Tides of the Shifting Hearts
(Disclaimer: I do not own To LOVE-Ru)
It bothered her.
No. "Bother" was too nice a word for it. Rather, it irritated her. He irritated her.
Her violet eyes watched with disgust as the human known as Yuuki Rito untangled himself from the mass of limbs that was her older and younger sisters. The clumsy human had been in a hurry and ran into her sisters as they were turning a corner. As he jumped to his feet and bowed repeatedly, apologies ushering forth from his mouth in rapid succession, her sisters stood and smiled.
"Ne, it's okay, Rito-san." the smaller of the two cooed.
Her older sister nodded. "Yeah, it was just an accident."
She bristled and narrowed her eyes when she heard this. This irritated her also, perhaps more so than him. How it was that her sisters coddled the perverted beast no matter what he did... it enraged her so much that she literally shook.
His face flushed with embarrassment, he bowed once more and smiled sheepishly. "Th-thank you."
Her sisters' smiles warmed, irritating her all the more, and her fists began to shake at her sides. He turned towards her then, with eyes full of concern, and asked if she was alright. She glared at him in silence for a moment, then turned way from him sharply and crossed her arms. The sound of her twin's giggling touched her ears, causing her to bite her lip.
She didn't respond to him. If anyone had asked her what she thought of Yuuki Rito, she would have told them that he was a perverted beast who should be imprisoned in a cage so that no one would be in danger of his crass, heartless ways, that any woman would do well to keep from getting caught in his clutches, and that the entire universe would be better off without him.
"Ne, Rito-san, don't worry about her. If you really feel bad, though... you can always spend some time with me..."
"To make up for your... accident."
She turned just enough so that she could see what her little sister was doing, and her face flushed red with anger. There was barely any space between them, and the shorter-haired girl's lips were just a hair's breath from his ear. Rito's face was scarlet, his eyes were wide, and he was stammering at her.
Hmph. Perverted beast. "Momo, cut that out!"
Momo shifted her violet eyes to her twin's, and smiled sweetly. "What do you say, Rito-san? Won't you... spend some time with me in my room?" Her eyes never left Nana's, and as Rito finally brought himself to pull away from her sweet whispers and stumble back, a smirk alit her face, taunting her stringent older sister.
Her shaking fists back at her sides, Nana turned and walked away, leaving her sisters and the beast behind.
In truth, she didn't really hate Rito; she doubted she ever really could. Yes, he seemed to have a talent for getting into perverted situations, but when she really thought about it, he had never gotten into any of those situations with motive or intent. That didn't change the fact that he always ended up groping or seeing something he shouldn't have of the female form. When it came right down to it though, the real reason he irritated her so much was because she didn't know how to deal with her feelings for him. She wasn't like Momo, she couldn't just walk up to a boy and unabashedly express her feelings, whatever they were. She wasn't in love with him or anything. At least, not exactly, but... if life continued on the way it was going, she could see herself doing just that. Rito was genuine. Rito was pure... to an extent, and that's not something she was used to seeing in boys his age, human or otherwise. He was just so...
She stopped dead when she realized what she was thinking, and her face flushed red.
"Che! Stupid beast!"
Gray. That was the color of the sky the next day, and with it came the rain.
Her violet eyes gazed out the cold windows, her mouth formed in a discontent frown. From her lips there came a sigh, and Nana lay her head against her desk.
"What's the matter, Nana-chan?"
She looked up at the voice's owner and resignedly sat up. "Nothing, Mea."
"Hm?" The red-haired girl tilted her head and place a finger against her bottom lip. "Are you sure?"
Nana only nodded.
"Did Yuuki-sempai try something on you?"
Her face reddened at the very suggestion. "Wh-what would make you ask that?" she stammered.
"Well, I just came from the cafeteria, and I saw Yuuki-sempai on top of Kotegawa-sempai on the floor."
Nana's head jerked so fast that an audible crack sounded through the room. She inwardly groaned and rubbed her neck.
Mea raised a row. "Nana-chan?"
"You did, huh?" Nana asked, ignoring the unspoken question. On top of a girl... on the floor... again?
Mea smiled and nodded. "Uh huh. It seems he tripped and they both fell over. She got mad and smacked him."
Serves him right, the Second princess nodded as Mea giggled next t o her, presumably at the memory of Rito being smacked. Perverted beast. Don't you ever get enough?
"He's probably still being lectured," Mea continued, still giggling.
"Hmph. I hope so."
The red-haired girl gazed at her friend and smiled curiously. "You don't like Yuuki-sempai all that much, do you, Nana-chan?"
