After almost an hour, they took a break. Tasuki was taking another sip from his water bottle when he realized that the girl from earlier was leaning against the wall and watching them. Breaking off what he had been saying to Tamahome, he glared at her. "What do you want?" he demanded.

"You two're martial artists, huh?" she said. "You're pretty okay, I guess."

What the… "Pretty okay?" Tasuki repeated, insulted. "Just pretty okay?" He was damn well better than just "pretty okay."

She shrugged. "Well, you're getting stale, aren't you?"

Tamahome, who was starting to see where this was going, trying to make placating gestures but he was no Chichiri. Tasuki ignored him. "What the hell do you mean by that?"

She rolled her eyes. "Been fighting the same person too long, haven't you? You can't get any better that way. So stale, like I said."

These were the same conclusions that he had drawn, but Tasuki didn't appreciate hearing them from someone else's mouth—particularly not from some strange girl who said his fighting skills were only okay. "Since you're such a damned Einstein, why don't you tell us what we should do about it?" he said.

The sarcasm wasn't missed and he had the satisfaction of seeing the temper rise in those blue eyes. "Fine," she snapped. Throwing the towel that had been hanging around her neck on the floor, she started wrapping her long braid tightly around her head. "Fine. I'll show you."

Tasuki stared at her. "What?" he asked in disbelief.

"I'll fight you, dumbass."

He burst out laughing. Unnoticed, Tamahome started to retreat. "Don't be an idiot. I can't fight a girl."

Her lip curled. "Afraid I'll beat you?"

"What? Like hell!"

"Hmph." She walked over to the wooden rack in the back of room and plucked out two of the practice staffs the gym used for teaching martial arts classes. She threw one over to him; he caught it easily. "Here. Since you're probably too chicken to actually hit me, we'll use these."

"Who you callin' chicken?"

She took up her position opposite him. "Who do you think?"

He narrowed his eyes as they circled each other. "Don't run crying to mommy if I hurt you," he replied.

A few minutes later, Tamahome (who was standing safely off to the side) wished he had some popcorn. Or a camcorder. This was better than the movies; Tamahome had to admit that the girl was as good as they were. Since they were of a height, Tasuki eventually forgot that he was fighting a female—and he certainly couldn't hold back any on account of her sex.

At some point, they abandoned the staffs and went at it with their bare hands. Neither one gave any quarter and took their share of lumps. And neither gave up; the fight ended not because one overpowered the other but because neither had any more energy left to stand. Tamahome, appointing himself as referee, called it a draw.

"I almost…had you—" Tasuki panted, out of breath.

"The…hell you did," she replied, gasping.

"Hey…" With an effort, Tasuki raised himself up on his elbows. "What's your name?"

"It's—" Then she stopped, staring at the clock. "Shit!" With surprising speed, she grabbed her bag and ran out of the room, leaving Tamahome and Tasuki staring after her.

Meian stood at the front door of the house, looking anxiously up and down the street. After a few minutes, she realized that she had been wringing her hands like a '50's housewife and, slightly annoyed with herself, retreated indoors. She looked at the clock.

This is stupid, she thought. It's not like you're her mother or anything—Mai's nineteen years old. So what if she comes home a little late? Meian had returned from her last class of the day ten minutes ago, but to an empty house. Usually Mai was home already—despite Meian's shy prodding, she had yet to get involved in any sort of extracurricular activities—but today she wasn't. All her stuff (as little as that was) was still in her bedroom so it wasn't as if she had run away or anything…besides, she had promised.

But Mai just up and leaving was something that Meian had been worrying about these past two weeks. Meian had acclimated to life here fairly well, but Mai had made it perfectly plain that she didn't like it here and refused to even try. She had never liked school and being forced back under duress… Meian kept having the feeling that one day Mai would just give up and leave no matter what she had said to the contrary. And the only place Meian could think that she would go would be wherever she had been those years that Meian had lost contact with her. Mai had still refused to tell her friend just what she had been doing during that time, but Meian got the feeling that it wasn't entirely legal and what ever trouble she had gotten into was more than, say, a speeding ticket.

Meian didn't like this new distance between them, but supposed it was normal after such a long time apart. But they had been friends once…

Realizing that she had been wringing her hands again, Meian marched inside. She was too keyed up to concentrate on her homework right now, but she might as well do something useful and went to the kitchen to fill up the metal teapot that doubled as a watering can. Meian liked plants, so one of the first things that she did upon moving here was place several potted plants around the house. The herbs went in the kitchen of course, and some pretty trailing flowers on her bedroom's balcony.

