AN: Okay this is the last warning! This will be a Tomoe/Natsuki/Shizuru three-some. So if this offends you in anyway, just turn back now.

Special thanks goes out to my two wonderful Betas Balticbard and Charmed131~! You to ladies are simply divine! Also thanks to all those that has reviewed, faved, and tagged this story on an alert. You guys/gals are just amazing! I'm actually kind of surprised by how well received this threesome pairing is... anyways on with the chapter!

Also in regards to the reviews I am unable to reply to:

silverwolf: thank you for the comment. I shall continue to write so long as my muse allows. I'm glad to know you're enjoying it!

Extern: cool i'm glad to find a fellow believer in Tomoe/Natsuki = possible! =D

MissIzzyB: Thank you for your continued support! I'm glad you like this so far, and I can only hope that I'll be able to keep you interested. =D

Standard Disclaimer still applies...

Chapter Three

Saturday morning started at four thirty am for Shizuru. Even though it was the weekend, the blonde still woke up early, and prepared for the day as if it was any other ordinary day. At five thirty Shizuru left her flat, and walked the short distance to the tea shop she ritually visited every morning for the past year.

"Good morning, Anh." Shizuru greeted the tall blonde behind the counter. Taking a seat at the table, Shizuru discreetly glanced at the book stand a few feet away where an old man stood. The old man was listening to the morning news on the radio, as usual. There was no sign of the person Shizuru was looking for yet, but in a few minutes though, the delivery girl would show up, as usual.

Although Shizuru didn't know the girl's name, she knew a lot about her. Every morning at eight till six, the delivery girl would pull up to the curb in an old beat up scooter, and deliver the day's bundle of newspapers and magazines. The girl was a good worker, (she never failed to deliver her load; save for thrice when she did not show up). The girl was also a hard worker (as she once said in passing that the magazine booth was the last of twenty five stops she had to visit all over town). She probably did not have a high education (hence the delivery job), and she probably didn't get paid much either (her worn out cloths and rusty scooter attested to that). Yet despite the girl's plain clothes, Shizuru had to admit that the girl was pretty. Definitely not the typical 'girly' pretty (she didn't wear any cosmetics that Shizuru could tell), but still, the girl had a certain allure that captured Shizuru's attention. Also the girl was focused on her work (a trait Shizuru admired); but the girl never seemed to notice Shizuru (which impressed her greatly). So it was with determined fascination that Shizuru continued her silent observations of the delivery girl. Perhaps one day, the pretty delivery girl would notice her, and never knowing which day that would be, Shizuru diligently waited, and watched for the delivery girl.

"Morning, cousin dear," Anh greeted as she poured Shizuru the usual mug of green tea. "You're a bit early today. But don't worry, I haven't seen 'her' yet." Anh said with a wink and a grin as she handed over the mug of tea.

Shizuru frowned into the cup as she took a sip of the liquid. Fighting the light blush of embarrassment, Shizuru made a quick glance towards the news booth next to Anh's Tea and Coffee Stop. "I don't know what you're talking about Anh." Shizuru said with a nonchalant tone. "I only came to get my morning tea; yours is the best in all of Windbloom after all."

Propping her elbow atop the counter, Anh's light blue eyes sparkled in mirth, as she cradled her cheek. Staring at her cousin, Anh's grin grew wider as she leaned forward, as if to share a known secret with the younger woman. "No need to deny it, Shizuru, as I've already figured out your little game. Now I know there is more to your tea enthusiasm than you let on. True though, I do sell the best tea in all of Windbloom Kingdom, but you can't deny that you don't find the delivery girl the next booth over to be just as enjoyable. I mean, why else would you come every day for the past year, hmm?" To Anh the signs were clear, especially the way Shizuru would stare intently at the delivery girl, no matter how brief the look was, it was almost impossible to get Shizuru's full attention while the delivery girl was present. It was amazing that Anh didn't make the connection sooner, especially when Shizuru would show up just before she arrived, and leave soon after she left. Anh mentally kicked herself for not noticing it all before. So Anh couldn't help but gloat now that she'd cornered her cousin.

Smiling, despite having her secret spoken of so openly, Shizuru gently placed the mug of tea back on the counter. It was time for damage control. Anh was sure to over exaggerate the situation. After all, Shizuru was only curious about the girl, and it was nothing serious. So with a sigh of playful remorse, the ruby eyed woman touched her cheek. "Ara, ara... such amusing assumptions one will dream up with nothing to do. Has business been so slow lately that you've resorted to imagining up these matters?"