"What?" Her crossed arms dropped back to her desk, and she gaped at Mea wordlessly.
Mes smiled at her reaction. "It just seems that whenever we talk about Yuuki-sempai, you always sound so severe."
"Oh, I wouldn't worry about Nana, Mea-san," a new voice said. "She likes Rito-san just fine"
Nana's eyes narrowed, and her arms crossed against her chest. "What do you know, Momo? Don't assume you know everything about me just because we're twins."
Walking around Mea, Momo smiled a knowing smile and leaned back against the empty desk next to them.
"Ah, Momo-chan," Mea greeted, a smile stretching across her face. "How are you?"
"I'm fine, Mea-san, thank you." She smiled sweetly, then smirked at her older sister. "Don't worry, Nana, I'm sure you and Rito-san will be very happy together with everyone in the future."
Indignation filled Nana, but a hint of curiosity touched her voice when she asked "What do you mean?"
Momo said nothing, but smiled mischievously at Mea, who returned the smile knowingly.
Nana's brow furrowed. "Fine. Keep your secrets." She turned away from them and shifted her gaze back to the window.
Momo just shook her head, an amused smile curving her lips. "I'm going shopping with Ane-ue after school today, so I need you to take my place for cleaning duty."
"What?" Before she could protest further, her sister waved a hand and walked away.
Mea watched her as she left, then turned her eyes back to Nana. She saw the girl's pleading eyes and smiled apologetically. "I would help you, but I have plans after school as well."
Nana could only groan and slump over her desk. "Wonderful."
Stupid Momo, Nana inwardly grumbled as she walked down the stairs to the first floor of the school. Not only did I get stuck doing her job, but the other person assigned to cleaning duty didn't even bother to show up! The fading light in the hall showed just how much time had passed since she started cleaning, not that it was very bright out to begin with anyway.
The line of windows gave way to the entrance hall. Lockers lined the large room from end to end, but large as it was, Nana was still grumbling when she threaded her way among the silent metal guardian and finally reached her locker. Its door closed with a metallic clang after she changed her shoes, and Nana sighed as she made her way to the front doors. Unfortunately, even though she had been staring out a window the entire day, one thought had never occurred to her until she was standing right in front of the school doors: She didn't have an umbrella.
Irritation pulsed through her. When she had walked to school that morning, she had shared an umbrella with Ane-ue...who was now shopping with Momo. She grit her teeth and rubbed her fingers against her left temple as she felt a headache coming on.
Stupid Momo. Now it's late and I have no umbrella. Great.
"Hey, Nana. What are you doing here so late?"
"Rito..." She regarded him curiously as he approached her from a row of lockers. "I had to do cleaning duty because Momo... had some things to do."
"Mm." he nodded as he emerged from the lockers and stopped next to her. "Heading home?"
"Um, yeah." She noticed the closed umbrella in his hand, but didn't say anything. She wouldn't ask him for help. Not him. "So what are you still doing here?"
"I forgot my school bag," he sighed, holding up his book bag for her to see. "Mikan wasn't too pleased with me." He smiled and gave a halfhearted chuckle.
Rito watched her turn away, and shrugged. As he opened his umbrella, he glanced down to see her standing standing there rigidly, an umbrella curiously absent from her hands. He tilted his head in thought. "Nana, don't you have an umbrella?"
She grimaced at his question. "No," she answered from behind clenched teeth.
"Oh. Well, come on then."
She looked up at him with a puzzled expression.
He smiled and gestured to his umbrella. "I can't let you walk home in the rain, now, can I?"
She gazed at him quietly for a moment, then nodded. "Thanks," she murmured as she stepped under the umbrella.
The doors closed behind them and they made their way to the front gate, but that, too, soon lay in their wake.
Walking so closely next to him under the umbrella, her face tinted red and turned away from him, there was an uncomfortable silence about them as they headed home.
"So..." She tensed at the sound of his voice. "How was your day, Nana?" Only the rapping rain answered his question at first.
"It was fine," she said at last. "Completely uneventful."
"Ah. Yeah, school can be like that sometimes."
Silence once again fell between them. The sidewalk on which they walked was bordered by houses and fences on one side and the street on the other, but given that it was late in the afternoon and that it was raining, there was really no one else around. Only an approaching car shared the street with them.
"Say, Nana, are you mad at me right now?" he suddenly asked as his eyes tracked the car. "You know, because of yesterday?"
"Wha-" Flustered, Nana stammered for a moment, but before she could speak, Rito pulled her roughly by her arm.
