My great thanks to everyone for their continued support.

Disclaimer: I do not own MSGM or any of its characters. All such honors belong to Oyuki Konno.


The annual New Year's "women only" party held at the Ogasawara estate after the Christmas Ball was a little more subdued than normal. The women, including Sayako-okaasan, played the usual card games, laughed at the usual jokes, and enjoyed the usual food, but there was much less running around the large estate in deference to one of their members that was recovering from another round of chemo and radiation treatments on top of having slightly overdone it at the Christmas Ball. Even though she had been in bed for most of the week recovering, Yumi had adamantly refused the offer to skip this year's party. She wanted to see Sayako-okaasan, not only because she loved Sachiko's mother dearly, but to also thank her for everything that she had done for the two of them since the end of summer.

Tooru-otousan, who the previous year would have left to spend time with his mistress, was actually in attendance as well although he mostly kept to a separate wing of the mansion after taking the time to welcome everyone. Ever since Yumi's diagnosis he had seemed to re-think the priorities in his life. He made sure that his former mistress was well taken care of and would want for nothing for the rest of her life, but he had decided that his family was more important than maintaining a social fiction he had come to hate. Telling his father that he was going to give up his mistress turned out to be much less difficult than he had originally thought it would. He should have known better, because the force that was Yumi Fukuzawa had somehow found a weak spot in even that old man's formerly stony heart.

After taking his daughter's partner into his arms for a brief, gentle hug and placing a soft kiss on her bald head, he had encouraged the ladies to enjoy their two days together. Yumi had quietly tried to ask him to remain, if even only for a little while, but he had abjured telling her that he wanted his daughter and wife and their friends to be able to enjoy their time together. He laughed and told her not to worry; he had invited Suguru and Yuuki to join him for a couple of days so that he could get better acquainted with the boy that his daughter had miraculously taken to calling her "brother". Yumi had smiled her understanding and kissed him on the cheek before he took himself off.

Eriko had once again decided to spend the holiday with Yamanobe-sensei and his parents since it looked like a wedding was definitely in their future despite the loud protestations of her brothers. Otherwise it was a full house with four generations of red and white rose families and three generations of yellow roses. However, even with all of those girls hanging around the house the general atmosphere was relatively calm and quiet. They did have a lot of fun together and found themselves bonding even tighter than ever, but it was obvious to Yumi that even the usually boisterous Sei-sama was holding back a bit. It finally became too much for even her usually even temperament.

"Alright," she said loudly to the gathering after seeing Sei grin widely and start to make her usual move to pull Yumi into a hug only to consciously pull herself back, "while I appreciate everyone's attempts to make sure that I do not overdo it again, I am not currently in the process of dying nor am I as fragile as you all seem to believe. Therefore, I would really appreciate it if you would please just treat me like you always do and not try to be so conscious of my infirmity. I don't need any more reminders than I already have," she grinned and ran a hand over her bald head to try to take the sting out of her words. "These two precious days are for forgetting things like that, so please don't make me have to tell you twice," she said sternly before tackling Sei with a big hug and trying to tickle the former Rosa Gigantea into submission.

"I tried to warn you she would hate it," Sachiko smiled as she looked at everyone around the room while her petite soeur and lover laughingly wrestled with Sei.

"As did I," Touko agreed with a grin. The other women sheepishly nodded their heads and acknowledged that they had been warned.

"Sorry, sorry, Yumi-chan," Sei tried to say between bouts of laughter. "I promise to take the 'handle with care' sign off your back."

"You had better, Sei-sama," Yumi laughed although slightly winded from her exertions, "and everyone else as well or there's more where that came from," she grinned evilly while threatening to tickle anyone else.

Even Sayako was laughing at the antics of her daughter's partner, forgetting briefly how sick the girl really was, while Sachiko and Touko-chan shared a knowing grin.

The rest of the day went much more like the previous parties. Sachiko heard her petite soeur squeak or squawk at least four more times that day as a result of Sei-sama's return to her usual antics.

"Thank you, Sachi," Yumi said quietly later that evening as she and Sachiko lay cuddled together under a blanket on Sachiko's futon while the others snored around them.

"For what?" Sachiko asked softly.

"For trying to tell them not to treat me like an invalid. Both you and Touko-chan already understand, but . . ."

"The others just needed a gentle reminder, Yumi; which you provided quite nicely I might add," Sachiko giggled, "I don't think I have ever seen Sei-sama on the receiving end of her own medicine."

"It was kind of fun hearing her squeak instead of myself," Yumi giggled. "Hmm, I wonder what kind of sounds she would make if we taught Youko-sama how to give her one of Hiromi-san's patented massages."