Anh chuckled at the way Shizuru dodged her inquiries and statements, successfully wiggling out of the corner Anh had backed her into. It just meant that Anh's guess was dead on, and Shizuru was trying to lighten the situation. It was so like her cousin to change the topic to avoid the truth of the matter. Not that Anh was going to give up though. "Really now Shizuru, we've known each other since we were kids! Do you honestly expect me to believe you have no ulterior motives when you see me every morning of the week for the past year, and at Grandmother's house on the weekends? You may be addicted to tea, but I know you've become addicted to seeing that pretty girl's face too. Although why you haven't done anything about this girl, is just beyond me! It's been over a year, surely you should have done something by now. Do you even know her name?"

"I do not recall seeing you at grandmother's house these past few weeks; so how can you say I'm not here to visit you, dear cousin?" With a light smile, Shizuru retrieved the mug and took another sip. She chose to ignore everything else her cousin said tactfully. She didn't think anyone knew of her little crush, and wished it to remain that way. It was just a crush. It'll go away eventually, so there was no reason to make a big deal about it. It's not like she was like that. She wasn't like her cousin; she wasn't a lesbian. At least Shizuru didn't think so.

It was just curiosity after all; it will pass with time, Shizuru would tell herself. She was sure of it. So she didn't understand why she felt she had to see the delivery girl everyday; she just knew she always felt excited when she did. The girl was due to make the morning delivery in a few minutes too, so Shizuru patiently waited. It was worth having to endure Anh's sudden interest in her life; she was sure. Nevertheless it was still a bit embarrassing, so Shizuru had to change the subject quickly. "By the way, will you be at Grandmother's house this evening?"

"Nah, I've got a date with Laura. You?" Anh spoke distractedly as she served another patron. Usually she was busiest during the weekday morning rush. On the weekends, only a few people were up this early in the morning (aside from her cousin), to be purchasing tea or coffee. With only her cousin seated at the little shop on the busy street, it provided the perfect environment to share gossip and advice. If only Shizuru was in a talking mood. She rarely ever was.

"I'll be spending the day with Mikoto. She has recently returned from the Shrine of Miroku in the Black Valley. City life is new to her, and she'll be staying here for a while. So Reito thought it would be good for she and I, to get to know each other more." With downcast eyes, Shizuru lightly traced the rim of the tea mug with her index finger. She didn't see the sharp frown Anh sent her way, she was too caught up in wondering why the delivery girl had not showed up yesterday, and if she would show up today.

With a loud huff, Anh tossed the white cloth aside, as she seated herself across from her cousin. "I don't even understand why you still go out with him." Anh said as she languidly refilled Shizuru's mug with hot tea. "We've known Reito for years, he's like a brother to us. I can't imagine kissing him, it'd be like kissing you. No offense, but that'd still be kind of weird! So I don't know why you have to 'get to know' his sister too. Isn't she just a half sister? Why bother if you ask me."

Lightly blowing on the steaming liquid, Shizuru avoided Anh's gaze as she watched the lonely street. She had hoped to see the delivery girl on her way to the news stand, but she had no such luck. Turning back to the conversation at hand, Shizuru locked gazes with Anh. "Mikoto is a good girl. She has an innocent and sweet aura about her. Besides, I want to get to know her myself. As for Reito..." The two women had spoken over the issue of her dating Reito countless times, and it was becoming tiresome. Yet it seemed she had to constantly remind Anh, and defend her reasoning. "...We look good together. We're a perfect match. How many times do we need to discuss this?"

Ignoring the way Shizuru adamantly (tiredly) tried to defend her relationship with Reito Kanzaki (which was more like a continuation of friendship in her opinion), Anh could only shake her head sadly at young woman before her. "Until you get some sense in your little head of yours cousin." Anh rolled her eyes as she poured herself a mug of tea. Shizuru was in so much denial. "You can't be Grandmother's doll forever. Just because she wants you and Reito to wed, doesn't mean you should. You have your freedom. Use it!"

"And I suppose being excommunicated from the family is your idea of being free?" Shizuru asked with a quirked smile. "I happen to have more than enough freedom abiding by Grandmother's wishes, than not. And besides, Reito is a good man. He loves me and-"

"You don't love him." Anh cut off with a bored tone. Ignoring the tea she had yet to touch, blue eyes bore into Shizuru's guarded orbs.

"One needn't be in love to marry." Shizuru said with such dignity, it was impossible to deny she believed it to be true.

"Ah, that's your mother talking again, isn't? She was never in love with your father, and made it a point to show it." There was a brief pause in which neither woman spoke, but Anh was never one to keep silent. "So...will you be like your mother, and have a lover on the side too?" Looking over to the news booth, Anh knew Shizuru's eyes followed her own. "That delivery girl is rather cute. Working class though, so she'll never really be accepted by the family; but I'm sure Grandmother will turn a blind eye to her. She does to all the families' lovers and mistresses."