"What are you...!"
Muddy water splashed around them, but not a drop landed on Nana. Rito smiled down at her as he straightened.
"Sorry. You okay?"
She looked at the road beside them, saw the car going up the street spraying water from its tires as it drove, then nodded numbly at Rito. She watched him pick his book bag off the sidewalk and shake the water from it. Drops fell to the ground less and less frequently until Rito, evidently satisfied, nodded to himself.
"Well, that sure was rude," he said, looking up the street after the car. "You didn't get sprayed too badly, did you?"
Sprayed... she watched the muddy water drip from his coat for a moment, then shook her head. "No, I'm fine. Thank you... Rito." He shielded me from the spraying water...
He smiled and gestured forward with his umbrella. She nodded and followed in step beside him. "So," he began, "where were we?"
A small smile touched her lips. "No," she said, answering his previous question, "I'm not mad at you." She crossed her arms then, and glared pointedly up at him. "But if you try anything perverted, that's gonna change."
Rito shook his head and smiled. "Hai."
Mikan smiled as she wiped her hands on her apron. "Welcome home," she greeted from behind the kitchen counter.
On the couch, Momo looked up at the two entering the house and smiled. "Welcome back, you two," she said sweetly, her voice drawing out the words. "My, you're both home late."
Nana's eyes narrowed as her sister's smile widened.
"Were you two doing anything fun?"
Her twin just laughed at her as she returned her attention to her magazine.
Jeez... Still bristled, the second princess inwardly grumbled as she slipped her shoes off. Beside her, Rito was removing his own shoes. She watched in silence as he placed the folded umbrella against the wall, the memory of their walk playing through her mind. A frown formed on her face, and she folded her arms as she bit her lower lip in thought.
As Rito pulled one arm from his jacket, he caught her eye and tilted his head curiously. "Nana?"
Shaken from her thoughts, Nana turned about face, hiding her flushed cheeks from him and muttering a "Thank you" before walking through the living room towards the stairs. As she passed the couch, her face still a deep shade of red, she glanced at her younger twin to find a smirk on her face. The pace of her gait only increased at this, and she soon found herself up the stairs and stepping onto the lift pad. She breathed in deep as light enveloped her form, and released her breath in a deep sigh as the light faded.
"Oh hello, Nana."
She glanced across the stark-white living room and smiled weakly at her older sister. "Ane-ue." The first princess sat on the long couch at the center of the room reading a small book. Sleeping against her lay the small Celine, her petals and hair draped lightly against Lala's right thigh. She smiled at the sight of the sleeping girl, but frowned when she saw what her sister was reading as she approached the couch.
"Why are you reading that?"
Lala looked up from the book in confusion. "You mean the Ten Sure Steps To Love guide?"
"Yes," Nana sighed as she collapsed onto the couch next to her.
"Oh. Well, the last book I got on love didn't work very well."
So you went out and bought another one...
"Well, why do you need one of those anyway? Even if any of the stuff in that book is worth reading, I doubt any boy would be receptive enough to catch on when you use it."
Lala just smiled. "Maybe, but at least I'll know a little more about love after I read this book than before. It might come in handy with Rito someday."
Rito? She inwardly groaned at the thought of the beast. Wait... She glanced at her older sister again, her brows tightly knit in thought. "Hey... Ane-ue..."
"Hm?" Lala looked up from her book once more to see Nana staring at her with what she could only describe as extreme concentration. "Um, Nana?"
"I was just wondering," the Second princess began, her pigtails bobbing ever so slightly as she spoke, "what is it about Rito that you like?"
Lala stared at the younger girl for a moment, then smiled warmly. "He's kind."
Nana blanched. "He's kind," she repeated. "That's it?"
Lala nodded, the smile on her face only brightening. "Yes." Her voice held a tone that Nana did not hear very often, one that caused her to doubt herself for a moment.
"But," she pressed, "surely there's more to it than that."
"Well, yes, but..." Lala lay her hands over her cheeks and lips, and closed her eyes. "Everything about him," she said slowly, "stems from how kind he is. The thought of him makes me feel so warm..." Her eyes opened and her hands fell slowly back to her lap. "Do you understand what I mean?"
Nana gazed at her in silence, the memory of Rito protecting her from the spray of water once again playing through her mind. "Yes," she said, her voice barely a whisper. Lala smiled at her warmly, then lifted the book to her chest again. Nana spoke no more as she rose from the couch and walked through the devilukan dwelling. Her mind was too lost in thought to say anything more.