She finished with her side and reached out to do Mai's. Meian placed a few flora on Mai's side as well, in an attempt to make her friend's room more lived in; Mai had a sadly Spartan lifestyle and Meian wasn't entirely sure that Mai wasn't still living out of her duffel bags. The spider plant looked like it was doing fine and she watered it with little difficulty, but the ivy was proving hard to reach. The metal rail pressed hard against her midsection as she stretched her arm to its limit. She stood up on tiptoe, leaning more of her body over the rail…almost there…

Chichiri was exhausted, so exhausted that his face was aching again. It wasn't from any physical wound; when he was eighteen, a flying log had nearly killed him during a particularly bad rainstorm. They had gotten him to a hospital in time and, by the miracle of modern medicine, had sealed his face up without so much as a scar. Occasionally, when he was feeling tired or stressed, he got "phantom pains" from where the scar would have been—a large swath stretching over his nose and to his eye.

First thing that morning, he had to give a guest presentation on "The Practical Applications of the Gift in Everyday Life," with particular emphasis on charming objects. The Gift came in many different forms, though the most common were the Spell and Healing aspects of it (Spell was what most people associated with the word "magic," and Healing, of course, was used to heal). Chichiri's degrees were in Spell Gift and Theological Philosophy; he had done very well in his classes and some of his old professors still remembered. Occasionally they would ask him to come in and Chichiri often did so—after all, the university gave him a token sum as a guest speaker and a little extra cash was always welcome.

After that, he had returned to the house to mow the lawn, give the first floor a much needed vacuum (it was amazing how many crumbs five males can grind into the floor) and other daily chores. After lunch he went grocery shopping and was surprised to find a message from Taiitsukun on the answering machine. Former CEO of Shijentensho Co., she had turned the company over to a council of four about three years ago. Retiring to become the university's president (she had also founded it; no one knew exactly how old she was), Taiitsukun still owned a great deal of other properties including the apartment house Chichiri and the others lived in. They couldn't ask for a more irascible landlady (though Chichiri did not run screaming from her terrifying visage anymore) and Chichiri hurriedly packed the groceries in the refrigerator before going to see what she wanted.

It turned out that Taiitsukun wanted to know Chichiri's opinion of his new neighbors. Of course, he had known that the house next door had been recently moved into, but not gotten a chance to meet the residents yet. He had thought they were college students like his friends; the house windows were dark much of the day, but light in the morning and evenings. What Taiitsukun wanted to know was whether or not he had observed any strange visitors or activity next door—Chichiri told her that he had not, in an increasingly varied fashion as questions continued. Finally she let him go after about an hour. Much bewildered, he left.

Now he was lying flat on the couch, savoring the peace and quiet before his friends came home. While he did enjoy their company, the inevitable noise generated in their presence did grate occasionally. It was a pity that there were no lakes nearby…he would have like to go fishing once more before the weather turned…

Chichiri was just about to fall asleep when a scream split the air. He nearly fell off the couch and was struggled to right himself when it came again. Sprinting to the back door, he ran outside and across the lawn to the source: the house next door and one of the occupants that his landlady had been so interested in. There was a young woman a few years younger than he was hanging over the edge of one of the balconies on the second floor. She might have been pretty if her face wasn't pale and sweaty with fear and eyes wide with panic.

"Hold on no da!" Chichiri yelled and clambered over the chain-link fence. No ladders in sight and she probably would have fallen by the time he found one. He edged underneath her, blushed and looked away when he realized what a view he was getting, and held his arms out. "Just let go and I'll catch you no da!"

Drop? Meian thought above him. What? Oh, you've got to be kidding… This was so embarrassing. Why did she think that she could reach Mai's balcony from her own? Why couldn't she have just gone back inside? Kind people may call her "uniquely coordinated" but Meian knew that she was a klutz. An odd trait for someone aspiring to be a doctor, but her limbs seem to only malfunction outside the operating room (so to speak). When she had fallen, her first instinct was to scream for help—and of course it would be a guy who answered, one no doubt getting the view of his life down there… Why did I have to wear a skirt today?

"Don't worry, I'll catch you no da!"

"Ergh…" Meian said inarticulately. The problem was, she didn't see any other way out of this. Mai might have been able to swing herself back up, but then Meian strongly suspected that Mai had the DNA of cat and a monkey fused into her somewhere along the line. Plus, Mai also liked getting up before six o' clock in the morning, juggled steak knives (Meian caught her doing so last week and nearly had a heart attack) and swore like a drunken sailor, so let us stop comparing ourselves to Mai, please?