Snapping crimson eyes back to Anh, Shizuru silently fumed at her bold cousin. How dare she talk as if she knew the feelings and thoughts that Shizuru had! Three years her senior, Anh was the black sheep of the family and generally shunned. She was a love child, a lesbian, and a college drop out. She was unclaimed, dismissed, and ignored by the family; yet Anh had never cared about all that. Ahn lived, and loved, as she pleased. It was originally Shizuru who chose to befriend Anh as their mothers were sisters, and so they became the best of friends, which was mostly due to Shizuru's determination. Yet at times, even Shizuru became annoyed at the blunt woman. Although Anh could be subtle and eloquent at times, she could be just as crude and tactless all the same. "Just because you are the result of an extramarital union, does not give you the position to impose your views on me, Anh."

With hands raised in surrender, Anh saw the subtle anger that shimmered in Shizuru's eyes. Although she was a bastard child, and normally looked down upon in the family, she didn't want to anger the one, of the only two people, she still spoke with in the family. "Hey hey, calm down. You know me; I'm the product of love, so I believe that you should be able to freely love is all. You like the girl," nodding her head in the direction to the news booth, the delivery girl still absent, "so I think you should go for it. Talk to her, at least once Shizuru! You never know, maybe you'll get a chance at finding true love too."

Unmoved by the reassuring grin on her cousin's face, Shizuru stood from the wooden seat. Now she remembered why she only visited her cousin briefly in the mornings. Although Shizuru knew the things Anh said had merit, and a part of her agreed with the taller woman, she refused to do anything on the matter. She wasn't like Anh. She wasn't brave enough to oppose the family, and break out of the mold they've set. Although Shizuru knew, Anh was also only able to do so because she wasn't really a Viola like herself, she still felt a little envious of the tall, blue eyed woman. She just couldn't do the things Anh did, because the consequences and responsibilities on Anh, was nothing compared to the responsibilities and duties Shizuru had to uphold.

It wasn't fair, but she was born a Viola.

Sighing to herself, Shizuru placed money for the two cups of tea down on the counter. Sometimes, she wished that she too was a creation of love between her parents, and not just a duty bound entity. She was born because it was required; it was her father and mother's duty to have a child, and they obeyed. It was her duty to be the perfect child, and she too, obeyed. It was tradition; it was etiquette; it was the life in which Shizuru was born into. To break out of it, was to commit suicide. A bleak prospect, and one Shizuru had no intention of fulfilling.

Glancing at the small digital clock behind Anh, Shizuru turned away. It was ten past six, and still no sight of the alluring delivery girl. It was past the time, so she knew the girl would not show up. Over the past year that she had been silently watching the delivery girl, the girl had only been late thrice. Yesterday was the fourth time, and today it was the fifth. Perhaps she should take this as a sign that she should give up, Shizuru though as she left Anh's shop.

"Just try it, Shizuru! You won't lose anything if you just try!" Anh shouted behind her as Shizuru paused in front of the news stand. With a mental sigh, Shizuru decided to at least humor her cousin who watched her so avidly. Anh was her favorite cousin, and always gave good advice when she needed it. She was always there and supported her whenever she could, so Shizuru felt like she at least owed it to Anh to make an effort.

What could it hurt if Shizuru spoke to the delivery girl?

Shizuru had been curious as to the girl's absence anyways. Briefly Shizuru wondered if the girl had become sick, or if she got into an accident. Frowning, she stopped herself from imagining any other dreadful possibilities, and decided she would at least ask the vender just to be sure. "Ara, ara.." Shizuru's melodious voice called to the old man that managed the booth. "I was wondering if today's issue of Windbloom Times has arrived yet? Usually it is delivered at five till six."

The usually gruff man, upon seeing the beautiful regular customer of the past year, instantly smiled at the polite young woman. With a deep voice he replied. "Oh Miss, I was wondering when you would arrive for your daily paper! It was actually delivered earlier today, the new delivery boy is really prompt! So now you won't have to wait until the last minute to get your paper anymore."

Although the old man smiled warmly and readily gathered the morning paper Shizuru always purchased, she couldn't help but feel a little startled. A little disappointed. She hid it well as she smiled at the white haired old man and paid for the paper. "I see. Well that's rather good for you now then, isn't it? Whatever happened to the old delivery girl though, I wonder...?"

"Ah that girl was never really prompt." the old mad said with a shake of his head, "she always delivered here just shy of being late y'know! I'm just glad the new boy that's working doesn't have me as the last stop, like that girl did. I always lost a lot of money because customers didn't have time to wait for their magazines to show up y'know. Like yesterday, she didn't even show up at all, that was why I didn't have your paper then Miss."