Sachiko laughed softly, "I think any of those sounds would definitely have to be rated 'Mature Audiences Only'."

"I still cannot believe that Sayako-okaasama is oblivious to the fact that he's a guy," Yumi said with a shake of her head.

"Oh, she's not!" Sachiko chuckled, "she teasingly asked me if I wanted to invite 'Hiromi-kun' to this year's party."

"She didn't!" Yumi gasped.

"She did," Sachiko giggled, "but I figured that Tsutako-san would either kill us or pull out some of her 'sure to exist' blackmail photos."

"That reminds me. Did you get an invitation to their engagement party?" Yumi asked.

"Yes, it arrived here at the estate and I have already replied that I will attend. I think it's wonderful that they are making it official," Sachiko replied.

"So do I," Yumi smiled, "I know that the guest list is going to be fairly short, but I heard that Mami-san actually got an invitation as well."

"Actually, I think it is a smart move on their part. You always want to stay in the good graces of the press," Sachiko chuckled.

"I'm going to miss him," Yumi sighed. "We sure could have used his help with everything that is coming up this spring."

The story being circulated was that Hiromi-san's family had suddenly found it necessary to move to another city and so she was required to transfer to another school for the last few months of her senior year. The fact that he had not actually moved, but instead would be just on the other side of the hill attending Hanadera was a closely held secret kept by only those closest to him. Yumi was still somewhat shocked that he had elected to tell Mami-san, but then the two of them had been getting along better over the past few months. It was like something important to both of them had drawn the two together although Yumi could not fathom what it might be.

"That's what Boutons and their petite soeurs are for," Sachiko laughed quietly. "Don't worry, Yukiko-chan is just as good at managing things as Hiromi-san is. You'll be fine."

"If you say so," Yumi replied sleepily as she snuggled closer and laid her head on Sachiko's breast. Sachiko put an arm around her and kissed her on top of her head as she felt more than heard Yumi yawn.

"Sleep love," she whispered, "you have another long day tomorrow."

"Yes, onee-sama," Yumi smiled as her eyes closed.

It had been a long day, thought Sachiko as she felt Yumi's breathing even out into a restful slumber. Despite being sick most of the week Yumi had had a lot of energy which had translated into a lot of fun for the young girl. The ball had been fun as well, and it had been wonderful to be able to hold Yumi in her arms and dance with her again, but it was also nice to be able to simply enjoy the time spent with good friends.

Please, Maria-sama, Sachiko prayed into the night, please give us more days such as today, and more nights such as tonight. I know that I am being selfish, Maria-sama, but I don't care. I want more time with Yumi. I want more time to hold her, to look into her deep brown eyes and to see myself reflected in them. I want more time to walk with her hand-in-hand as we move forward through life together. I want more time to kiss her and make love to her and to feel her love for me in her sweet touches and her animal passions. I want more time to build a family with this wonderful girl and to watch that family grow. I want more time to grow old with Yumi and to walk together into the sunset. Is it too much to ask Maria-sama? Am I being too selfish? Aren't Yumi and I deserving of happiness? Please, Maria-sama . . . please.

Yumi woke briefly to the feel of her lover's tears on her face. It was not the first time, and she was sure it wouldn't be the last, but she knew that Sachiko would just wave her off if she said anything. Nor did she need to. She had wept those same tears so many times herself over the past months. She had wept, and cried, and screamed, and yelled, and wailed . . . but it was the quiet times, the times like these, deep in the night when she was held lovingly in Sachiko's arms that she truly knew what it was that she so desperately wanted.

Please, Maria-sama . . .

-oo-

"You can't!" Yoshino exclaimed in shock as Hiromi brandished a pair of shears.

"Well he can't really show up at Hanadera with his hair looking like it does now," Tsutako laughed at the shocked Rosa Foetida, "it stands out too much; especially after the Christmas Ball. I can't remember how many guys I overheard asking who the girl with the long, strawberry blonde hair was that night," she giggled, remembering her feelings of jealousy as the boys ogled her date.

"But, but, but . . ." Yoshino sputtered, "it's so pretty. I've always been envious of it, the way it flows, its thickness, the feel . . ."

"Oh, and just how many times did you take the opportunity to 'feel' his hair, Yoshino-san?" Tsutako chuckled. The blush on the Rosa Foetida's face was precious.