Meian dropped.

Chichiri did not exactly catch her per se, as much as fall backward as her weight slammed into his arms. Hitting his head rather hard on the ground, Chichiri blacked out for a second or two and the first thing he saw when he revived again was a pair of very worried green eyes. He would have jerked backward if he hadn't been already lying down.

"Are you okay?" the eyes asked. They backed up until he could see the face they were attached to.

"Yes no da," he said, though he felt far from it. He tried to sit up and immediately regretted it; pain bloomed so hard and fast in his head that he nearly fell down again. Another pair of hands caught him: one supporting his back and another placed gently over the back of his skull. He felt the second touch and instantly relieve the agony with soothing warmth. Even when it was removed, most of the pain had still disappeared though he could still feel a sizable bump. Chichiri looked at the young woman in surprise.

"You have a Healing Gift no da?" His friend Mitsukake had a particularly strong Healing Gift so Chichiri was well aware of the effects.

She nodded. "A very small one… I think I prevented a concussion but—are you sure you're all right?"

Chichiri nodded gingerly. "Yes, I feel much better now no da."

"I think that we should still get you some ice…" She helped him up and they went through the back door of her house. Like Chichiri's own, it opened into the kitchen and he could see a living room beyond—though everything was on a much smaller scale. He heard the freezer open and she scooped out some ice, deftly transported it to a plastic bag, then wrapped the entire thing in paper towels. He took the bundle and placed in on the back of his skull.

"Thank you…" He paused, realizing he still didn't know her name.

"Meian," she supplied after figuring out that's what he wanted.

"I'm Chichiri no da," he returned. "Thank you, Meian-san no da."

He smiled at her then—it was meant to be perhaps grateful or reassuring but in reality it just sent her over the top. So far she had kept the abject embarrassment, shame and humiliation at bay (the fact that she had a patient on hand helped) but the sight of that smile just brought everything to the surface. She'd wanted to meet her neighbors (but had been entirely too shy to do so) and now that she finally met one the first thing she did was fall on top of him.

"I'm so sorry!" she wailed, and Chichiri actually took a step back at the sudden explosion, his brown eyes widening. "I'm so sorry, Chichiri-san! I didn't mean to fall on you—I was just trying to water the plants and I can't even do something like that right…I've wanted to come and met my neighbors for the longest time but I've always been too shy and now I just fell on you and maybe you have a concussion and huge bump on the back of your head and—" Meian knew she was babbling and couldn't seem to stop.

"Um…er…daa…" Chichiri was completely flummoxed. "It's…It's okay no da! It's just a little bump!"

"I want to be a doctor and all I do is fall on people—"

"It's really okay no da! I'm fine!" His hands waved around helplessly and finally one patted her awkwardly on the shoulder. "It's okay no da!"

"I should get the Nyan Nyans to fix me…" She sniffed and realized that she was crying. Mortified, she spun away, nearly collided with the counter and knocked over the dish soap grabbing a tissue. She actually missed the box a few times. Behind her, Chichiri sweat-dropped.

Meian blew her nose and honked. Oh my god…she thought. I honked. I honked. Oh please, kill me now…

"I'm really okay no da," Chichiri repeated cautiously, not wanting to trigger another fit.

She wiped her eyes. "A-are you sure?"

He nodded a little too vigorously but quickly suppressed a wince.

Meian realized that she was shredding the tissue and dumped it into the wastebasket. "S-sorry," she mumbled, feeling the red bloom in her cheeks. "A-about…the, um—" Enormous blubbering fit I just threw.

Chichiri was saved from having to answer that when the front door slammed open. They both jumped and Meian nearly fell over. Chichiri grabbed her elbow to steady her.

"Meian?" someone yelled. "Where are you?"

"M-mai?" Meian blinked. "I'm in the kitchen!"

"Huh?" The newcomer came into view. She looked a few years younger than Meian, but definitely not as friendly. "Sorry I wasn't—who the hell are you?" she demanded upon seeing Chichiri. Chichiri suddenly found himself on the receiving end of a very piercing gaze that raked him from head to toe. It bore an uncomfortable resemblance to the one Taiitsukun trained on him for an hour earlier that afternoon. Realizing that he was still holding on to Meian's elbow, he dropped it quickly and stepped away.

"Mai, this is Chichiri-san," Meian said quickly, recognizing the look in Mai's eyes. "H-he lives next door. Chichiri-san, this is Mai. My housemate."

"H-how do you do no da?" Chichiri greeted nervously.

