Both boys were so embarrassed the next day that they couldn't bear to talk to her. They rushed through their breakfasts, making excuses to leave early. Tooru was a little surprised, but was distracted by the opportunity to talk to Shigure alone. She wanted to hear his opinion on her plant theory.

"Mmmm..." Shigure said over his paper. "Seeds of love planted in hearts, blooming under attention and care into loving gardens. My little flower should think about being a poet." He grinned. "Wearing a kimono everyday writing prose in pretty calligraphy, with a brush pen with thick black ink." He smiled dreamily. "And in the afternoons, ikebana for inspiration."

"I'm not creative like Shigure-san." Tooru waved a hand as if wiping his imaginings from the air. "And I don't own a kimono."

"You don't?" Shigure said surprised. He looked at her seriously. "Every Japanese girl should own a kimono."

"Kimono are expensive." Tooru said simply. "And, I don't need one... though I'll be wearing one tomorrow. I'm going to borrow one from Hisae-chan's sister."

"A borrowed kimono." Shigure said, looking pained and teary. "Ne, ne... Saturday, after we clean up my study, I'll take you shopping. I'll buy you a kimono, okay?"

"Oh, I couldn't accept something like that." Tooru protested.

"But..." The dog wilted under Tooru's "determined" face. "I do think Tooru-kun's analogy is a good one... But..."

Tooru leaned forward over the table eagerly, "But?"

"Not all seeds take root, each seed needs a specific type of soil and care." He wagged a finger. "A cactus will die in wet, rich soil. There are ferns that shrivel up and die under too much attention, and a willow tree will die if not almost constantly watered. So for those seeds to grow and thrive they have to find just the right place to sprout." He spread his hands. "I think the seeds of the heart would be even more chancy."

"Why?" Tooru asked, fascinated. That almost there feeling was back, pushing at her like a hand between her shoulder blades.

"Because we hoard our seeds. Plants in the wild, they know to survive they must cast their seeds as far out as possible and throw them everywhere and hope they sprout." He put a hand over his heart. "We're not so generous, we're afraid that out seeds won't grow or that they aren't wanted and will be plucked out. So we wait and cast them only when we think it's safe." He shook his head. "But we don't know what soil we need, and many times we guess wrong. After all, we don't even know what kind of seeds we have. We could be cactus people throwing our seeds in wet soil."

"Or willow trees throwing our seeds in the desert." Tooru said. "So, sometimes, then... since people are both the plants and the earth, we could have seeds that can't grow? Because we're the wrong soil for it to grow in." She looked distressed.

"Or, there are some plants that can grow anywhere, but can hurt the places it grows in. Like Ivy will crumble a building, and there are some plants that strangle all others so that nothing else can grow." He shook his head. "But once something like that takes root, it's hard to pluck it out. Love is a dangerous thing, people get so scared of the bad things that could happen that they keep their seeds close."

"And do people... " Tooru asked, "...sometimes not tend the seeds they're given? Because they think they might grow into something bad?" She felt a throb in her heart. "That's so sad."

"People aren't just afraid that it might grow into something bad." Shigure agreed. "But also, that it might be something good that they can't keep alive." He grinned trying to lighten the mood. "Not everyone has a green thumb. Sometimes a person can have the right soil and have gotten the right seed, but the plant can't take root for any reason we can see. How sad that must be. So people build walls around their gardens, keeping out new seeds, even if it means nothing can grow." He looked up. "Ah, my little flower will be late for school if she doesn't go soon."

"Oh!" Tooru looked at the time. "Thank you for talking with me again, Shigure-san!" She said as she rose.

Shigure looked at her curiously as he rose to walk her to the door. "Do you think all this is helping? All this..." He waved a hand, "study into the nature of love?"

Tooru smiled from the doorway. "I think so. If nothing else, it makes me appreciate the garden I have inside me already." She put her hand over her heart. "I feel like I must be bursting with plants, the special seeds everyone has trusted me with. All this talking with Shigure-san has made me think he must be a handsome plant." She paused. "Maybe a tree."

Shigure laughed. "Well, I think Tooru-chan must be some kind of hardy wild flower... because her seeds are taking root everywhere. Even inside this dried up old garden."

Tooru blushed.

"Go and come back safely, my little flower." Shigure said waving her out the door. He watched her disappear down the path. Once she was well out of sight he walked to the hallway phone. He dialed a few numbers and grinned as it picked up halfway through the first ring. "Aya, my love, I have to tell you the most tragic story."

:0:0:

The morning sped by; Tooru forcefully thrust the lingering thoughts of seedlings and gardens out of her head, focusing on class. At lunch, with their party tomorrow afternoon, Hisae, Akira and the other couple Akane and Miki joined Fujitsima and Tooru's friends as they sat outside. Yuki and Kyou hung back unwilling to let Tooru alone with Fujitsima if they could help it, but still unsure after last night how to speak with her.

"Hisae is going to drop her sandwiches off at my house tomorrow morning." Akane said, leaning back against her boyfriend's arm. "You're buying onigiri, right Maseo-kun?"

"Yeah, I figured while you guys were getting dressed after school, Akira and I will go pick up that, the sticky buns and some tea." Fujitsima nodded.

"You guys want anything stronger then tea?" Miki asked. "I can get my older brother to buy." He was a tall boy, with shaggy hair tied back at the nape of his neck. He wore his school uniform top open and a white t-shirt un-tucked beneath. He slouched lazily next to Akane, speaking rarely. He made Tooru uncomfortable.

"Nah." Akira said quickly. "My mom's going to be home that night and she can smell that like 5 miles away. I don't want this to be the only time I'm allowed out this spring."

"Besides, I think alcohol tastes nasty." Hisae agreed, making a face. Tooru breathed a sigh of relief and didn't notice that Yuki and Kyou had tensed and relaxed too.

"You just haven't tried anything good." Miki shrugged. "Tea is fine though."

"Tooru-chan," Akane said, looking over at her, but not straightening up. "Do you have a curfew?"

"Well, um..." Tooru said, "not really..."

"Oh, good." She grinned. "We found out there is going to be a cherry blossom festival at a shrine not far from Hisae's house this weekend. We thought we might stop by after viewing the flowers."

"I haven't been to a festival in a long time!" Tooru said. "That should be fun."

"Don't stay out too late." Hanajima chided.

"Yeah." Uo-chan said around a mouthful of sandwich. "You're not working this weekend are you?"

"No, well, I have chores... but I'm not working." She assured them. "And I won't stay out too late."

"Busy little bee." Miki said with a little smirk. Tooru's smile dimmed a little.

"Better to be busy then lazy." Fujitsima snapped. "Tooru-kun works really hard." He put his hand over hers reassuringly. She glanced at their hands and then at him.

"Whatever." Miki said dismissively. "So we'll buy tea and junk while you girls," He poked Akane in the side making her giggle, "get all pretty. Then we'll hang with the flowers for a while then walk over to the festival, sound good?"

"Sounds good to me," Akira said agreeably.

"Okay then, I'm gonna jet." Miki said getting to his feet. "I gotta see some people if I'm gonna have money to treat my girl." He grinned at Akane who pouted but let him go.

Fujitsima watched him go with a frown. "What does he mean by that?"

"You're so dense." Akira said, "He's going to go shake down first years or something."

"He is not!" Akane said hotly. "He lent some money to people and he's just getting it back."

"At 50 interest." Hisae crossed her arms. "He's a junior loan shark."

"It's not his fault you're always borrowing money!" Akane said.

"I'm not always borrowing money." Hisae said firmly. "I borrowed money once and spent three months paying it back!"

"You should dump him, Akane." Fujitsima said seriously. "He's not good enough for you."

Akane stood up angrily. "Says the guy whose girlfriend already has two boyfriends!" She stomped off.

Fujitsima went white.

"Uh, that's our cue." Hisae said, tugging on Akira's arm. "We'll see you guys tomorrow. Come on!" She hissed at Akira.

"I'm so sorry!" Fujitsima said turning to Tooru. "She didn't mean it, she was just mad at me. We've been arguing ever since she started dating that jerk."

"It's okay." Tooru said, her face red. Two boyfriends? Who could they mean? She looked at Yuki and Kyou who'd risen when Akane had yelled. "Oh."

"See," Fujitsima said, "This is why I said maybe you shouldn't walk with Souma-kun and Kyou-kun to school. People get weird ideas."

"Because we walk together...?" Tooru repeated.

"And, because you're together all the time," he said. "Always."

"Yuki-kun and Kyou-kun are my friends." She said softly.

Fujitsima ran a frustrated hand through his hair. "But they're not really friends with anyone else. So people talk. So maybe you should, you know, not be so...um, friendly with them all the time." He looked at the boys who'd come up behind her. "You see? This is why I told you guys to back off a little."

"Fuji-san did?" Tooru said stepping back from him and looking between Yuki and Kyou. They didn't say anything but she could tell from their expressions that he had. "But Yuki-kun and Kyou-kun are my friends."

"Which is why I didn't listen to him, Honda-san." Yuki said coolly. The bell rang signaling the end of lunch. "We should go back."

"Let's," Hana-chan stepping to one side of Tooru.

Uo-chan stepped on her other side. "You were right, we shoulda made him walk across fire or something," She said to Hana over Tooru's head.

"There is still time." Hana-chan said placidly.

:0:0:

Fujitsima was waiting for her at the end of the day, standing with a sullen looking Akane. Yuki had been called to the teacher's office to talk about some task the student council had pending, but Kyou hung around to walk her out. He gave them a dirty look and made a point of staying in earshot.

Tooru shifted uncomfortably, feeling like she was being pulled every which way.

"I'm sorry." Fujitsima said, "I really am. I didn't mean to make you mad."

Akane had the grace to look apologetic. "And I didn't mean what I said. I just said it because I knew it would make Maseo mad."

"I'm not mad." Tooru said truthfully. She'd been thinking about it all through class. "Fuji-san was only trying to help me." She looked at Akane, "And Akane-san was upset."

"I'm sorry Miki was being kind of a pain too... he's just not used to being friends with people. He'll be nice tomorrow, I promise." Akane said.

The hope on Fujitsima's face was obvious. "You're still coming tomorrow?"

Tooru nodded. "Yes."

"You're going to be late for work." Kyou said, pissed off that she was so forgiving.

"Oh!" She looked at her watch. "Thank you Kyou-kun." She waved to Akane and Fujitsima and started out the door.

"We'll see you tomorrow!" Akane called.

"Tomorrow!" Tooru agreed and jogged outside.