"I see...well thank you then Sir. I must be going now, so do have a good day." Shizuru spoke as she clutched the paper in her hands tightly. Nobody noticed the papers crumpling in Shizuru's slender hand but Anh.

"To you too Miss!" the old man called out as the blond walked away. Anh made a mental note to talk to Shizuru again. Pulling out her cell phone, she canceled her date with Laura that evening and decided to talk to Shizuru instead. Out of the whole extended, and large Viola family, Shizuru was the only one that cared for her, so Anh decided that she would at least help Shizuru find some happiness. Even if Shizuru was in denial, Anh could clearly see she fancied the delivery girl, so she would do everything in her power to try to get them together.

Saturday afternoon was a sweltering hot day. Unlike Mr. Tokiha's native Zipang, where the unbearable humid summer heat proceeded monsoon rains, summers in Windbloom were arid and dry. However the forecast for the week foretold of a rapid storm coming down from Cardair, and would bring the much needed (flooding) rain in two days time. Until then, the weather would be hot and increasingly humid. It was the perfect time to repair the roof before the storm came Mr. Tokiha reasoned, as it was expected to be clear skies until Tuesday.

Mr. Tokiha had wanted to fix the leaking roof weeks ago, but at the time, they didn't, and still don't, have the money to hire a proper contractor to do the work. Now with the storm headed in, they really had no choice, and the roof couldn't be put off any longer. So with Takumi, Mai, and Natsuki all agreeing to help, Mr. Tokiha went out to buy the supplies needed to repair the roof himself. How hard could it be? He would often ask aloud with a large grin. He had the full confidence that with everyone's help, they could get the job done, and save some money while they were at it. They didn't really have the money to spare, but surely the bank would understand if they were a little late on their mortgage.

Taking the repaired scooter and a small trailer, Mr. Tokiha had left in the morning, and had yet to return. Natsuki and Mai had cleaned the gutters all morning while Takumi made the noodles and prepared the ingredients for the restaurant that evening. With his weak heart, it was unanimously decided that he should take care of the restaurant, for fear the heat would weaken him further.

After the break for lunch, both girls were exhausted and overheated from being out in the sun all morning. Without the supplies to fix the roof, and all the food for the evening already prepared, Mai, Natsuki, and Takumi had nothing left to do. With the decision to rest until Mr. Tokiha returned, Natsuki and Takumi headed off to the grocers to buy some ice and sweet potatoes for the evening. Left at home alone, Mai was content as she reclined on the veranda, as the small wind chime danced in the soft breeze.

As she waited for her father and the others to return home, Mai listened to the buzzing call of the cicadas, the humming of the dragonflies, and the sounds of children playing off in the distance. The smoke of the mosquito pump billowed in the air languidly as Mai slowly fell asleep. Resting peacefully, it was with an alarming start, that Mai yelped loudly as something crashed into her. The force of the impact sent the redhead sprawling from the lounge chair, on to the wooden patio, where she groaned in pain.

Tentatively, Mai tried to sit up, but was halted as the thing that crashed into her, loomed above her. The sight of a salivating young girl with large golden eyes caused Mai to shriek out in alarm. Instantly the smaller woman jumped away startled. Scooting back along the polished veranda, Mai kept anxious eyes glued on to the unknown attacker. "O-Oi~! Who are you? W-what do you want?" she asked as she groped blindly for something to defend herself with.

The girl with short raven hair did not seem to care or notice the redhead, as she tilted her head back, and took a deep whiff of the delicious scents in the air. With a dopey smile, and glazed over golden eyes, the girl moved around on all fours-as if she were an animal-as she tried to follow the smell of lingering food.

As lavender eyes watched the young woman move about the veranda, Mai couldn't help but quirk a smile at the sight before her. The girl, dressed in the simple robes of a monk, with large jizu beads about her slim neck, prowled around the veranda seeking a way into the house. As she turned this was and that, the rings on the staff strapped to her back would jingle, and seemed to calm Mai more than anything else. Although the entire situation was completely bizarre to her, Mai slowly approached the girl that acted more like a cat.

"Hey there, what's your name?" Mai asked. When the dark haired girl finally acknowledged her, Mai tried to smile honestly. She didn't want to startle the girl, she was only curious as to what the golden eyed girl was doing. "What are you looking for?"

