Fragile Kindness

Summary: Natsuki, a homeless wanderer was taken in by the kindness of the Tokiha family. In turn she showed a little kindness to a distraught patron. What she didn't expect was that patron turning her life upside down.

Standard Disclaimer: I do not own Mai HiME/Otome, which belongs to Sunrise. This is unbeta'ed, read at your own risk. ;)

The girl's stomach rumbled as she walked along the busy streets of Windbloom Kingdom. She had been walking for days, and sleeping where she could. Thus far, she was hungry, and covered in grime that compiled from the past ten days she had been wandering. It had been ten days since she left the homeless shelter in northern Windbloom, next to the boarder of the Republic of Aries.

With no destination in mind, and no need or desire to be anywhere, the young woman continued to walk. However as she continued the aimless journey along the lonely path, a delicious aroma arrested her senses and caused her to pause. Turning to follow the delectable scent, green eyes closed in concentration. Allowing her feet to guide her, the young urchin found herself before the back door of an old looking restaurant. The door was partially ajar, and from within the savory order emanated.

Reaching a dirty hand out to push the door open wider, the tramp hesitated, before stepping back and away from the ajar door. Sighing loudly and rubbing the grumbling from her stomach, the girl turned away. She couldn't bring herself to enter the establishment, no matter how hungry she was. With the intention to walk back out of the alley, despite the protests of her pleading stomach, the girl took a shaky step forward. Then another. And another. She did not get far as the hunger pang became too great, and she halted in her tracks.

Refusing to turn around and be temped by the open door, green eyes focused on the large dumpster beside her. Without a second though, she lifted the lid and peered at the contents inside. The partially eaten food looked good. Better than the ones she had scavenged yesterday. Ignoring the flies, she reached in and pulled out a handful of the wasted noodles. Just as she was about to partake in her find, her mouth salivating, a voice accosted her.

"Hey!" the voice shouted, startling the vagabond, the liberated food from the bin fell to the ground at her feet. Mortified at her loss, green eyes quickly turned to the one that yelled at her. Fear evident in green eyes, as her legs tensed to escape. "Hey," the voice called out again, this time softer, as if trying not to chase the wanderer away. "it's alright, I'm not going to harm you."

Green eyes narrowed in suspicion as she looked at the older man standing in the once ajar door. An apron tied about his lean figured, with the sleeves of his shirt rolled up to his elbow, the man looked harmless. At least he wasn't bearing a large kitchen knife like most men did when they discovered her.

"Why don't you come away from there?" The man with brown hair and gentle lavender eyes asked congenially. "If you're hungry, I can give you something a bit...healthier than that to eat."

"I have no money...I'm sure I can't afford what you have to offer." the girl replied as she turned away.

"I'm quite sure of that. But nonetheless, allow me to give you something to eat." Seeing the girl glance at him from across the way, the man smiled sincerely. "No cost; it would go to waste if you refuse."

Turning fully to regard the man again, the urchin openly frowned. In her nine-teen years of life, she had learned that there was no such thing as 'free,' and that everything came at a price. "Why?" she asked as she watched the man slowly approach her.

"I have a daughter, who looks to be your age. If she were ever in the position you are in, I can only pray that some kind soul would take pity on her and help her out."

"I don't need your pity." the man was walking closer, but she refused to move. Although she was weak from hunger, she knew how to defend herself, and would not allow herself to be overtaken.

Stopping three feet away from the drifter, the man tried to ease the evident wariness in sharp emerald eyes. "It is not pity I feel for you, but compassion. Please, allow me to aid you."

Having never had anyone regard her and speak to her as such, the vagrant furrowed her brows at the sincere man. There wasn't anything she had left to lose. So nodding her head stiffly, she followed the man in to her first warm meal in months.

Walking among the busy travelers, the young woman entered the familiar restaurant with purpose. The little bell above the door announced her entrance to the cook behind the counter. Looking up warm lavender eyes greeted the young woman's active green orbs. "Welcome back, how did the interview go?"

"I got the job." was the gruff reply as the slender woman collapsed on the bar stool.

Smiling happily, the cook couldn't help but feel pride for the girl before him. Just a year ago, he had first met the girl in the back of the restaurant digging through the trash. Now she had turned her life around and found employment, and he couldn't be happier. "That's great Natsuki! You really are amazing." he said as he placed the chopped vegetables aside for later tonight.

"Thank you, Mr. Tokiha, for everything." Natsuki said as she smiled kindly at the man behind the bar top. For the past year, the Tokiha's had welcomed her in, and treated her as family. She would always be grateful to them and their kindness they showed to a complete stranger.

Waving away the thanks, a common occurrence between the two, Mr. Tokiha grinned. "We'll have to celebrate tonight! Once Mai and Takumi get home, we'll all go out to celebrate!"

"It's not necessary..." Natsuki said as she pushed cobalt lock behind her ear and smiled. Although she was proud of her accomplishment, she didn't want Mr. Tokiha to spend money on her-which he often tried to do. Now that she finally got a better paying job, she intended to pay his kindness back in full.