Kyou gave them both a level stare and then started walking out past them. Why hadn't she said no? Did she want to spend time with that guy so much?

"Akane-chan, I'll talk to you later, okay?" Fujitsima said. "I want to talk to Kyou-kun."

"Don't do anything stupid." Akane said giving Kyou a nervous look. "Call me when you get home, okay?"

"I will." Fujitsima promised.

The two boys watched her leave. "You got a lot of girl friends." Kyou said sarcastically, "Should I tell you to stop talking to them now that you're chasing her?" He jerked his chin in the direction Tooru had gone.

"They already have boyfriends." Fujitsima said waving his hands around, "And it's not just them I talk to. Tooru-kun is the only one you ever talk to, it's not the same at all. And you know how people talk!"

"Whatever." Kyou shrugged. "What did you want?"

"You, um..." Fujitsima looked suddenly sheepish, "What we talked about the other day... did you get a chance to talk to Tooru-kun about it?"

Kyou's face went red. "You ask her if you want to know." Has Kyou-kun been in love before? He started walking out the building towards home.

"I did." Fujitsima said miserably as he jogged to keep up with Kyou. "But she hasn't answered me yet. What do you think?"

"I think... I think that you should just stop pestering her for like five minutes." Kyou spat, "She isn't the brightest person and she's never dealt with anything like this before. Give her a little frickin' time already. Can't you see how uncomfortable she is?"

Fujitsima blinked. "I know! That's what I don't get." He looked up at Kyou, "She's comfortable around you and Souma-kun. What about me makes her uncomfortable? Could you ask her?"

"NO!" Kyou shouted. "No way!" He couldn't bear another scene like yesterday. "Ask her yourself!" He stopped and faced Fujitsima. "And stop sneaking around behind her back trying to control things. That's just dirty!"

"I'm sorry." Fujitsima said. "It's just... this is new to me too, you know? I really like her. I want her to like me." He sighed. "I'll see you tomorrow."

:0:0:

The next day Kyou skipped school. He took off before breakfast, leaving a note for Tooru so she wouldn't worry. He couldn't face going through a school day knowing she was going out on a date with that guy. He knew he was being a coward, but it was that or kidnap her so she couldn't go.

Yuki stumbled into the kitchen late, afraid he had missed her. Instead he found her in the kitchen, hurriedly scooping cookies into a container.

"What's this?"

Tooru looked up. "I felt bad not bringing anything for tonight, so I got up early and made cookies."

Yuki wondered if he looked as upset as he felt. He always had a harder time controlling his expression in the morning. "Honda-san didn't get in until late last night, and you'll probably be late tonight too." He said with what he hoped was light reproach.

"I know." Tooru said sheepishly. "But I wanted to. And I was making the meals anyway, so it wasn't so hard to do these too." She handed Yuki his bento box. On top sat a little sack tied with a ribbon. "I made enough for Yuki-kun too. I made some for Shigure-san and Kyou-kun... but Kyou-kun left for Shishou-san's today." She looked worried. "Kyou-kun says he's not going to school today."

Out loud, Yuki said, "Baka Neko." Inside he was thinking, coward. "Don't worry about him Honda-san, he's too stupid to get much out of class anyway."

"But it's not good to miss school." Tooru fretted. "Why do you think he isn't coming?"

Because he can't stand to see you leave with Fujitsima after school, he thought. I wish I thought of it first. He could have faked and asthma attack, or a cold, and stayed home. She might have even stayed with him. "Sometimes Kazuma-sensei holds competitions through his dojo, maybe he needed the stupid cat's help." Why was he making excuses for that guy?

Tooru smiled and he knew why he made excuses, not for the baka neko but because he didn't want to see her fuss.

"Breakfast is on the table, Yuki-kun should eat quickly so we aren't late."

"Did Honda-san eat?"

She nodded. "Yes, and I have a few more things to get ready for dinner."

"We could have bought dinner." Yuki protested. "Honda-san didn't have to do all that extra work."

"I wanted to." She insisted. "Yuki-kun's breakfast is going to be cold." She made a shooing motion with her hand, and Yuki let himself be ushered out of the room.

Tooru made the finishing touches on the side dishes, carefully labeling how they should be re-heated. She prepared herself to come home to a messy kitchen or an untouched meal. She'd made a lot and it was complicated, Shigure might decide just to order out instead.

"Are you ready to go?" Yuki said, holding her bag and jacket. "We'll be late if we don't leave now."

"I'm ready." She picked up her cookies and bento. "Do you think I should bring Kyou-kun's things? He might decide to come later."

"I doubt it." Yuki said dismissively, and then for her benefit, "Besides, if he did he'd probably stop by here first."

"Tooru-kun," Shigure said popping out of his study sleepily as they walked through the living room to the hallway. "You're going to K park this afternoon?"

"Yes."

"Would you mind doing me a favor? That's right near Aya's shop and I've been promising to return this." He held up a small shopping bag.

"No, I don't mind at all." Tooru said taking it from him. "I haven't seen Ayame-san in a while."

"Thank god." Yuki muttered under his breath.

"Thank you." Shigure yawned. "Have fun!"

Yuki glared at him as he opened the door for her and held it as she walked out.

They'd gotten halfway to school and were starting to encounter other students when Yuki started thinking about what Fujitsima had said the day before. He'd more or less dismissed his concerns when he'd brought them up, thinking the boy just wanted to work Yuki out of Tooru's life. He'd seen people whisper about them before; he'd even tried to use it to his advantage a short while ago. It hadn't really occurred to him how it impacted on her.

"Does... Does Honda-san," he started hesitantly, "want to go on ahead?"

"Ahead?" Tooru repeated. "Does Yuki-kun have an errand to run? He'll be late."

"No, but... yesterday... Fujitsima..." Yuki couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so tongue-tied. "People do talk..."

"Gossiping is wrong." Tooru said firmly. "Mother always said so. People used to say bad things about Mother, and Uo-chan, and even Hana-chan too." Yuki had seen Tooru looking upset or worried and sad. But he didn't know if he'd ever seen her look angry before. "But what people say doesn't change what people really are, and we shouldn't let gossip change something good. Yuki-kun and Kyou-kun are my friends." She turned to look at him, suddenly looking worried. "I like walking to school with Yuki-kun, but if he doesn't want to... Yuki-kun should do what makes him most comfortable."

Yuki smiled, "Then I'll continue walking with Honda-san." What would make him most comfortable would be to take her hand as they walked, and his fingers twitched at the thought. But her hands were full so it would have to wait for another day.

It was the last time that day he felt the least bit comfortable. Fujitsima had been ecstatic over the cookies, as if making her get up early to bake was something to be proud of. He'd shown them off to Akira and Hisae, who seemed to read more then they should into it. He wished the day would go by slowly, if only to prevent the torture of having to deal with her leaving with them in the afternoon, but it flew by. It had just been Fujitsima with them at lunch, and Hana and Uo had pestered him mercilessly to Yuki's great satisfaction. But the day was over much too quickly and soon Yuki had lingered at the lockers watching the cherry blossom viewing group form up.

"I brought my sister's kimono to Akane's. Did Tooru-chan bring her makeup?" Hisae linked arms with Tooru, obviously willing to be close friends.

"Makeup, I don't-" Tooru started. "Sometime Uo-chan puts some on me, but I don't know how..."

"Oh, makeover! I call it!" Akane said grinning.

Hisae pouted, "You always call makeup. I call hair."

"Call?" Tooru said weakly following them out of the building as the boys trailed after.

"That means we want to do it..." Hisae looked at Akane, "Should we do her nails? I don't know if we have time for them to dry."

"Oh, it's okay if they're a little wet, we're not going to eat right away. We'll just have to make sure she's in the kimono first."

Yuki waited until they were out of sight before starting his lonely trek home. Somehow he thought the night would not go by nearly as fast as the day had.

:0:0:

"What's in the shopping bag? More goodies?" Akane asked.

Tooru looked at the bag. "Ah, actually... If it's not a bother, does Akane-san know a store called Ayame?"

"Oh, I love that store." Hisae squealed and grabbed Akira's arm. "That's the place I told you about with the cute handicrafts." Akira waited until Hisae looked back at Tooru before making a gagging face at Fujitsima. She shot him an annoyed look. "I saw that. Are you returning something there?"

"As a favor." Tooru nodded. "It's near Akane-san's isn't it?

"I'll take any excuse to go in there. It's just past Akane's house." Hisae said to Akane. She looked at the boys, "We'll dress up quick, and then go to the store. You guys can go on ahead to the bakery and stuff and we'll meet up at Ayame."

"Quick!" Akira said, "Escape while we can, they're going shopping!" He pelted down the street. Fujitsima and Miki looked at each other and shrugged.

"I'll see you later, babe." Miki gave Akane a quick peck on the cheek. Tooru goggled.

"Um... same here." Fujitsima said, looking like he wondered if he was supposed to kiss her goodbye too. He settled for giving an uncertain wave.

"Why do I get the one who thinks he's funny?" Hisae sighed leading the girls down the side street to Akane's house. "Let's hurry so we have a little time to shop. I hope the owner is in, he's delish."

Akane and Hisae got into their own kimonos quickly and did up their hair, but they fussed over Tooru for what felt like a very long time. First they got her into Hisae's sister's kimono, having to fuss a little because it was too big, both a little long in the sleeves and too broad in the shoulders.

"Gosh Hisae, your sister is a monster, is she really only a freshman?" Akane said tugging at the shoulders to make them look more flattering.

"Dad jokes that she took my leftover inches in the night." Hisae dimpled. "But really, she's not that big, it's just Tooru-chan is small."

Akane grinned. "Not as small as you."

"Lucky her." Hisae sighed. "Okay, now hair...let's do it up, got any clips?" She dug through Akane's jewelry box.

"Yeah, in the bottom drawer. Look up, Tooru-chan." Akane commanded, poking at her eye with a pencil. She lightly made her up and turned to Hisae, "This is fun, it's like having a kid sister. Close your eyes now." Tooru obediently closed her eyes and felt her brush something over her lids.

"No, it's not. If she was like a kid sister she'd be stealing your clothes and whining that Mom loves you best because she gave you more dumplings at dinner." She twisted Tooru's hair up into a knot and slid in a few pins in. "How's that?"

"Cute! I think I'm done too." Akane pressed a lipstick into Tooru's hands. "Just put a little of that on."

Tooru opened her eyes and looked in the mirror then down at the lipstick in her hand. "How...?"