Golden eyes sized up the taller woman before her, and seeing nothing but honest curiosity, the monk sat on her haunches. "Mikoto." she said as she watched the redhead. "Food." Mikoto moaned as her stomach chose that moment to loudly grumble. Slumping to the cool patio, Mikoto stared at the girl before her pitifully. She was so hungry, and she was lost too. In a panic once she realized she was lost, Mikoto had dashed down winding alleys and narrow streets trying to find her way back. It was only by chance that she caught a whiff of a delicious smell that led her to the redhead before her. She wanted to ask for help, but she was so hungry she couldn't move, let alone spare the energy to talk.

"Aww, you poor thing." Mai said as she watched the girl crumple to the floor. As the redhead moved the sliding door open to enter the restaurant, a loud rumble emanated from the petite monk, and with hurried steps, Mai was gone.

Feeling her body slowly start to shut down due to her high metabolism, Mikoto sighed in utter defeat as she felt her stomach eat away at itself. However just as she was about to succumb to hunger, the most delicious fragrance filled the air, and with renewed strength, the raven haired girl sat up. She was greeted by the sight of her salvation. With a waiting bowl of hot ramen, the lilac eyed woman had returned. Mikoto felt her mouth water at the sight.

Placing the bowl of hot ramen before the monk, Mai smiled and nodded encouragingly at the young monk. She had been taught to always be kind, and to help those in need. Right now, the girl, Mikoto, was in desperate need of food so Mai could not refuse. It was not the first time a member of the Tokiha family reached out to aid a stranger, and Mai was sure it would not be her last.

Eagerly breaking apart the chopsticks, Mikoto gave her thanks as she began to inhale the divine meal. All too soon the food was gone, but still hungry, Mikoto had humbly asked for more. With a delighted grin, she could not believe the kindness shown to her, as the generous redheaded woman brought her another bowl.

By the time Mikoto had had her fill, eight empty bowls of ramen were set aside, as she leisurely reclined on the patio floor. With a self satisfied grin, and closed eyes, the raven haired girl was content on just being in the presence of the benevolent women. She felt cared for, and protected, it gave her a calm feeling that was only offered in the sanctuary of the Temple, and has been missing since she arrived in the city. She wanted to stay with the redhead forever. However Mikoto's peace was not to last, as faintly, she heard her name being called. Sitting up on alert, the young woman listened carefully, honing in on the direction of the soft noise. It was Shizuru! She was calling her!

Standing up abruptly, Mikoto grinned happily. "Shizuru's here! Now together we can get back to Ani-ue!"

"Shizuru? Ani-ue?" Mai asked as she tilted her head in regards to the girl. "You mean your family is here for you? That's good."

With a wide smile, Mikoto crouched down towards the other woman. A type of eager innocence seemed to radiate from her. "What is your name? So I can tell Ani-ue that you helped me." Mikoto asked as she leaned in close to the startled woman.

"Mai Tokiha." the redhead replied with a hesitant smile. The young monk was acting as if there were people coming for her, yet Mai heard no one in the distance. Nothing but the shrill shriek of the cicadas.

"Mai! Thank you for everything, Mai!" Mikoto said as she embraced the shocked woman, and ran to the front of the restaurant. There she tapped the golden staff three times in offer of a silent prayer. "See you again Mai! Goodbye!" the monk called out as she waved goodbye and ran off in the distance.

"Goodbye...?" Mai echoed as she continued to sit at the veranda. It must have been the heat, she realized, because there is no way anyone traveled by jumping from rooftop to rooftop, the way that girl Mikoto just did. "It's definitely the weather." she mumbled as she gathered all the empty bowls and took them inside to wash out.

"Everyone sure is taking a long time to get back" she mumbled as she washed the dishes, once again alone.

With a deep inhale, Tomoe stood before the dingy little bar off the main street in a narrow alley. The neon sign flickered, and caused a tinted red hue around the nearby objects. The low hum of the lights echoed and mixed in with the noise pouring off of the busy main street. Releasing her breath, Tomoe entered the bar.

The little atomic clock behind the bar read 8:17pm. It was still pretty early, but Tomoe wanted to confront the female bartender sooner rather than later. As the office lady walked through the low hanging smoke, and past the droopy green over head lamps over each table, gray eyes flashed around the little pub. She was expecting to find the raven haired girl behind the bar again, but so far, no sight of her. Only the large brown haired man was behind the counter, polishing a glass tumbler. Typical, she mentally scoffed.

Taking the seat at the end of the bar, the one she occupied the last time she was here, Tomoe decided she would get a lighter drink this time around. She wanted to talk to the girl, find out her name, and what she wanted when she helped Tomoe home that night. People always wanted something; they never did anything without a reason, or without a price. So it was strange to the silver eyed woman, that the bartender-a total stranger-would want to help her.