"Non-sense Natsuki! I'm proud of you, and we should celebrate!"

"Celebrate what?" Mr. Tokiha's daughter asked as she walked into the restaurant, her younger bother behind her.

At their appearance, Mr. Tokiha's smile widened. "Mai, Takumi, over here! Natsuki just got a job, so we should go out and celebrate."

"Another one?" Mai asked as embraced the girl atop the bar stool in a congratulatory hug. "Natsuki, how many jobs do you plan on having?"

"Natsuki, you're going to work yourself to the bone if you're not careful." Takumi said as he clapped her on the back. "But all the same, I'm happy for you."

"Thank you, Mai, Takumi. But this is only a part time gig at Orphan. I'll just be bar tending on Monday and Thursday nights."

Taking a seat next to the girl she considered a sister, Mai placed the bag with all their earnings for the day on the bar top. "Even so Na-chan, Takumi is right, what about your other job? The magazine delivery one in the mornings?"

"Today was a bit slow," Takumi said as he slumped down on the stool beside Mai as he spoke to his father. "We only had fourteen customers."

"Still that's pretty good, son." Mr. Tokiha said as he collected the monies and placed them into the safe under the bar. He didn't see the slight frown on the ex-urchin's face as he turned his back.

"So Natsuki, when do you go in for training?" Mai asked, having seen the worried frown her friend wore.

"Later today. They want me to go in before they open, to teach me the basics before I start." Natsuki said as she stretched. Yawning, she tried to shake herself a wake, but it was no use. She had been up at four that morning delivering magazines to the various venders all across Windbloom.

Nudging the exhausted girl with her shoulder, Mai placed a gentle arm across Natsuki's shoulder. "Come on, you should get your rest while you can then. I'll wake you up to get ready for your training." Nodding tiredly, green eyes drooped as she followed the redhead up the flight of stairs to the living area.

Once the girls were out of sight, Mr. Tokiha sighed. "It's good that Natsuki wants to help out, but really, I'm afraid she's working herself too hard." Taking the vegetables he recently prepared to the refrigerator, Mr. Tokiha pulled out the beef to cut for the night.

After washing his hands, Takumi rolled up his sleeves and grabbed an apron off the rack to help his father. Taking the pork while his father sliced the raw beef, Takumi began to cut the pork into slices. "I think she just wants to help us out though dad. She knows we're struggling with the business, so she works hard to help pay the bills."

Nodding silently, Mr. Tokiha said nothing. "She's really exhausted." Mai said, joining them, washing her hands at the sink. "Today is her first day, I only hope she'll have enough energy to get though it." Rinsing the cabbage and carrots, Mai began chopping at the island counter. "She gave me her paycheck this morning too, from the magazine delivery service she does. 'For rent' she said. Na-chan refused to keep it, and threatened to tear it in half if I didn't take it." Sighing heavily, Mai shook her head ruefully. "Moe, honestly dad, I always feel bad taking her money. You would think after a year of doing it, I'd be used to it, but I'm not! She's practically family, it's not right taking her money..."

"I know sweetheart." Mr. Tokiha said as he finished with the beef. "Natsuki is rather stubborn, isn't she?" Amid the lighthearted scoffs and gentle smiles he received from his children, Mr. Tokiha continued to prepare the food.

That night Natsuki arrived at the small bar called Orphan two hours before it was to due open at seven. Dressed smartly in black slacks, a white collared blouse, and dress shoes, Natsuki made her way down the narrow street to the secluded bar. It was located off the main street, behind a large super store with multiple new and flashy restaurants in front of it. It was an old establishment, so the location was poor, and clientele meager. It faced the same predicament as Mr. Tokiha's restaurant, the Ramen Bowl, did. Both had poor locations due to newer bars and shops and restaurants opening that attracted their clientele away. Nevertheless, although Orphan and the Ramen Bowl were suffering, they still managed a steady amount of business.

It was due to Windbloom's capital, Fuuka's expansion. The area around the Ramen Bowl and Orphan, was once considered the edge of the city, bordering the residential area. Now all the old apartment buildings were torn down and replaced by large strip malls and various food shops and night clubs. Things were hard for the older businesses, and most closed down and were renovated for the city's active night life.

Parking her bicycle in the back of the bar, and locking it up to the alley lamp, Natsuki walked to the front of the bar. Entering the empty establishment, Natsuki was greeted by her new boss and fellow bartender, Dyne.

Natsuki's first night as a bar tended started now.

AN: I couldn't focus with this idea bouncing around in my head. I just had to write it! So it might seem similar to a few other fics on this site (but really what doesn't?), but all I ask is that you give this a try and let allow me to prove you how unique it is (or maybe ;). Anyways, I will be focusing on My Musume and The Classical Side of Love more so than this. This is just a passing fancy that I'm currently engaged in. So updates will be sporadic-like all of my updates-but nonetheless, I hope you were intrigued enough to R&R.

Till next time,