Hisae grinned, "Just watch me. You pucker up then..." She slid her lipstick over her lips, making them berry bright. "Then blot." She took a little of the thickness off. "Now you."

Tooru mimicked her, watching her lips become a rich red in the mirror. Akane was very good at makeup; she'd kept her touch light. She could barely see the shimmer of eye shadow she was wearing and her eyes looked huge with just a little mascara and eyeliner. The other girl had brushed on the tiniest bit of blush, making her look rosy. Hisae had done her hair up in a fashionable knot, with pins holding it in place. Tooru felt unlike herself. She blotted her lips and smiled. This was more fun then she'd expected. It was like hanging out with Uo-chan and Hana-chan.

"Thank you." She said sincerely to the girls starting to feel more confident.

"Are we all done?" Akane was checking her own makeup in the mirror. "We won't have much time to shop."

"We'll just make the boys wait." Hisae said, picking up a small purse and dropping a small hairbrush and lipstick in it.

Tooru made a little o of protest, emphasized by her lipstick. "Isn't that rude?"

"It's part of being a girl." Hisae laughed, "Stick with us and we'll show you the ropes."

"I've got the sausages." Akane said holding up a box. "There are the sandwiches. Where are your cookies?"

"Fuji-san had them. Can I help carry something?" Tooru asked as Hisae picked up her box of sandwiches.

"Later maybe." Hisae shrugged. "Lets get going."

Akane and Hisae chattered back and forth about people Tooru didn't know until they reached Ayame's storefront.

"Oops," Akane said, looking at the dark windows of the store. "It looks like it's closed."

"Darnit." Hisae said. "Well, if you want we can go back and drop the bag off at Akane's before we head to the park."

Tooru stepped up to the doors of the store. "Ayame-san lives above the store, someone should be here." She peered around the edges of the displays in the window. She didn't want Shigure to have to make a special trip out and she didn't know what was in the package, but it could be important. "I think there is a light on in back." She rapped experimentally window glass.

Hisae and Akane exchanged glances. "But do you think we should-" Hisae started.

"Tooru-chan!" Everyone jumped as the door flew inward and Mine appeared on the other side. "You're finally here!" Today's costume was an elaborate black kimono stitched with gold, with a thick golden obi embroidered in black. The rich looking thread formed a serpentine creature that might have been a dragon or just a very elaborate snake. Her face was painted with traditional white pancake and she even wore her hair up in a complicated style that looked like a geisha's wig. If it weren't for the glasses perched on her nose, she could have stepped out of an ancient watercolor painting.

"Mine-san," Tooru said smiling, used to such displays after all this time with the Soumas. "It's so nice to see you again. Your kimono is very pretty." Hisae and Akane gaped at the understatement.

"Come in, come in, Boss has been waiting." She stepped back and bowed her head, when she swung her arm indicating they should enter the subtle gold stitching glittered.

Tooru put a hand up in protest. "Oh, no, Ayame-san's store is closed, so we don't want to bother him." She held up the bag. "Shigure-san asked me to drop this by." She could feel Akane and Hisae staring at her back.

"NONSENSE!" A booming voice rang out of the depths of the store. "Gure called me sobbing with a horrible story," The lights of the store came on and Ayame strode into its center. "And I see that it's true! A borrowed kimono! I cannot allow it to happen!" He stepped to the door and put his hands on her shoulders. "It doesn't even fit properly!"

"But-" Tooru started, nearly dropping the shopping bag Shigure had given her.

"After he heard, Boss closed up the store and worked all night. He didn't even open the store at all today." Mine said taking the bag out of Tooru's hands and pushing at her back to get her to stumble into the store. Akane and Hisae lingered in the doorway unsure if they should follow.

"This color, it's all wrong!" Ayame said irritably, "And look, this hangs." He tugged at her shoulders; making the careful arrangements Akane and Hisae had made to fit the kimono to Tooru's smaller frame. He tucked a finger under her chin and made her look up at him, peering into her face. "And who did your makeup?"

"I did!" Akane said.

Ayame looked over, noticing the other girls for the first time. "A good job." He acknowledged. "But it is obvious you are used to working on a deeper complexion, a darker coloring." His serious disposition suddenly vanished. "Well, let's get this fixed!"

"Fixed?" Hisae asked. "What-"

"Tooru-chan of course." Ayame said airily. He snapped his fingers. "Mine, please take her and get her into that."

Eyes shining eagerly, Mine grabbed Tooru's hand and began dragging her into the back of the store.

"But, that is..." Tooru said, "for today it was decided that we'd wear kimono, and that dress is at home..."

"No, no, it's something new Boss created just for Tooru-chan." Mine assured her. "After Boss got that phone call, he started working on it right away."

"Wait!" Hisae said, "What's going on?"

"You girls go along too..." Ayame said striding behind Akane and Hisae and pushed them along, "Mine, those new hair accessories you designed, don't you think they'd be a wonderful compliment to these girls?"

"Oh yes!" Mine cried, releasing Tooru and spinning bumping her with her hip towards the back door and moving forward to grab the other two by the hand. "This way!"

"But... the boys..." Akane managed, clutching her box of sausages.

"You are expecting more?" Ayame said, plucking their packages out of their hands and placing them on the counter. His beauty dazzled the girls. "But of course, your escorts. I shall wait for them here. Mine, I leave them in your capable hands." He pressed two firmly towards the back of the store before turning back to the door and flipping the store's sign to "open."

:0:0:

"What is going on?" Hisae said, her voice harsh with surprise. Akane was holding on to her arm looking scared.

"Um..." Tooru said hesitantly, just as lost.

"Boss received a phone call yesterday about Tooru-chan not having a kimono." Mine said turning from the closet with a pink fall of cloth over her arm. "So he made this for her. He conspired to get her to come today, so please forgive her, she didn't know."

"Ayame-san did?" Tooru said looking at the kimono his assistant held. "Oh, but this is so fine...too fine. I couldn't..." It was beautiful, made out of a rosy pale silk, elaborate, ornate butterflies chasing each other through over its surface.

"Boss made it just for you, it won't suit anyone else. If Tooru-chan doesn't take it Boss will have to take it apart." She pouted, her ruby red lips looking plump against her white makeup. "Maybe we could make something else from it... but Boss will be so disappointed he'll probably just throw it out."

"Oh no!" Tooru said looking horrified.

"Then you'll wear it? Boss will be so pleased!" Mine handed it to her. "Let me go and get my makeup kit and the accessories." She bustled out of the room, taking small mincing steps but moving quickly.

"Tooru-chan!" Hisae hissed running over and fingering the kimono. "This! It's beautiful! Do you know how much fabric like this costs?"

"How do you know these people?" Akane said looking around.

"Ayame-san is Yuki-kun's older brother." Tooru said numbly.

"Souma-kun's?"

Tooru nodded, still staring at the kimono. "Can Hisae-chan help me with this?"

"You're going really going to wear it?" Akane asked, sounding awed, but walking over to help.

"Mine-san said Ayame-san closed his store for two days." Tooru said, working her way out of her borrowed kimono. "And it's too fine to take apart. It would be rude not to wear it." She let Hisae help her into the pink kimono. "I'll just have to figure out how to repay Ayame-san somehow." She looked up at Hisae worriedly. "How much does fabric like this cost?"

"He can't expect you to actually pay for it!" Akane said huffily helping her find her way through a sleeve. "You didn't ask for this, if he tries to give you a bill you just throw it right back in his face."

"Oh, no Ayame-san would never ask!" Tooru said quickly, holding the kimono shut. "But-" She looked down trying to figure out how to layer the juban undergarment under the kimono.

"Let me," Mine said, coming back into the room. She put two small cases on the table and walked over, quickly sorting Tooru out. "Boss made this kimono as a gift. He'll be very hurt if he hears Tooru-chan talking about paying for it." She smiled, fastening the layers of belts that made up the obi. "Ayame-san still feels like he owes Tooru-chan for helping with his brother, please let him repay you in this small way."

"It's gorgeous." Hisae breathed.

Tooru twisted her fingers nervously, "I... I don't look silly in it? I mean, it's so fine..." She stopped squirming when Mine took down her hair and started to redo it. "And Ayame-san really doesn't owe me anything." She tried to look at her out of the corner of her eye.

"No, I mean, it really looks like it was made for you." Akane said; sounding shocked at herself.

"Maseo-chan is going to faint." Hisae giggled suddenly. "I can't wait to see his face when he sees you! Are these the accessories Ayame-san said we could wear?" Ayame's assistant nodded and Hisae clapped her hands.

"Maseo-kun?" Mine asked, brushing out Tooru's hair. She pulled back just the top part, fastening it up with inlaid combs.

"Tooru-chan's boyfriend." Hisae pulled out a jeweled dragonfly clip. "Oh, Akane, this would look perfect on you."

"Boyfriend?" Mine said pausing.

"Oh, but..." Tooru blushed, trying not to pull her hair out of Mine's hands, "Fuji-san and I..."

"You still haven't answered him?" Akane said trying on the clip. "Totally uncool, Tooru-chan."

"Be nice, Akane." Hisae said. "I remember a certain someone taking a month to say yes to a certain guy and then dumping him a week later." She pulled her hair up on one side with a carved wooden comb. "At least Tooru-chan is taking the time to be sure."

"Well, you all are young yet. And it is springtime." Mine smiled. "It's too early to take things seriously."

"Mother met Father in middle school." Tooru said, "I don't think age matters. It's just when the seed sprouts."

"Seed? You are so weird sometimes, Tooru-chan." Hisae smiled.

"Mine, status report?" Ayame called through the door, sounding like an impatient child. "I'm eager to see my creation!"

Mine straightened and saluted the door, rattling off military style. "Clothes, complete. Hair, complete."

"Makeup?" Ayame asked opening the door.

"Incomplete." Mine said. "If Boss wants to do makeup I can do the other girls' hair."

"It will be my pleasure." He sailed over to Tooru and put an arm around her shoulders, propelling her into a beauty shop styled chair. He popped open Mine's makeup case and pulled out an array of pencils brushes. They jutted out from between his fingers like a fan, as he posed dramatically. "Ah, the sweet joy of practicing a craft mastered but infrequently used." He propped the chair back with one hand, dropping his tools on the table. He leaned forward nose to nose with Tooru.

"Ayame-san does makeup?" She asked a little nervously. She tried not to flinch as he wiped a cleansing pad quickly over her face to clear it of Akane's efforts.

Mine was sitting Akane down and pulling out the dragonfly clip. "Boss did my makeup!" She said cheerfully.