As far as Tomoe knew, nothing was missing from her apartment, or her purse. She had been charged for the whisky she guzzled, but nothing else. She knew she didn't give the girl a tip, so she couldn't get her head around the fact that this stranger helped her out and took nothing in return. They didn't know each other; so Tomoe was curious as to why the pretty bartender would help her.

As it was, Tomoe only knew the girl worked at the run down pub. She was the only female bartender, and she was tall with pale skin and dark hair. It was impossible to tell the exact color of her hair, since it was so dim in the bar, but Tomoe knew without a doubt, the girl had strikingly clear emerald eyes.

The girl was gentle too, as memories of soft hands lightly rubbing Tomoe's back would glide across her memory, and send shivers down her spine. Tomoe wasn't used to the feeling, and having the feelings coming from some stranger she met while she was drunk, was all the more confusing. She wasn't used to feeling this way, and she didn't want to feel this way. So with a determined smile, Tomoe signaled the bartender over for a cold beer. She would get him to talk. Even though the person she sought was clearly not there tonight, she would get the information she wanted, because Tomoe always got what she wanted. It was only a matter of time, and she was a patient woman.

Sunday morning came, and before the break of dawn, Mai and Takumi loaded the old scooter and small trailer with their morning supplies to sell at the train station booth. Their booth was bolted to the cement floor, and locked up during the day and evening. With a monthly rental fee, the Tokiha family stored all their cooking items and everything they needed to sell noodles during the early morning and afternoon rush. They only had to take the family's special homemade noodles, soup base, and the various fresh ingredients with them every morning.

With the basket of noodles at Takumi's feet as he drove, and with Mai carrying another basket of goods as she rode behind, the two siblings were off. They would be back when they sold out. Sometimes they would return home early, and sometimes they wouldn't be back until the evening as they tried to sell all of the fresh ramen, and not let it go to waste.

As Natsuki and Mr. Tokiha watched Mai and Takumi drive out of sight, they decided to get back to work on the roof while it was still cool. Even though it was still slightly dark out, in one hour it would start to brighten, and before long it would be too hot to continue working on the roof.

Climbing the ladder to the slanted roof of the two story building, Natsuki set the gallon of water on the flat ledge of the roof, and began to work on the area she left off on last night. When Mr. Tokiha had returned home last night, Mai and Takumi ran the restaurant while he and Natsuki began to peel the shingles off of the roof. They worked by section, and as they finished peeling the shingles off of one part of the roof, they would fix the water damaged wood, and re-tar and re-shingle as they went. Thus far, they were only one third of the way done.

As they worked, they spoke of mundane things ranging from any topic that came to mind, however most of the time, silence prevailed between them. It was a comfortable silence, as only the sound of their working permeated the early morning air.

It was late Sunday evening, and Tomoe was having dinner at a The Windy View with Rosalie Claudel. They had been friends for years, and that afternoon, Tomoe picked Rosalie up from the pier. The shorter blond had just returned from a trip in Zipang, and was eager to show off the new fashion designs in her little Windbloom shop. They had spent all afternoon in Rosalie's dress shop, and decided to have dinner together.

"So have you decided where you'll be staying?" Tomoe asked as she cut up a piece of the medium rare stake. "Or has the lease on your flat been renewed? You've only been gone for a year, surely your building would give you back your space."

Taking a sip of the white wine, Rosalie regarded the poised woman with a grin. "Hmm I suppose so. But you're the only one I've contacted. So naturally I figured I'd just bunk with you until I get everything sorted." The knife in Tomoe's hand stilled for a moment, and Rosalie's smile widened as she was able to break the woman's aloof nature, if only for a moment. All day they had been dancing around the matter, so Rosalie was delighted to see her sound decision to stay with Tomoe startle the woman so.

"I see." was all Tomoe said before she placed the piece of beef into her mouth and chewed. Rosalie's clear blue eyes watched the silver eyed woman's lips intently before looking up to meet steely orbs. "I suppose you forgot to mention that in your letters? We've been talking all day, and I suppose that slipped your mind as well?"

Propping her elbows on the table, knowing it was bad manners and not caring, Rosalie rested her cheek in an open palm. "Perhaps I did. What can I say? Being in your company makes me forget the insignificant details. Besides, I don't see a problem with it. Unless you've got someone there you haven't told me about, I don't see how the arrangement could be a problem."

Ignoring the challenge in the vixen's voice, Tomoe took a sip of the wine to clear her throat and bide her time. Unlike the woman before her, Tomoe was a proper lady, and as such, she chose her words and actions carefully. However in this case-in most cases with Rosalie-being a proper polite lady amounted to nothing. So it was better to be blunt than let Rosalie walk all over her, which was often the case. "Whether or not I have 'someone there,' as you've so eloquently put it, is not the case. Had you had thought to ask, I would have made arrangements, as it is now, I'm in no position to accommodate you." Not that she wanted to either.