Hiromi just stood there and watched with a grin as everyone argued a point that had been decided by him and his family over two years ago. The party to announce his engagement to Tsutako was necessarily a small affair with just the members of the Yamayurikai along with Sachiko-sama and Sei-sama, his mother and grandmother, and Tsutako's parents in attendance. Mami-san had regretfully declined the invitation due to a prior engagement, but she had privately wished the two all the happiness in the world. With everyone here he had decided that this would be a perfect time to really cut his hair for the first time in his life and prepare for his first day at Hanadera. As they had all been talking and joking he had very quietly taken his hair out of its traditional Grecian braid to allow it to flow to its full length, ending around his knees. Tsutako had noticed and, rightly guessing his intent, had begun using her fingers to comb it out while Hiromi used a ribbon to tie it off into a single, high pony tail. She then began to re-braid it into a tighter weave so that it would be easier to handle once the deed had been done. His announcement to the group that it was time to cut his hair was what had caused Yoshino-san's outburst.

He was wearing a pair of jeans and a navy blue t-shirt and, for the first time in almost a year, was appearing before his friends as a male. He had taken off his fake breasts for the last time the previous evening after a final date with Tsutako as a girl. The two had eaten dinner at a family restaurant close to Tsutako's home and then gone shopping for more men's clothes since his closet was mostly filled with skirts, blouses, and dresses. They had had to use the ladies dressing rooms to try on the clothes they had picked out and one of the sales girls had given them a funny look as they exited carrying some of the more obviously male clothing in their arms. The look she had given them had kept them laughing most of the way back to her house.

"So, who wants to do the honors?" he asked the group of girls surrounding him.

"I think it's obvious that Tsutako-san should be the one to cut it," Sachiko replied with a smile for the photographer.

"No, no, no," Tsutako said waving her hands and shaking her head, "not me. I already told Hiromi that I couldn't do it. Please, someone else do it," she begged.

". . ."

Everyone looked at everyone else.

"Oh, you ninnies," Yumi chided the group. She stepped up and took the scissors from Hiromi's hand. He sat in a chair to make it easier for her and she grasped his ponytail just above the ribbon tie. With his thick hair it took about six snips, but she soon held about a meter's length of tied and braided hair in her hands.

"So, what are you going to do with it now," Sachiko asked, fairly sure of the answer she would hear. She wasn't disappointed.

"We're going to donate it to a local charity that makes wigs for cancer patients," Hiromi answered with a small smile for Yumi. "The same charity you donated yours to, Sachiko-sama."

A silence seemed to descend upon the group at Hiromi's words. Some were concerned about Yumi's reaction to being reminded of her affliction and the loss of her hair. Sachiko had a small stubble growing in already from when she cut her hair before the ball, but Yumi's head was still as bare and shiny as it had been that night.

"Well, don't look at me," Yumi grinned as she wrapped the braid loosely around her head and posed for the group, "I have never thought I would look good as a blonde." It was enough to break the tension and get everyone laughing again.

Hiromi got out a large box and tenderly placed the length of hair into it before closing it up again and setting it carefully in a cupboard. While his head felt immensely lighter without the length of hair he was happy that it could be used to make someone else's life just a little bit brighter.

-oo-

Yumi and Touko-chan were walking sedately along the cobbled paths of Lillian, enjoying the warming weather and laughing and giggling about some of the antics that had occurred at the recent Valentine's Day Treasure Hunt. Neither of the girl's were paying particular attention to where they were going and it was Yumi's great misfortune to walk into the path of a fellow student's brand new shinai that she was showing off to a friend. The bamboo sword sharply clipped her on the shin and Yumi let out a quick yelp before suddenly finding herself on her butt.

"Rosa Chinensis, I am so sorry," the sword girl exclaimed, tears welling up in her eyes, "I am so very sorry. I swear I didn't see you. Are you alright? Can I help you?"

"Ah, I'm fine, please. It was not your fault. If you could give me a hand up, maybe?" Yumi asked with her normal grin.

The girl quickly helped Yumi to her feet.

"See, all is well. I apologize. I was not looking where I was going. It was entirely my fault," Yumi explained.

"Oh, no, Rosa Chinensis. I should not have been swinging my shinai where someone might be hurt. It is all my fault," the girl wailed.

"Nonsense," Yumi said with her usual smile and a pat on the back to calm the girl. "As I said, I was not looking where I was going. It is completely my fault. Nevertheless, no harm was done. I'm fine, so please think nothing more of it."

"Are you sure, Yumi-sama? Can I get you anything?" the girl asked, a look of relief coming over her face as Yumi gently wiped away some of her tears.

"No, nothing. Thank you. I'm fine, but if you don't start moving soon you will be late for class," Yumi pointed out to the girl with a grin.