"That wouldn't make me feel better." Akane muttered under her breath.

"Boss matches the image to the person." Mine said, taking no offense. Her hands were a flurry of motion, arranging Ayame's hair in a complicated up do. "Clothes, hair and makeup must match the personality." She refastened the dragonfly clip and added a few more sparkling hairpins.

"And for Tooru-chan, our princess," Ayame said, "That is a challenge. Makeup is just another factor in completing the Romantic Ideal, the fantasy we wish to make reality." He turned her chin left and right, studying her face. "Tooru-chan's image is innocence, sweetness and purity. She is a Japanese ideal in a kimono. But makeup is lurid in its very nature, seeking to attract attention. The attempt to marry these concepts together is a challenge worthy of ME!"

"Done." Mine said, handing Akane a mirror. "Next!" She stepped next to Hisae, hairbrush at the ready. "Boss better hurry or I'll be finished before he is."

"Art cannot be hurried. No less a task is this than painting the great frescos of Italia, the mosaics of Crete, the temples of Egypt." Ayame proclaimed.

"But the others will be coming soon..." Tooru said weakly, trying not to move her face as she spoke.

Ayame's face tightened. "Yes, your unworthy suitor. He can wait."

"Boss," Mine said gently, her brush combing through Hisae's thick curls. "It's springtime."

The tall man sighed, relaxing. "Yes, springtime is for couples, and acting foolishly, and youth." He stared into Tooru's eyes. "And Tooru-chan is young. Close your eyes, Princess."

She shivered as she felt a brush move over her eyelids. She felt very young.

"Open your eyes to see your ideal self. As described by my sweet Gure, with passion and tears, the ideal of a young Japanese female poet. Suitable for writing prose in calligraphy with black ink," Ayame said stepping back, adjusting the chair upright. He added as an afterthought, "And ikebana in the afternoon for inspiration." He helped her up out of the chair and over to a mirror.

Tooru opened up her eyes and stared at herself. A polished young woman looked out of the mirror at her. Her hair was expertly done, the sides up with inlaid combs. One had a jeweled flower on it and a fall of silk blossoms. The bulk of her hair was loose around her shoulders, curling slightly, making her seem very fresh and young. Her furisode kimono fell in the appropriate straight lines with a thick obi around her waist, a "chou chou" butterfly ribbon bow at her back. The butterflies on the fabric were clustered around her feet and the draping sleeves of her kimono, with one large one over her left breast. Her lips were a pearly pink, they looked pouty without being petulant and her eyes had never looked deeper or larger.

"Oh woooow Tooru-chan!" Hisae said, Mine's hands still deep in her hair. "I thought you looked good before, but WOW!"

"Now fair maiden," Ayame said turning to Akane. "Allow me to do your makeup. I have too few opportunities."

Mine had done Akane's hair up in a complicated French twist, decorated with pins and the dragonfly clip. It gave her an air of refinement that suited her cool demeanor. "Really?" She drew back a little suspiciously. "This, is free right... I mean I can pay for the clips, I think, but I don't know..."

"Do not speak of money," Ayame said suavely, taking her by the hand and letting her be hypnotized by his golden eyes. "Working on a beauty such as yourself is reward enough. Besides, you are a friend of Tooru-kun's."

Barely managing to break away from his gaze, Akane looked over at Tooru. "We need to hang out more." She lowered herself into the chair and tried not to let the beautiful man see how much he affected her.

"Tooru-chan." Hisae said, wincing a little as Mine pulled her hair a little. "Can you wait for the boys in the store? Akira is super impatient, if he doesn't see us he might try going to Akane's or the park and it'll take forever to meet up with them."

"Yes, of course." Tooru said turning and walking towards the door. The wide obi and tightly wrapped layers of the kimono made her take small ladylike steps. She paused in the doorway, bowing to Mine and Ayame. "Thank you very much for everything. It's beautiful."

"Kyaaa..." Hisae squealed at her retreating back, "She's like something out of a drama!"

Tooru stepped out of the back room, her heart thudding. She'd never worn anything this nice in her life. She was pretty sure the fabric alone was worth more than she made in a month, never mind the fine juban underneath, the obi belts, the combs in her hair or any of the time and skill it took to put all of it together. She'd have to think of something to repay Ayame for all this. Somehow she thought that a box of homemade cookies just wasn't going to cut it. But cooking was her only skill...

The shop was bright but empty of customers. She paced in tiny mincing steps around the store, trying to get used to the thick tabi socks and tight kimono. Maybe she could offer to come and clean the store and apartment? She ran a finger over the top of a rack of pretty papers. "Spotless." She murmured. That'd be no good.

Cooking wasn't good enough; he obviously didn't need help cleaning... A particularly cute print of paper, with pictures of the san-x brand "onigiri" family on it, distracted her.

That would be a perfect background for the scrapbook pages she was making about the onigiri booth at school. Ayame's store had lots of cute scrap-booking supplies, no wonder his albums were so well made. She fingered some other papers; she and Yuki should go shopping for his album. He'd probably want something more masculine...

An album! That's what she could give Ayame in return for this kimono. Ayame had a few pictures of his brother when he was younger, but not many recent ones. When she and Yuki sat down to make his album she'd make one for Ayame too. She grinned and looked over the albums and papers more closely. She just knew that he would love an album of photos of his brother. She didn't dare buy it here; Ayame would probably try to give it to her for free. That would defeat the whole purpose. She was so involved in planning and picking out that she didn't hear the bell signaling the door had opened.

"Excuse me Miss, do you work here? We're looking for- Honda?"

"Mitsawa-kun," Tooru looked up and smiled. "Hisae-chan and Akane-san will be out in a moment." She stepped out from behind the rack.

Akira gaped at her, looking a little foolish in his haori.

"Are they here?" Miki asked sticking his head through the door. "It's going to be d-" He stopped and stared at Tooru. "Holy crap." He looked over his shoulder. "You've gotta see this." He stepped inside.

"Oh, wait, I want to see his face!" Hisae called stepping out of the back room walking out as fast as her kimono would allow. Mine had braided her short hair in two tight French braids on either side of her head. They gathered back to a small ponytail at the nape of her neck that exploded into a riot of curls like a puffball. Woven through her hair were bright, jeweled bobby pins in silver. Ayame had done her makeup too, adding light touches that made her dimples seem deeper and her cheeks rosier. Akane followed her out, her makeup lighter then Tooru had ever seen it before. Usually she seemed detached, but she was blushing and smiling up at Miki as she walked out.

Fujitsima stepped into the store, having to walk around Miki who didn't budge. "What's the big dea-" He froze, his mouth open. "Hisae's sister had a kimono like THAT?"

"Oh, yeah," Hisae said sliding up next to Akira. "We got it that time my parents won the lottery."

"Your parents won the lottery?" Fujitsima repeated, tearing his eyes off of Tooru.

"Idiot!" Hisae shook her head.

"Umn.. Ano..." Tooru said hesitantly and Fujitsima turned back at her, his eyes still bulging every time he looked at her. She went scarlet.

"Of course!" Ayame said coming up behind her, "It is a creation of mine!" He took her hand in his and put his other on her hip, forcing her to pose with him. "This most treasured romantic fantasy, the kimono, the tiny princess in every Japanese man's heart." He spun her around, and when she slipped he caught her as if it was intended, supporting her against one arm and bending over her. "A dream on two legs, an image of flower arranging and calligraphy, of stately things and old-fashioned decorum. A perfect image for Tooru-kun!" He righted her, practically setting her on her feet. "Which one of you is this vision's escort?"

Fujitsima started, having finally processed that Ayame had stopped talking and had asked a question directed at him. "M-me?"

"Is that a question? Are you not sure?" Ayame asked. "Perhaps you have realized, as I have, that you are not worthy of this task?"

"What? Fujitsima looked very confused. Tooru looked back and forth between them with mounting concern.

"It is increasingly obvious that this Princess is not meant for you." Ayame said walking over to him and looking down from his greater height. "A proper match for a princess should be someone brimming with grace, a manly example of the romantic ideal that exists in the dreams of every maiden. He should be quick-witted, strong, handsome as he is kind!"

"Excuse me?" Fujitsima said.

"In short, he should be a prince!" Ayame raised a finger, "A prince of uncommon charm and manly beauty! A prince such as my brother! I cannot allow this!" He turned to Tooru. "How can Gure allow this travesty? Can you not see this boy is not equal to him? Why do you turn your eyes to this boy when you have in reach my brother? Where my brother is handsome, this boy is plain, where my brother is graceful, this boy is clumsy, where-"

Fujitsima looked back and forth between his friends, completely at a loss. Tooru was behind Ayame; he'd have to go through him to get to her. Ayame was nearly twice his size, or at least seemed that way with his intimidating presence.

"Dude, let's just go." Miki said, grabbing Akane's hand. "Let this freak talk himself blue."

"Uh, yeah." Akira was already holding a white faced Hisae's hands. "It's gonna be dark soon."

Tooru stepped forward trying to move around Ayame to the others.

"STOP!" Ayame held out a hand and she froze. "Princess, don't you see you should be with a Prince? If not my brother, then even Kyon-kichi is better. If you compare-"

"Ayame-san." Tooru said, placing a hand on his arm. "You can't compare people like that. Mother always said that it was wrong to say one person is better than another. People are not fruit, she would say."

"Fruit?" Ayame repeated.

"You can say this pear is better than that pear because this one is bigger, or riper or fresher. But even with fruit, it is hard to say a pear is better then an apple because the qualities you look for is different. People are not the same, there is no better, only different. Pears are pears, apples are apples." She looked up at him seriously. "Fuji-san is Fuji-san. Yuki-kun is Yuki-kun. And Fuji-san is a prince too. Fuji-san is kind and honest, and says what he feels. When someone is being hurt he wants to help them. He worries about his friends. When he can fix a problem, he tries to. If Ayame-san doesn't think that's prince-like... maybe Ayame-san doesn't really understand what a prince is. Yuki-kun is a apple prince, maybe Fuji-san is a pear prince." She looked down at her beautiful kimono. "This is beautiful, but if Ayame-san thinks that Fuji-san isn't a prince, maybe I shouldn't be a princess. May I have my borrowed kimono back, please? I'll go change."

"No, no..." Ayame said taking her hands before she could pull the pins from her hair. "Even in a borrowed kimono Tooru-kun is a princess. And you are right, and I am wrong."

He turned to Fujitsima. "I must apologize, Prince of Pears. I was very rude." He bowed.