"So you do have someone there!" Rosalie exclaimed as she fell back into the stuffed chair surprised, and a little hurt by the admission. "I never thought I'd see the day you've actually settled for anyone other than Viola, since I highly doubt you've actually landed Viola. So come on, make with the details!" Although spoken cheerfully, Rosalie tossed a lock of curly blond hair over her shoulder impatiently. She needed to gather more information on this rival immediately.

With an unladylike scoff, Tomoe frowned at the woman across from her. The food momentarily forgotten, sliver eyes bore into sapphire gems. They were pale in comparison to the vivid emerald that plagued her for the past few days, but Tomoe pushed that memory aside. She had an old friend that needed correction, one that tended to often overstep her boundaries. If there was one thing that annoyed Tomoe the most about Rosalie, it was the blonde's sense of self entitlement towards everything and everyone she came in contact with. It never ceased to amaze Tomoe the things Rosalie would do, and say, and act, because she felt she was in her right to do so. "And what makes you think I don't have Shizuru at my house at this moment?"

"Puh-lease~!" Rosalie said as she violently stabbed a carrot. "You've been obsessing over that woman for how many years now? Seven? Eight?" Smirking at the non-rebuttal, the blonde chewed the vegetable. "Face it Tomoe dear, you don't exist in Shizuru Viola's world. No matter how much you watch her, or emulate her, or follow her around like a love sick puppy, she'll never notice you. You haven't got a snowball's chance in Hell! Eight years is long enough. You should give up, and stop wasting your time on someone out of your reach. There are plenty of gorgeous people, and with far better personalities, than the ever poised, ever perfect Viola. You just need to open your eyes and look around to see them." I'm right in front of you. Although she wanted to say it, Rosalie knew it was too soon, and too much. So she opted to spear another innocent carrot instead.

Scowling at the half eaten dinner plate, Tomoe suddenly felt full. She loved this restaurant, loved the food here-loved it because it was Shizuru's favorite restaurant-but she suddenly hated being there. She knew eight years was a long time to be harboring unrequited love for the ruby eyed woman, but she couldn't help it. It was familiar, it was trusted, it was the one constant in her life for the past eight years! So although Rosalie had a point, and even she knew she didn't have a high chance of Shizuru noticing her, she still couldn't let go. She couldn't just stop loving Shizuru Viola. It just wasn't something Tomoe could do, no matter how tired she was of the one-sided devotion.

"You're sleeping on the couch." was all Tomoe said as she resumed eating. She wasn't hungry, but she wasn't going to show Rosalie that she was disturbed by the blonde's rant.

"That's all I ask, for now." the sapphire eyed woman replied as she too returned to her meal. She would settle for the couch this time, but she was determined to show Tomoe that she was just as good, if not better than the unattainable Viola. Unlike Viola, Tomoe was never invisible to Rosalie, and if anything, she was hyper-sensitive to the gray eyed woman, and had been for the past few years. She didn't know if anything would ever become of their strange friendship, but Rosalie was willing to try.

Monday afternoon came, and the roof was finished. The debris was cleared, and the little two story house looked nice with its new shiny red shingled roof, and calm cream colored aged paint. The wood was also aging, and the house needed a new paint job, as some places were starting to peel, but that task could wait another year. Hopefully they would be caught up on their mortgage and could afford the paint then, but until then, they would live day by day.

With a self satisfied grin of accomplishment, Mr. Tokiha clasped Natsuki on the back. "Great job, Natsuki! We've finished in time before the storm, and it looks amazing!"

"Yeah." Natsuki blushed at the compliment, as she too, stared up at the house in pride. She helped do that. She had never felt so accomplished until that moment, and it was all because of the charity of the man standing next to her. She had never in her life, had the experience of having a loving family, or a house to call home. Until she met the Tokihas. They took her in when no one else would. They accepted her as one of them, and although they were poor and struggling, they gave her something no amount of money could buy.

"Lunch is ready!" Mai called out from the propped open front door.

"Well let's go! I'm starving!" Mr. Tokiha said. With his arm still around the younger girl, he guided her into the house. Their house, as she was one of them. It was something Mr. Tokiha never got tired of reminding Natsuki of, and although they were not related by blood, she was a member of the family nonetheless.

"Oi, wash up first!" Mai scolded her father as she slapped his hand away from the steamed dumplings. Smiling as Natsuki chuckled at her father's antics, Mai gently pushed the two towards the washroom under the stairs that lead to the residential part of the restaurant. "Mou, honestly, dad, you're just as bad as a little kid! Even Natsuki's got better sense than you!"