"Hi," she returned brusquely. Those blue eyes locked on the ice bag he was still holding to the back of his head. "What'd you do to your head?"

Once again, Meian interceded. "I, um, fell. From the balcony—I was watering the plants. Chichiri-san saved me."

Chichiri breathed a silent sigh of relief when Mai's gaze left him to settle on Meian. The hardness of her rather angular face softened in affectionate exasperation. "Watering plants? Shit, only you would be able to fall off the damn balcony doing something like that."

Meian pinked. "I didn't mean to…" She quickly changed the subject. "Mai, where did you go? I didn't see you when I came—oh, what happened?"

She was referring to the purpling bruise on the underside of Mai's jaw. With her head turned, Chichiri could see it too, and noticed a few more mottling the side of her forearms. Mai shrugged. "I went to the gym," she said dismissively. "Sparred with some guy I met there. And don't look at me like that," she added, when Meian frowned at her. "It was an actual sparring match, with mats and everything. I didn't throw anybody out the window. Or stuff them in the dumpster. Or break—"

"I didn't say anything," Meian replied, though Chichiri thought he heard a slight trace of amusement in her voice.

"You were thinking it. Look, I'm going to take a shower." And she abruptly disappeared up the stairs.

Meian looked profoundly embarrassed. "I-I'm sorry about that, Chichiri-san. Mai is, um…is um…" She seemed to be looking for the right words.

"It's okay no da," Chichiri told her. "I have a friend like that no da."

There was an awkward pause. After a while, Chichiri said, "Well, I'd better be going now no da…"

"Oh! Oh, right. It was, um, n-nice meeting you. I'm really sorry about the whole," she made a series of weird gestures that Chichiri realized later were pantomimes, "uh, falling on you thing."

Chichiri reassured her once again that he was quite all right and left. When he reentered the back door of his own residence, it appeared that the house was not in the empty state he had left it in; Nuriko and Hotohori were watching TV on the couch. The purple-haired androgyne looked up as Chichiri came in. "Hey, Chichiri-kun! We've been wondering where've you'd been. What happened to your head?"

"I was next door—"

"Oh, you met the neighbors?" Finding this more interesting than the show, Nuriko leaned over the back of the couch to look at him. "So what're they like? Spill!"

Chichiri sighed and briefly recounted the falling incident and its subsequent aftermath. Towards the end, Tamahome and Tasuki came walking in (still in their gym sweats) and made a beeline for the fridge.

"Hey! Dinner's soon no da!"

"Aw, c'mon, I'm fucking hungry you no da freak!" Tasuki whined.

"Hey, what happened to your face?" Nuriko asked.

There was a large bruise rounding out his jaw line. Tasuki scowled and Tamahome gleefully answered for him. "Some girl at the gym beat the crap out of Fang-Boy here."


"She did not beat the crap out of me, you asshole!" Tasuki snapped. "It was a tie!"

Now Hotohori was interested. "You found someone better at martial arts than you?" he asked. "That is a surprise…"

"She was not better than me!"

Tamahome was dancing around the kitchen, singing, "You got hit by a girl, you got hit by a girl…"

"That's it! You're goin' down, Bakahome!" Tasuki lunged.

"Hey! What's wrong with the females, huh? We're as good as any of you chauvinist pigs!"

Chichiri and Hotohori sweat-dropped. "Nuriko," Hotohori said pointedly, "you area man."

"I have the heart of a woman!" Nuriko declared proudly.

"Hey, Nuriko!" Tamahome yelled from the kitchen, having caught Tasuki in a headlock. "I thought you weren't doing that sort of thing as much anymore."

Nuriko sniffed. "Just because you can't be as gender-open as I am—"

"Cross dresser," Tamahome muttered. "Argh! Dammit!"

"Hah!" Tasuki wriggled out of Tamahome's grasp and switched their positions. He began noogie-ing him fiercely. "How ya gonna look nice for lil' Miaka-chan now?"

"Lemme go, you sonuva—"

"Miaka's coming here no da?" Chichiri asked, alarmed. Tamahome's girlfriend was barely two inches over five-feet but ate more than a sumo wrestler twice her height.

Tamahome threw Tasuki, and shouted, "No, we're going out tonight" before wrestling Tasuki to the ground.

"That's a relief no da."

"Oh, I heard Mits is taking Shouka out tonight too," Nuriko told Chichiri.

"Really no da? They're going out again?" Mitsukake had liked Shouka, a quiet botany major, for more than two years but hadn't been able ask her out until last week. Even then it took the Silent One more than an hour to force the words out. "Guess it's just me, you and Hotohori then."