"Um." Fujitsima said looking between Tooru and Ayame. "It's okay?" He really didn't understand what was going on. But Tooru had just made a speech about how he was a prince. He was ready to forgive anyone just about anything.

Ayame turned back to Tooru placing his hands on her shoulders and looking into her eyes. "I wanted to give you a gift, and I caused you distress instead. How unromantic."

"Ayame-san was also just concerned for me." She smiled at him. "Ayame-san is Ayame-san."

He leaned forward and gave her a peck on the cheek. Before he drew back he whispered. "I still do not think he is worthy of you." But he straightened with a smile. "But then I do not think anyone truly is. Except perhaps my brother." He turned to the rest of the group. "Ah it is springtime! Time for foolish actions and declarations! But now you should go. For tonight at least, be a Pear Princess. If dusk should fall before you are settled beneath the falling cherry blossoms, now that would be a tragedy."

He clapped a hand on Fujitsima's shoulder. "Be sure, she must be seated in the waning light among the blossoms where the faint pink in the sky will accent the flush of her cheeks."

"Um...Okay?" Fujitsima said and took Tooru's hand.

Mine came forward with a big basket and a blanket over her arm. "I put this together, it's the perfect setting for three princesses." Inside were their boxes of food, neatly rearranged and some extra goodies she must have found.

Tooru thanked them profusely, while Fujitsima took the basket. She let herself be hustled out the door by the others.

"Didn't I say I would be kidnapping the princess?" Ayame asked after they'd left. "When did you put that together?"

"I knew Boss would do the right thing." Mine said. "I had confidence in Boss."

Ayame blushed.

:0:0:

"Oh. My. God." Hisae said once they were out of site of the store, "I can't believe that guy is Yuki Souma's brother!"

"He is?" Fujitsima said looking back. "So when he was saying you should be with his brother he was saying...oh."

"They do kind of look a like." Akane said. "If you look close. But personality wise-"

"I saw a picture of Ayame-san when he was Yuki-kun's age." Tooru said. "They look exactly the same. I think Yuki-kun will look a lot more like Ayame-san as he gets older."

"So he's going to get even more delish." Hisae giggled.

Akira looked huffy, "I didn't think girly guys like that were your type."

"Not that personality. I couldn't handle that. But that tush. I could handle that tush. I think I could learn to deal with Prince Yuki's personality if he grew that tush."

"Hisae!" Akira said, horrified.

"Yuki-kun's personality is nice." Tooru said, confused at the turn of the conversation. Yuki-kun's tush? She thought and blushed.

"To you maybe." Fujitsima muttered.

"And I used to think I had it bad 'cause Akane's got brothers." Miki said, punching Fujitsima in the shoulder. "But man... you got transvestites against you!"

"So why did he make you that kimono?" Fujitsima said trying to switch the subject.

"He said he owed her." Akane said. "What does he owe you for that's worth all... this?" She gestured to include the kimono and their hair and makeup.

"Nothing really." Tooru said. "Yuki-kun and Ayame-san's relationship wasn't good... and we just visited Ayame-san's store together, Yuki-kun and I."

Her answers were distracted and she quickly lost track of the conversation. Pears are Pears and Apples are Apples. She'd been just as guilty as Ayame had been of comparing Fujitsima to Yuki and Kyou. When he held her hand she wondered why it felt different. When they spent time together she thought about when she spent time with them. She looked up at him and he smiled at her.

She gave a smile back, but her mind was still berating herself. She'd been spending almost every minute together cataloging how he was different from people she'd known before. What she should have been doing was trying to discover what kind of person he was, not who he wasn't.

There were mobs of people in K Park with their own basket dinners. There weren't many other people in kimonos, but there were plenty of people dressed up and lots of other people who were on dates. It took some doing, with them getting there so late, but they found a nice patch of ground to spread a blanket on and have their picnic. Tooru had to have Fujitsima help her down, unused to maneuvering in her kimono. It was hard enough getting down, making sure not to sit on her sleeves by herself was beyond her.

Tooru tried to spend their picnic focused on the person in front of her. He sat next to her and blushed when she handed him a plate of food. He teased Hisae who kept peeking in a pocket mirror to make sure her hair was still in place. Despite his objections the day before he accepted Miki's teasing about how he hovered over Tooru with good grace. He was more relaxed then when he was around her friends or when they were alone. This Fujitsima laughed easier. Unlike when Yuki and Kyou were around, he didn't seem to feel the need to grab her hand any time it was free. He was incredibly enthusiastic about her cookies, making both Akira and Miki compliment her on them and loudly claiming any leftovers. If she didn't have much to contribute to everyone's conversation, everyone at least made a point to not ignore her.

Out of habit, and because she was sitting next to the basket, Tooru kept busy making sure everyone's plates and cups were full. She was a little awkward at first, unused to long the sleeves, but got the hang of it pretty quickly. Near the end, Fujitsima had moved forward a little to argue about some story Akira was telling. Akane and Hisae were gleefully choosing sides adding comments to tease both boys. Tooru was unintentionally excluded, but enjoyed watching the fun. Movement to her side caught her eye and saw Miki watching Akane with a rare smile on his face. He caught her looking and stiffened. She smiled and scooted so that she was facing him.

"Would Miki-san like more tea?" She asked. "Or, there are some cookies left."

"I'm good." He said shortly, his eyes drifting back to Akane without him seeming to notice.

Tooru smiled remembering her first conversation with Shigure. "So for you, Akane-san is like magnets."

"What?" Miki said, startled.

"A friend told me that caring for someone feels different to everyone. That for him it was like being hungry, always wanting more. But for some people it was like magnets... you keep being drawn to them." She glanced at Fujitsima and his friends, still deeply involved in their conversation. "For Miki-san, Akane-san must be like a magnet because he can't look away."

Miki blushed and hunched his shoulders defensively. "So?" He said belligerently. "I like her."

Tooru smiled brightly, "Akane-san likes Miki-san a lot too. Her smile is bigger when she smiles at you."

The tall boy looked surprised. "I...you're weird."

"Hisae-chan said that too." Tooru agreed. "And Uo-chan says it all the time." She paused. "And Kyou-kun too."

Miki just shook his head, his eyes drifting back to Akane. He watched Akane shake her finger at Akira. "Must be nice to have friends like that, old friends."

Tooru cocked her head. "Miki-san doesn't have old friends?"

"I moved here the summer before my freshman year," Miki said, "And before that me and my Pop moved all over the place. Never really stuck around anywhere long enough."

"What about here?" Tooru prompted after a moment of silence.

"Well, I wouldn't exactly call them friends, but I ride motorcycles with some guys." He shrugged.

"Miki-san rides a motorcycle?" Tooru asked. "Uo-chan took me for a ride on hers, but they go so fast!"

"Uotani... that's that Yankee-girl?" Miki said glancing at her. "She rides?"

"Yes, she says she loves that you feel so out of control on it. But it scared me." She grinned. "Mother used to ride one too, but then she drove a truck."

"Your mother?" Miki said, paying full attention.

Tooru nodded, warming to her favorite subject. "Mother used to lead her squad, and they called her "Akai Cho" because the blinking taillights of her motorcycle used to look like a fluttering red butterfly." She smiled.

"Your mother was the Red Butterfly?" Miki leaned forward. "I heard about her! They said she was fearless."

Tooru nodded eagerly. "That's how I met Uo-chan. Her gang used to tell stories about her all the time. But Uo-chan was surprised when she met her. Mother said that when she met my Father she became a stupid parent."

"I heard Akai Chou had a daughter," Miki said, "But you certainly weren't what I was expecting."

"I look like my Father's father, Hana-chan says."

"That's not what I meant. I've never seen your mother. I just expected someone tougher. Meaner." Miki grinned. "So she drives a truck now, your mom? Is it painted?"

Tooru's face fell a little. "Mother's truck was a decotora, but Mother passed away last year."

"I'm sorry." Miki was immediately contrite. "I didn't-"

"What are you guys talking about so friendly-like?" Akane scooted over so she was leaning on Miki. She smiled at him and tugged his ponytail.

"Did you know Honda's mother was Akai Chou?" Miki asked excitedly.

She wrinkled her nose. "And that means?"

"The Red Butterfly, leader of the toughest, meanest fearless motorcycle squad in the past 20 years!" Miki explained. "They still talk about her today."

"Your mom was a famous gang-leader?" Akira said staring at her. "Your mom?"

"Yes." Tooru said, and reached into her sleeve where she'd put her wallet. "I have a picture..." She flipped open her wallet and showed them her mother's picture. "This one is more recent, after she left the gang," and then flipped to an older one from middle school. "This one has Uo-chan too...They were dressed up for fun." Uo-chan had an allergy mask on, and her old kamikaze long coat. Tooru's Mom held a wooden boken sword in one hand, and was looking over her shoulder to show off the red butterfly stitched to the back of the coat. A young Tooru stood between them in her middle school uniform and pigtails.

"If it weren't for the smile..." Akira mused, "You'd look like a kidnap victim there."

"That's so cool," Miki said peering at the picture. "I can't wait to tell the guys."

"Hey," Fujitsima said taking her free hand. "It's starting to get dark... You guys want to head over to the festival?"

"Okay." Hisae said, "Akira and I will stop by my house to drop off all this stuff and then meet you guys up there?"

"Fine by me." Akane nodded, then looked at Miki, "Don't pout. It will be fun. And no fighting."

"I'm having fun." Miki protested. "And I won't start anything, but it's not my fault if someone gets in my face."

Tooru freed her hand from Fujitsima's and started packing up their things, feeling a little odd. She got the feeling he didn't like that she'd been talking to Miki, or perhaps he didn't like hearing about her mother? She gathered all the trash into a pile and closed up the basket. It was much lighter now.

"Here, Tooru-kun," Fujitsima said, "Let me help you up." He held out his hands to help lever her up.

She put her hands in his and let him haul her to her feet. She tripped over her feet, her geta tangling in the long kimono fabric. She leaned into his hands, trying to regain her balance. They went down in a tumble. She was used to the strength hidden in Yuki or Kyou's thin bodies and put too much weight against him. Fujitsima landed on his back and Tooru on top of him.

She froze, expecting the weight below her to disappear and some other small body to form. A small piece of her was still surprised he didn't disappear into a puff of smoke. She felt his arms reach up and around her and she squeezed her eyes tight. He hugged her tight, just for a second and then let go with one arm to lever up into a sitting position taking her with him.

"Are you okay?" He asked anxiously. She was still pressed tightly to him, her kimono was twisted trapping her.