"You worry too much, Mai." Mr. Tokiha's lavender eyes met Mai's in the reflection of the mirror. With a smile he waited as Natsuki washed her hands first before washing his own dusty palms.

Still leaning against the door frame, Mai handed Natsuki a towel to dry her hands and forearms with. "How you endured dad that whole time is amazing Na-chan. You'd think a fifty year old man would be serious, but he still acts like a twelve year old!"

With a grin, Natsuki slipped past Mai, and walked back towards the table Takumi was setting for Lunch. "Eh...he's not that bad...for an old guy." With a wink over her shoulder at the last part, Natsuki and Takumi shared a chuckle at the offended protest Mr. Tokiha tried to put up echoed down the hall.

Lunch was a simple affair. Grilled fish, steamed dumplings, pickled vegetables, and rice. Nothing too extravagant, but it was delicious. After the meal, Natsuki headed up stairs to shower after Mai refused her help to clean up. She had to bar tend at Orphan that night, so she needed to sleep, was Mai's reasoning as she marched Natsuki up to the living area. With a soft smile, Natsuki stepped into the hot shower and allowed her muscles to relax.

Downstairs Takumi and Mr. Tokiha washed the dishes as they idly chatted about the weather. The storm was coming, as in the past hour during their lunch, the wind gradually picked up speed. With the radio on, they listened to the forecast and were thankful they managed to finish the roof before things got bad.

"Maybe I should take Natsuki to Orphan on the scooter tonight? Or do you think it would be better for her to just call in?" Takumi asked no one in particular as he dried the wok and set it aside.

"Well they say it's going to start raining later tonight or early tomorrow morning." Mr. Tokiha said as he passed his son the wok's cover. "I'm sure if it does get bad, Orphan would close up early."

"Do you think we'll get any customers tonight with the storm looming around though?" Mai asked as she wiped down the table top.

"I don't see why not." Turning off the tap, Mr. Tokiha wiped his hands on the sink towel. "Well it sounds like Natsuki is done with the shower. You two think you can handle it while this old man gets cleaned up?"

"Sure thing dad." Takumi smiled as he put the last pot away. "You should rest too. We'll wake you up before the evening rush. I'm sure onee-chan and I can take care of everything until then."

"Don't make me march you upstairs too Mister!" Mai said with a playful threat when her father refused to move from the kitchen, "It's okay dad. Takumi and I've got it covered. You and Natsuki did a lot of hard work. Go rest."

With a shake of his head, Mr. Tokiha ran his fingers through graying dark brown hair. "Just don't burn down the house!" he jokingly said as he ascended the stairs.

The living area above the restaurant was moderately large with a small living area, three bedrooms and one bath. After his wife died, Mr. Tokiha took Mai's room next to Takumi's, and had the two girls take the master bedroom next to the small living area. They needed the space more than one lonely old man did, he often told them, but the truth was, he couldn't stand sleeping in their room without his wife Rin.

He had lived most of his live in this little house. It was the house he and Rin bought together when they first married. She managed the business, and he was the cook. They were the perfect pair, and later, they became a happy family of four. Although money was always tight, they were happy. With a sad sigh, Mr. Tokiha stood in the small living room, and stared at the picture of his late wife. She wore an infectious smile that lit up her dark blue eyes. She was the kindest person anyone could meet, but she was gone.

"Today Natsuki and I finished repairing the roof. Remember how I always used to put it off? Well we did it. Good timing too. A storm is coming in tonight, and it's supposed to be a big one." Smiling wistfully Mr. Tokiha lit a stick of incense at the altar, and caressed the framed photo. It was taken on Rin's forty-eighth birthday, just two months before her sudden death. Rin still looked as pretty as the day he met her all those years ago.

"Natsuki is a fine member of the family, Rin. She's just as helpful as Takumi and Mai. She's like the second daughter we always wanted after Takumi, and I guess she kind of is. Just wish you had a chance to get to know her better is all. But you already knew she was a good kid. You always were good at judging characters." With a soft chuckle, Mr. Tokiha stepped back from the little cherrywood shrine. "Well dear, I'm going to bathe and rest. Please watch over us as we go about our business."

AN: I'm sorry if the chapter seems a bit short. I don't tend to stay focused on reading long chapters in one sitting. So I suppose you can expect chapters around this length, but with semi-regular updates. I seem to discourage myself when I think I need to write long chapters, so I end up shrinking and not writing anything at all. u_u lol... anyways, you know the drill, R&R and I'll see you next chapter!