"Oh, right. Well, thank you Rosa Chinensis. Please take care," the girl said with a shy smile.

"You too," Yumi responded, turning and putting a hand on Touko-chan's shoulder.

Touko felt the amount of pressure that Yumi placed on her and had to stiffen her stance to keep from slouching. "Onee-sama?"

"Please, Touko-chan," Yumi said through clenched teeth, "just watch the girl that just left and let me know when she is out of sight. Pretend we are talking. Point something out, say anything, just please let me know when she is gone."

"Of course, onee-sama," Touko said, confused. She did exactly what Yumi asked of her, improvising for the four minutes or so it took for the girl to get completely out of sight. "She's gone now, onee-sama." Touko said, worriedly watching the fake smile plastered on Yumi's face.

"Ah, good. Now, can you please help me over to that bench," Yumi asked of her petite soeur as she raised her right leg and immediately placed even more of her weight on Touko's shoulder.

"Onee-sama? Are you sure everything is alright? What is going on?" Touko asked, getting even more worried as a heavy sweat broke out on Yumi's brow. The two made it quickly to the stone bench off to one side where Yumi instantly collapsed. With a sigh, Yumi opened her book bag and took out her cell phone rather than answering her petite soeur's questions.

"Sachiko, are you in class yet? Good. Could I ask a really big favor of you," Yumi said into the mouthpiece, "I seem to have broken my leg. Is it possible that I could ask you to take me to the hospital? Yes, I'm fine for now, Sachi. It just hurts . . . a lot," Yumi whimpered. "Touko-chan and I are on a bench near the statue of Maria-sama. Could I ask you to meet us at the front gate? Ah, thank you Sachi. I really appreciate it. We'll see you in a couple of minutes."

Throughout the short phone conversation Touko had sat next to her grande soeur in stunned silence. When Yumi hung up the phone she asked if Touko could help her get to the main gate.

"Whaaa, what happened, onee-sama? I thought you told the girl that you were fine? What do you mean you have a broken leg?" she exclaimed, getting more and more agitated and confused.

"Well, Touko-chan, it really was more my fault than hers, but even so, if I had let her know that she had broken my leg, how do you think she would have felt? No, it was better for her to think that I was fine. I can come up with some other excuse to blame for the broken bone. Now, can you please help me up and help me to the street?"

"I don't understand you sometimes, onee-sama," Touko responded in exasperation, deciding it was better to put on her "en Bouton" face rather than get hysterical which was what she really would have preferred to do. She helped Yumi to stand and, with Yumi's arm across her shoulders, helped her to hop and hobble to the street where Sachiko would pick her up.

"I don't know what's so hard to understand, Touko-chan," Yumi explained between gritted teeth as they made their way towards the gates. "No matter who was at fault, that girl would have been mortified that she had injured me. I doubt any amount of consoling would have made her feel any better. It was therefore better to pretend . . . ouch, damn . . . to pretend that nothing had happened. Making her feel bad wouldn't have changed anything. My leg would still be broken and . . . aaahhh . . . I would still be in pain. Now at least she won't have to worry or possibly even be badgered by her fellow students for having hurt me. Isn't this the better solution?"

Touko just huffed her frustrations but, even more, once again felt total awe for this girl that had taken her to be her petite soeur. Even with everything that had been going on, even though she was fighting for her own life on a daily basis, Yumi still thought of others first instead of herself. It was unbelievable for anyone but Yumi.

Sachiko's car came to a slow halt at the curb right in front of them and Touko quickly opened the passenger door.

"Yumi," Sachiko called from the driver's seat, "what happened?"

"I'll tell you about it on the way, Sachiko. Just, please, let's get there quickly. I'm not sure how much longer I'm going to be able to stay conscious," Yumi said. Touko helped her into the passenger's seat and reached across to help her buckle the seatbelt. "Touko, could you please let my teachers and the Yamayurikai know that I probably won't be in today?"

"Of course, onee-sama. But only if you promise to call me later with the results."

"I promise," Yumi tried to laugh but winced as the door was shut. "Thank you for everything Touko. I couldn't have done it without you. I promise I will call you later," Yumi said just before Sachiko hit the gas.

"Oh, onee-sama," Touko said, just shaking her head as she watched Sachiko-oneesama pull out into traffic. She would have to tell Yumi's teachers and then get over to the Rose Mansion before she would be able to allow herself to break down and cry.


One more to go folks. As always, please feel free to leave a comment. I always appreciate hearing from you.

Thanks and take care,

CX