"Yes... um..." She looked down at his arm.

"Oh. Oh!" He released her and scooted away, letting her rearrange herself. "I'm sorry!"

"It was my fault." Tooru said managing to right herself. She got to her knees ungracefully, and maneuvered herself up to a standing position. It was a testament to Ayame's workmanship that other then a few wrinkles and a slight askew butterfly ribbon the kimono was unaffected. Her combs hadn't even fallen out. "I'm clumsy. I'm sorry." Her face was blazing and she couldn't look at him. He'd hugged her. Hugged her., probably definitely on purpose maybe.

"Well." Hisae said, a barely suppressed giggle behind her words, picking up the basket. "We'll just let you kids be alone."

"Yeah," Akane grinned, picking up the blanket and thrusting it at Miki. "We'll just help them get this stuff back to Hisae's and then see you up at the festival. Okay?" She asked, looking up at him.

Miki just quirked an eyebrow at them and wrapped an arm around her waist. "Whatever you say, babe."

"Have fun, Fujiiii-saaaan." Akira grinned.

"I told you before, " Fujitsima fumed, his face as red or redder then Tooru's, "it's not cute when you say it." But he didn't object when the other four walked away leaving him alone with Tooru beneath the cherry tree.

Tooru focused on straightening her obi, trying to settle her nerves at the same time. She turned away to look at the park. Dusk had almost passed into night and the park was emptying fast. She looked at the cherry trees, the whole reason for their visit, for the first time. It was gorgeous; the trees in this park were a riot of pink. She looked up past the treetops and could see the first stars. She heard a rustle behind her and turned slightly.

Fujitsima was a murky shape in the rapidly darkening night. "Sorry, I didn't mean to embarrass Honda-san."

Tooru stared at him; she didn't know what to say. Why did you hug me? Why is my heart racing? Why do I feel like running away?

"We...Fuji-san and I should get going." She walked over to him, shuffling through the fallen cherry blossoms. She felt shy and uncomfortable. She couldn't move quickly in her complicated kimono, and it felt like it took ages to reach Fujitsima.

"Um... The shrine is this way..." Fujitsima said awkwardly. He took her hand and they walked through the park. She struggled to keep up with him, his longer strides impossible to match hampered as she was.

"Ah, um... Fuji-san..." Tooru broke the uncomfortable silence after she almost lost her sandal for the third time. "Could Fuji-san, that is... Kimono makes it hard to walk..."

"Am I going too fast?" Fujitsima's eyebrows wrinkled anxiously and he flushed. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize." He slowed down and stopped pulling her along. "Is Tooru-kun having fun tonight? I'm sorry if we made you feel left out earlier. I hope Miki wasn't too mean to you."

"Miki-san wasn't mean at all." Tooru hastened to reassure him. Is that why he'd been unhappy they were talking? Because he thought that Miki might be mean to her? "I think Miki-san likes Akane-san very much."

"Yeah, but he causes trouble all the time." Fujitsima complained. "He's always getting into fights and he skips school a lot."

Tooru thought he sounded a lot like Kyou. "But he seems like a good person, and Akane-san likes Miki-san. Mother used to get in fights before she met Father."

"But she stopped then, didn't she?" Fujitsima said, looking upset. "It wasn't like she kept fighting."

"Not when she didn't have to." She agreed, thinking of the night her mother and Uo-chan came home bruised and smiling.

"Miki should stop fighting." Fujitsima said stubbornly. "Or Akane should dump him."

Tooru stayed silent, thinking that sounded a little harsh. It wasn't as if people could change overnight. And sometimes it was other people that made it hard to change...If everyone expected you to be fighting all the time it was hard not to.

Fujitsima glanced at her. "I'm sorry. We're supposed to be on a date." He squeezed her hand. "We should be talking about fun stuff."

"Fuji-san worries about his friends." Tooru said, accepting his apology. "Fuji-san has nice friends."

"I know Akira likes to tease, and Hisae-chan does too. Akane can be a little rude sometimes, but they've been my best friends forever." Fujitsima grinned. "Like you and your friends."

"Miki-san said he thought it was nice that Akane-san had old friends." Tooru said. "I think he wants to be friends too."

Fujitsima looked down, "Let's just not talk about that, okay?" He looked up. "Look, there is the shrine. Look at all the lights."

It had gone from dusk to dark while they'd walked. The shrine was up a tall flight of stairs that Tooru dreaded having to walk up in her kimono. But there were strings and strings of lanterns and it twinkled and glowed invitingly and promised she'd have fun once she reached the top. Even though she promised herself that she wouldn't think of Yuki or Kyou she found herself suddenly wishing they were here to share in the fun. It must be, she thought, because Fujitsima had been talking about friends.

"Let's go." Fujitsima grinned. "I'll help you up the steps. We took a while, but I think we'll have a little more time alone before the others catch up. I'll win Tooru-kun a prize!"

"Fuji-san doesn't have to do that!" Tooru protested as they started up the steps.

"Does Tooru-kun like teddy bears?" Fujitsima grinned holding both hands and helping her climb the steps. "Or maybe we can try to catch some goldfish."

"I'm terrible at catching goldfish." Tooru warned. "I never caught one. Mother was weak at that too." It was the only thing Tooru remembered her mother doing badly. They'd spent hours at one festival trying to catch a goldfish. The owner had finally given them one to make them go away. Her mother had thanked the man and then turned and given it away to a child once they'd left the booth. Neither of them had wanted one they didn't earn.

"I'll catch you a goldfish then." Fujitsima promised. "What will you name it?"

"Mmm..." Tooru said concentrating on not stepping on her hem as they reached the top of the steps. "Every fish has a different name... so it will depend on the fish."

Fujitsima laughed and Tooru smiled, letting him take her hand and lead her into the festival. It was crowded with people of all ages, and there were lots of couples. They went in search of a goldfish booth, but happily let themselves be distracted by other vendors hawking their games and wares. Tooru was a little uncomfortable that Fujitsima insisted on paying for everything. She settled for trying to not look too interested in anything so he wouldn't feel obligated to offer it to her. He'd already insisted on buying some cotton candy for her when she'd watched the vendor wrap it around the little cone handles for too long.

At least he'd let go of her hand so she could hold it. She nibbled at it, thinking how Kyou would make a face at anyone enjoying something so sweet. I'm not supposed to be thinking about Kyou-kun, she berated herself. She looked at Fujitsima and forced a smile. Apples are Apples. She should enjoy this festival with the person she was with. "Would Fuji-san like some?" She said offering the cotton candy to him.

He went red. "No, thank you!"

She looked at him curiously, wondering what had embarrassed him so. The more she looked at him the redder he got. She looked away, up at the pretty lights.

"I don't think I said so before..." Fujitsima said, closer then she remembered. "But you look really pretty tonight..."

"T-thank you." Tooru stuttered, feeling her own cheeks warm. "Ayame-san's kimono is very beautiful, I'm lucky to be able to wear it." She wanted to step away from him; she felt closed in and trapped. She wished his friends hadn't left them alone.

"It's not the kimono that makes Tooru-kun pretty." Fujitsima muttered. "You don't need Ayame-san to make you look pretty. I bet you looked fine in Karin-chan's kimono."

"Karin?" Tooru repeated, startled by his tone. He sounded almost hurt.

"Hisae's little sister." He said shortly.

"Oh." Tooru said awkwardly, "Um...So Hisae has a little sister just like Fuji-san."

"Except her sister is bigger than her. They're only a year apart, my sister's four years younger." He brightened, "Hey look! Goldfish!"

He pulled her over, his eagerness making him forget how hard it was for her to move quickly.

"Come try your luck!" The scruffy man behind the booth called, "Three tries for a hundred yen!" He grinned at Fujitsima. "Win your pretty girlie a fish!"

"Do you want to try first?" Fujitsima asked her, reaching in his pocket for money. "Maybe your luck has changed."

Tooru looked at the trough of swimming fish and felt the same excitement she had as a child. "Yes, please!"

Grinning at her enthusiasm, Fujitsima handed over the coin and the man handed her three paper nets and a bowl. She crouched by the trough and tried to pick out a slow moving fish. "There!" She cried and swept her net into the water trying to scoop up a fat little fish that was swimming lazily by the side. The net came up ripped and all she succeeded in doing was scattering all fish away from where she'd splashed. "Ooo." She frowned. "My motto is never give up!" She said firmly as she discarded one net and took up another. "Two more tries."

"You can do it, Tooru-kun!" Fujitsima cheered.

"Ha!" She cried and tried for another fish, with nearly identical results. Only this time she splashed the owner of the booth. "I'm so sorry!" She apologized, turning pink.

"Ain't the first time it's happened, pretty missy." The man laughed. "Probably won't be the last time tonight! Now you give it your last go, and give it a good one. Don't mind about me."

Tooru nodded and frowned determinedly at the fish. She pushed up her sleeves and stared into the water. She pushed back her sleeves and picked out a fish, following it with her eyes. She tried to predict where it would swim to next, and when it came close to her side of the trough, she struck.

Only the quick reflexes of Fujitsima and the owner kept her from falling in completely. As it was her arm went into the water up to her elbow. Luckily she had her kimono sleeve pulled up or it would have gotten soaking wet instead of just splashed. The owner had a hand against her shoulder to keep her from falling forward any more. Fujitsima had grabbed her waist. He stood, shifting his hands to her armpits. Tooru let Fujitsima lift her up looking at her dripping arm in dismay. She'd thrust her hand in with so much force that the head of the net had snapped off.

"Awww..." she said and looked over her shoulder at Fujitsima. "It looks like my luck hasn't changed at all."

He laughed. Tooru accepted a towel from the stand owner and toweled off her arm. Fujitsima handed her cotton candy back to her and rolled up his own sleeve. "We'll have to try my luck then." He handed the owner another hundred yen and took his nets.

"Good luck!" Cheered Tooru. He flushed but looked seriously at the trough. It was only his second try when he managed to scoop up a goldfish into his bowl.

"Yay!" Tooru clapped. "Fuji-san is great!"

"Yay, Fuji-san!" Hisae laughed emerging with Akira out of the crowd. "It looks like you're still good at the goldfish scoop."

Akira grinned smugly at them. "Everybody's got to be good at something, I guess."

"I still have another try." Fujitsima said ignoring them. "Does Tooru-kun want me to catch a friend for your fish?"

"Pretty confident." Miki said, coming up from the opposite direction. He and Akane had obviously been playing games already; she had a water yo-yo dangling off one finger and a teddy bear in the crook of her arm. He looked at Tooru. "You aren't going to try?"

"Fuji-san already bought me three tries." Tooru smiled.

"No luck?" He asked.

She flushed. "I almost fell in."

Miki laughed and Akane smiled at Tooru happily.

Fujitsima tried for another fish, but his luck had run out. The scruffy man tied the one he caught up in a plastic bag and handed it to Tooru. "There you go. Do you want to buy a bowl for him? I got gravel and decorations too..." he gestured to small rack of ratty looking miniature castles and sea chests. "Don't forget food."

Tooru reached into her kimono sleeve. "Ah, food, I should get that..."

"I'll get it!" Fujitsima said indignantly, digging for his money. "Do you want a bowl too?"

"No, thank you," Tooru said quickly. "I have something at home I can use." She'd use a bowl from the kitchen until she could buy one herself.

"Just in case, I'll buy you one." Fujitsima said stubbornly. The vendor grinned and took his money.

She gave a weak smile as she accepted it. She'd been happy to get the fish... but now she felt guilty for making Fujitsima spend extra money. She resolved that she wouldn't show interest in any other games.

"So what do you want to play next?" Akane asked looking around. "I want to win more prizes."

"Showoff," muttered Miki.

"Don't pout just because you suck." Akane teased.

"You won those yourself?" Fujitsima asked. "You always were the best at this kind of thing."

"And Akira is the worst. He hasn't won me anything." Hisae pouted dramatically and batted her lashes at Akira.

"I don't see you winning any prizes either." He snorted.

"Oneechan?"

Tooru turned around and smiled. "Kisa-chan!"

Kisa brightened and smiled. She and Hiro were dressed in kimono and yukata. Kisa held a stuffed tiger and Hiro had a balloon yo-yo and a scowl on his face.

"What're you doing here?" Hiro had a tight hold on Kisa's hand. "No one told us you'd be here."

"Ah," Tooru smiled. "It was decided last minute, we came from viewing cherry blossoms." She smiled and crouched down to Kisa's height, "Has Kisa-chan been yet?"

Kisa shook her head no, smiling. She shrank back a little when Fujitsima came up behind Tooru. Tooru looked up at him and stood quickly. "Oh, I'm being rude! Fujitsima-san, this is Souma Kisa-chan and Souma Hiro-kun." She looked at the others over Fujitsima's shoulder. "They are Yuki-kun and Kyou-kun's cousins."

"More of them?" Fujitsima said and sighed. "It's nice to meet you."

"This is Fujitsima Maseo-kun," Tooru said, "He's a classmate of mine, and his friends Akane-san, Miki-san, Hisae-chan and Akira-kun."

"I suppose if you're here," Hiro said, ignoring Fujitsima and the others, "you at least could buy us cotton candy."

"Ah, of course." Tooru said reaching for her wallet. "Just a moment..."

"Hiro-chan!" Kisa said wide-eyed and blushing.

"Wait a minute!" Fujitsima protested. "Why should she buy you cotton candy?"

Hiro glared at him. "I don't see how it's any of your business if she does."

"It's okay." Tooru said quickly. "Last time, Hiro-san treated Kisa-chan and I to crepes."

"That's still no excuse to talk to you that way." Fujitsima protested.

"I don't see how a classmate of this person," Hiro jerked a thumb at Tooru, "has any right to say how I should talk to her. That's like someone from the crowd just butting in. That's pretty rude, if you ask me."

"We're on a date!" Fujitsima protested. "Of course I should say something if you're rude to her."

"A date?" Kisa repeated. "Oneechan is on a date?"

"Kisa-chan is too, isn't she?" Tooru said quickly. "Is she having a good time?"

"Yes!" Kisa's smile lit up. "Hiro-chan..." she held up the stuffed tiger.

"Hiro-san won you that?" Tooru pet the tiger's head. "It's so cute. Good job, Hiro-san." She showed Kisa her goldfish. "Fuji-san won a goldfish."

"Cute!" Kisa said peering at the fish swimming the bag. She smiled at Fujitsima.

"Whatever." Hiro sniffed. "It'll probably die in a week."

"What a brat." Miki said to Akane.

Tooru pretended she didn't hear that. "I'll go get that cotton candy. Fuji-san bought me some earlier, it was very good," she said standing.

"Oneechan looks pretty." Kisa said. "Kimono...?"

"Ayame-san made it." Tooru nodded. "And Kisa-chan's?"

"Mother..." Kisa fingered the cloth of her kimono, decorated with a cute childish print of large overlapping circles in green and gold.

"It's very cute!" Hisae said, stepping forward. "And wow, your hair is so pretty...I'm Hisae-chan."

Akane hunkered down, "And look at her eyes Hisae, they're the same color as those contacts I wanted to get. Are they natural?" Kisa nodded shyly. "Lucky!"

"Are we going to get cotton candy or what?" Hiro grumped.

"Yes, let's go." Tooru looked at Kisa, "Will you hold my goldfish?"

"Yes!" She said eagerly, reaching for the bag and bowl.

Tooru reached into her sleeve and found her money, and gave a quick smile to Fujitsima. "We'll be right back." She and Hiro walked towards the cotton candy booth. Hiro glanced back looking at Kisa nervously. Hisae and Akane were still coo-ing over her and she was watching the fish swim lazily in the bag.

"Kisa-chan looks like she's having fun." Tooru commented.

Hiro snorted, "Of course. She's with me."

"Do Kisa-chan and Hiro-chan want to go around the festival with Fuji-san and the others?" Tooru asked as they reached the booth. "I saved a little money, it would be fun to play some games. Two, please."

"Do you really dislike that guy so much?" Hiro asked bluntly.

"What?" Tooru said startled into looking at him directly.

"You're on a date aren't you?" Hiro asked crossing his arms. "You don't ask other people along unless you want to avoid the person you're with. You can't like him very much if you're doing that."

"No, no..." Tooru protested. "I like Fuji-san very much... it's just that..." The vendor handing her the candy interrupted her.

"It's just that what?" Hiro asked taking one from her. "It's easy, you either like the guy or you don't. If you don't you should just tell him. False kindness is just cruel in that situation."

"False kindness...?" Tooru asked starting back towards the others.

"You think you're being nice," Hiro said, bouncing his water yo-yo, "and are keeping them from being hurt by not saying something you know will be painful. But then you just make it worse by dragging it out."

"But what if you don't know?" Tooru asked.

"How can you not know?" Hiro snorted. "It's like if you like this food or that food, some do you some you don't. Some you like more than others. If you like a person, you know. If you don't know, you can't really like them. How stupid are you that you don't know that?"

"I've never been very smart..." Tooru agreed, knocking her head with her knuckles, her heart beating rapidly. It was like her blood was reacting to what he was saying, rushing in her ears and making it hard to focus.

"You're the stupidest person I know." Hiro agreed.

"Hiro-chan!" Kisa said, overhearing the last comment.

"You should apologize. Tooru-kun was nice and bought you cotton candy and you call her names?" Fujitsima crossed his arms. "That's rude."

"It's not rude if it's true." Hiro said reasonably. "Or should I lie? But if I lie, won't that mean I'll grow up to be an untrustworthy adult? Are you going to take responsibly for that in the future?"

"What is it with you Soumas? Why are you all so twisted?" Fujitsima burst. "First Momiji-kun, Hatsuharu-kun, Hatori-san, and that Ayame-san... and even Souma-kun, Kyou-kun and Shigure-san. And you're everywhere! We go to the movies, and two of you show up, at school Souma and Kyou are always there, go on an errand before the date, and there's another one... and now you!"

"Hey, If I'd known she'd be here I wouldn't have brought Kisa," Hiro said. "Don't blame me for your poor planning."

"Fujitsima, you're getting schooled by, like, an eight year old." Miki laughed.

"I'm eleven!" Hiro said angrily. "What'd you do bleach your brain along with that hair?"

Akira snickered and Hisae covered her mouth to keep from laughing.

"Laugh it up, Tweedle-dum and Dumber!" Hiro said out of the corner of his mouth. "And maybe no one will notice that you two are about as sharp as bowling balls."

"Hey!" Hisae started, putting her hands on her hips.

"Is for horses." Hiro finished. "Too dumb to use proper language?"

"Hiro-san," Tooru said, trailed by Kisa, "isn't acting very adult. I don't think the impression he's making is very good."

"Hiro-chan should apologize." Kisa said somberly.

Hiro's back stiffened. "I'm sorry they're all such idiots," he said and turned away sticking his face into his cotton candy.

"Hiro-chan." Kisa repeated.

"Are Kisa-chan and Hiro-chan here alone?" Tooru asked trying to elevate the strained mood. "Did Momiji-san or Hatsuharu-san come with you?"

"Are you dense?" Hiro said scornfully. "Kisa-chan and I are on a date. Why would I bring anyone else on a date?"

Kisa shook her head, "Hiro-chan!"

"C'mon," Hiro said grabbing her hand. "Let's go. She's on a date too, she doesn't want us around."

"I like having Kisa-chan and Hiro-chan around." Tooru said to their backs. "They haven't visited in a while and I've missed them."

He sighed. "I'm sorry for being rude. Kisa and I will come over for dinner some night next week." He looked at Kisa. "Happy?"

"Yes, thank you." Kisa said. "Oneechan...goodbye," she said over her shoulder as Hiro pulled her away.

"She's a cutie but that other kid is such a brat!" Akane said as they disappeared into the crowd. "What a buzzkill."

"Hiro-san gets jealous," Tooru said feeling she needed to explain. "He's just awkward with people. He's actually much better," She mused. "Hiro-san didn't kick me this time."

"You're too forgiving Tooru-kun." Fujitsima said, "You shouldn't let him, or anyone else, talk to you that way."

"Heavy mood." Akira said, slumping against Hisae. "No fun, no fun..."

"You're going to knock me over!" Hisae protested, staggering under his weight.

"I need a fun injection, or I can't go on." Akira insisted, leaning against her even more.

"Awww... poor baby." Hisae said like she was talking to a small child. "Do you wanna go to play darts?"

"Yes..." Akira whined, but straightened so she wasn't holding him up any more.

Still speaking in a baby-talk voice Hisae grinned, "Okay, let's go play darts...I'll win you a prize."

"That's supposed to be my line." Akira protested. "And I will, just you watch."

"Bet that I beat both of your scores!" Akane said and pulled Miki ahead of them. "C'mon Tooru-kun, Maseo, let's play."

"Coming." Fujitsima said, still sounding upset. "Tooru-kun?" He held out his hand to her.

"Yes," She said, taking his hand and trying to smile. Her mind was whirling, it was like tuning into a radio signal... static... static...almost there, music. All the questions she'd asked, the answers were all starting to make sense. She could almost hear the music.

It's like being hungry; you want more of that person. You want them to be happy and are sad when they're sad. You feel it before you know it. It's like if you like this food or that food, some do you some you don't. Some you like more than others. Apples are apples and pears are pears... Seeds need a certain type of soil to grow.

She couldn't be Fujitsima's girlfriend. Perhaps she was a desert garden and he was a willow tree, or he was a cactus and she was a riverbank. They just weren't right. When she looked at how she felt for him, on it's own, she felt... pressure, confusion, sympathy, and yes, it was a happy feeling to be cared for and pursued, but it wasn't love.

She could have been friends with him, a good friend. But she didn't miss him when he wasn't there, and she didn't want to watch him or feel different when he held her hand. And it wasn't that she did feel those things with other people... what she'd said to Ayame was true. Fujitsima was a fine, wonderful person and he shouldn't be compared to Yuki or Kyou. What she felt for Yuki was different then what she felt for Kyou and what she
felt for them was different then what she felt for Fujitsima. All three were her friends, but only one was asking to be more.

She really didn't want to hurt him. It would have been easier if she didn't like him at all, or if she didn't feel some connection. But Fujitsima was a sweet, kind person, and this would hurt him a lot.

It's impossible to talk yourself into loving someone you don't.

That's what she'd been trying to do... because she didn't want to hurt him. False kindness, just like Hiro had said, because now it would hurt worse. He'd defended her, stood up for her, worried about her.

She watched Fujitsima playing some sort of rolling dice game with the others. He'd tried to make a place for her among his friends, something she hadn't been able to do for him. Perhaps, if she'd gotten to know him before or if he wasn't so eager to move so fast... but it was useless to speculate.

Fujitsima glanced back at her, grinning. Her face must've shown something of what she was thinking and his smile slipped. He looked confused. Tooru tried to give him a smile, but it felt false and uncomfortable. She was pretty sure that the others didn't notice that she got quieter and more reserved as the night progressed, but he noticed. She was already hurting him.

"Yo!" Miki said, clapping his hand on Fujitsima's shoulder about an hour later. "We're gonna jet." Akane stood behind him hugging a large stuffed cow Miki had won her.

"But it's early!" Hisae protested, two new plush dolls in her arms. "You can't go home yet!"

"Who said we're going home?" Akane winked. "I want to show Miki that park we used to play at..."

Hisae grinned. "Oh, that park," she said referencing some inside joke between them. Akane just waved as they left arm in arm.

"I'm hungry." Akira said suddenly, he gripped Hisae around the waist. "Let's go get something to eat."

"But we had a huge dinner just a couple of hours ago!" Hisae complained. "And you've been eating non-stop since we go here.

"Yeah... but I'm still hungry." Akira said reasonably, "I want ice cream."

"Ice cream?" Hisae her protests disappearing. "I could go for ice cream. You guys?"

Fujitsima looked at Tooru. "Um... for us I think it's a little late. Tooru-kun lives pretty far from here, so I think maybe we should start walking home." He kept his tone light, but his smile didn't reach his eyes.

Akira and Hisae were too involved in teasing each other to notice. "Okay, more ice cream for me." Hisae giggled. "We'll see you guys later."

"Later." Fujitsima repeated, waving goodbye to them.

He turned back to Tooru. "You didn't want ice cream, right? I didn't even ask. I'm sorry."

Tooru shook her head. "Don't be."

He took her hand. "I'll walk you home."

They walked in silence, Tooru carrying her fish and bowl in the crook of an arm. She looked up at the sky. It was fully dark now, and getting later then she usually stayed out when she wasn't working. She didn't know how to tell him but she knew it had to happen tonight.

"Um..." Fujitsima said, breaking into her thoughts. They were about halfway to Shigure's house. "Is something wrong?"

Tooru looked down at their joined hands. "I was thinking about what Fujitsima-san asked me."

Fujitsima stopped. "Fujitsima-san..." He repeated and Tooru could see that he was starting to understand. He took a deep breath. "You're going to say no, aren't you?"

"I'm sorry." Tooru said. "I do like Fujitsima-san, and I really liked getting his letters and spending time with him."

"But you don't want to be my girlfriend." He said flatly. "Is it because of Souma-kun, or Kyou-kun?"

"No." Tooru shook her head, still surprised that people thought that way about them and her.

"Then why..." He looked away from her, obviously upset. "I really like you. I know you don't feel comfortable around me the way you do around them."

Tooru thought a moment before answering honestly. "That's true." He looked at her in surprise. "But that's because I know them so well... Fujitsima-san isn't as comfortable around me as he is around Hisae-chan and Akane-san."

Fujitsima flushed. "But that's different. And you could learn to be comfortable, we could learn to be comfortable together."

Tooru shook her head. "I would like to be friends with Fujitsima-san... but I'm not ready to be more." She looked down, blushing. "All this... was very hard for me...I don't want to hurt Fujitsima-san." She looked up at him. "But I don't think I'm ready to be anyone's girlfriend. I'm not very bright-"

"You shouldn't say that." Fujitsima interrupted. "You aren't dumb!"

Tooru blushed brighter. "Thank you." She said, "No one has ever told me that before. But," she looked away again. "In this I think I'm not smart at all. A smart girl would be so happy that a person like Fujitsima-san was interested in her." She looked back at him. "But it just makes me feel nervous, uncomfortable and..." She looked down at his hand wrapped around hers, "scared. It's not Fujitsima's fault, he's only been kind and gentle with me. I'm just not ready."

His hand squeezed uncomfortably around hers and then he dropped her hand. He turned away from her and crossed his arms. She waited patiently, her heart aching.

"I don't think I can be friends." He said, and his voice was tight. "So after tonight, please don't be hurt if I don't talk to you anymore."

Tooru looked at hands, now wrapped tightly around her goldfish bowl. "I understand." It hurt to hear that, like she'd been struck.

"You know," He said finally, "Some people would say you are already my girlfriend because we dated and we spent so much time together. Coming to a couple's only date would count too..."

Tooru blinked at him.

He turned back around to face her. "And even if Tooru-kun isn't going to be my girlfriend anymore, I would like to say she was my first girlfriend."

"And my first boyfriend was Fuji-san." Tooru agreed. He was obviously hurting, and she wished she could do more to ease his pain. "I really did feel like a princess tonight, and Fujitsima-san was a very good prince."

"Um..." Fujitsima said, his voice rough. "I should get you home." He started walking down the street.

"Fujitsima-san doesn't have to..." Tooru said, "We're almost there. I can get home from here." He didn't look at her but stopped at the corner. She looked down at the fishbowl and her fish swimming lazily around its bag. "I...I don't think I should keep this."

He looked at the fishbowl she held out to him and laughed, bittersweet and pained. "You can't give that back. Please keep it, and at least think of me," he said. He cleared his throat. "Tooru-kun never said what she was going to name it." He looked carefully above her head instead of at her, awkward and pained.

Tooru looked at the fish. "I think... I'll call him Prince." She walked up to Fujitsima, taking his hand for once. "To remind myself of the one who gave him to me." He looked at her and tears pricked behind her eyes at causing the hurt she saw there. She squeezed his hand. "Goodbye, Fujitsima-san."

"Goodbye, Honda-san." His voice sounded wooden. "I'm sorry I can't see you to your door." He turned around.

Tooru spoke to his back. "That's okay. I'm nearly home." She turned away and started home. She looked back when she reached the next corner where she'd turn for home. Fujitsima was still standing at the corner, facing the other way. She turned away and kept going.

She looked up at the sky. She had tears coursing down her face. She didn't think it would hurt so much to say goodbye to him. She wiped them away, reminding herself it was for the best. "I couldn't keep it alive." She said, holding up the fish. "I don't know what kind of plant Fujitsima is, I'm sure it's a wonderful plant and someday it will bloom huge and strong in someone's heart. But I couldn't keep it alive. I'm not the right soil."

The fish stared at her as if to say, "You're weird."

"I think there is something growing though." She told it. "I can feel the roots." She looked at the house coming into view. "I'm not sure what it is yet... but something is growing. I think it will sprout soon."

"Oi!"

She turned to see Kyou coming down from a side street. He glanced around her suspiciously. "Why are you alone?"

"I told Fujitsima-san that I couldn't be his girlfriend." Tooru said and suddenly she was sobbing.

"Hey, hey..." He said stepping forward.

"Honda-san!"

She looked up to see Yuki running up the path from the house. He had his trowel and work gloves in hand, he must've been coming back from his secret base.

"Baka Neko, what did you do?" He said angrily as he stepped close to her and taking her fish from her with barely a glance.

"Nothing!" Kyou said, sounding panicked. "She just started crying! Stop crying!" He said to her.

"I...it really hurt!" She said, "I told him that I couldn't be his girlfriend." She explained to Yuki. "And I think I really hurt him... and it hurts." She buried her face in her hands and sobbed harder.

"Of course it does, fool." Kyou said, gentler, running his hand through her hair to push it back over her shoulder. He took one of her hands. "You're too soft."

"I'm sure he knows Honda-san didn't mean to hurt him." Yuki said, taking her other hand in his and shifting her fishbowl to his hip. He rubbed the back of her hand soothingly with his thumb. "She doesn't have it in her to be cruel."

"Lets go inside." Kyou said tugging her towards the house. "What are you wearing?"

"Ayame-san made it for me." Tooru sniffled, looking between them.

"My brother," Yuki's mouth twisted. "I don't like to compliment him, but it does suit Honda-san."

"Of course it does." Kyou said, not looking at him. "But that's just because she looks good in everything."

Tooru blushed, sniffling. She glanced up at Kyou, catching him looking at her out of the corner of his eye. She felt a tingle up her arm, loosening her shoulders, and gave him a watery smile. She looked over at Yuki and caught him staring at her profile. The soft buttery feeling uncurled in her stomach when he blushed at her glance.

Something was definitely sprouting. Two hardy plants.

:0:0:

Author's Note: Wow! It's done...I hope people like it, I'm sorry if you are disappointed after all this time. It ended up being one super long chapter and I had to drop some things I wanted to have in. Like the "Loves Battle" book was originally going to be a running gag, but I couldn't get the scenes I pictured with it to fit in properly so I dropped it. Next I'm going to do a chapter of Discoveries (already mostly written) and then Spotted.