She's right. Rito is kind... so very kind, but... she bit her lower lip as the thought continued to play out. He likes Haruna-chan and Ane-ue... right? And there's also Yui-chan and Run-chan; even Momo stands a better chance than I... do... she stopped and shook her head, irritated at herself. No. I don't like him. Why am I thinking like that? But... even though she didn't like him, she couldn't deny that she felt something for him beyond the front she put on about him being a perverted beast. She still felt that he... Still rooted to the floor, she tilted her head ever so slightly as a realization coursed through her. Even though she didn't like him, he had never really acknowledged her as a woman, and for some reason this irked her. No, she didn't have as big of breasts as her sisters, and no, she didn't yet possess the curves they had, but... there was no reason for him not to acknowledge her.
Her brow knit once more and she continued walking through her home. She turned abruptly towards the first door she came upon on her left, and the door slid open for her with the barest of whooshing sounds. It shut behind her as she entered the room, and she stopped just after a few steps and squared her shoulder. Her reflection stared back at her from the bathroom mirror as she scanned the counter's surface. Various bottles and tubes of cream, lipstick, eyeliner, powder, and various other products lined the mirror's surface. Beside the mirror, three hairbrushes hung from hooks. She opened a drawer under the counter and looked down at the rows of hair clips and bows. She gazed at all that was before her and crossed her arms.
If I were to look more mature, he would look at me, wouldn't he? She stared at her reflection with eyes set, then breathed in deep. When she let it out, she reached for the nearest hairbrush.
"You know, you shouldn't tease your sister like that."
Momo laughed as she set her magazine down and looked at the younger Yuuki sibling on the couch across from her. "Like you don't tease Rito-san?" The downstairs was quiet with only the two of them to occupy it, but this suited both girls just fine. Or, at least, it had. Mikan set her book down on her lap and pressed a hand against her chest.
"I never said I didn't, but at least I do it with good intentions."
"Well, most of the time," Mikan laughed. "But still, you should apologize to her."
"You think so?"
"Hmm..." She smiled sweetly and rose from the couch. "Maybe I'll go do that." The girl did not respond to this as Momo began ascending the stairs, but then, Momo had not expected her to. There was some merit to what Mikan had suggested, she supposed. It's not as if it could hurt anything.
Besides, Nana will be part of the harem. Perhaps it's time to see where she stands right now.
It would be a funny thing to see, she thought, her own violet eyes staring back at her from the mirror. Not that anyone would. Not if she had anything to say about it, anyway. She furrowed her brow as she frowned, and bit her lower lip in thought. Her hair was stuck up at odd angles with hair clips, and a mismatch of colors adorned her face. The soft red lipstick applied to her lips was smeared, pale green eyeshadow appeared in round blobs over her eyes, and rose-colored powder covered her left cheek. She gazed down at the powder container she held in her hand and tapped the brush in her other hand against the soft surface.
Her reflections in the many bottles and containers of perfume, lipstick, and other such cosmetics surely would have laughed at her if they could. At least the reflection in the mirror was more sympathetic to its owner, or so Nana would like to believe. Of course, she was just grateful that the only witnesses to this awful experiment were herself, her reflections, and the makeup below her on the counter. And it was her plan to keep it that way.
Of course... life rarely ever does go according to plan.
A pink haze filled the air around the mirror. Momo stared at her twin in silence as the door slid shut behind her. Her sister stood, coughing and waving her hand in front of her face to ward the haze away. She gazed at the hair clips strangling her sister's hair, then looked to the clumsily applied makeup. Her lips curved upward.
"My, my," she said, "what do we have here?"
"M-Momo!" Still coughing, Nana turned to her younger twin and narrowed her eyes. "Get ou-out!"
Momo just smiled and stepped towards her sister. "Ya know," she began, "if you wanted to get all prettied up, you could have asked for my help." She came to a stop and glanced down at the counter and all the various bottles and containers it held. "I'm good at this kind of thing," she added, smirking at Nana.
"Sh-shut up!" The air now clear of the powder, she set the container back on the counter and began taking the clips out of her hair.
"I'm serious, you know."
Nana glared hard at the mirror, using all her will power not to turn to her sister. She didn't want to see that smug look on her face. She would see it anyway, however, for her sister's form appeared in the mirror beside hers. "Go away," she grumbled. The smile only seemed to curve more.
"Who are you trying to impress, anyway?" Momo asked, ignoring her sister. "Could you have met a boy at school, or..." Her smile became an outright smirk. "Rito-san?"
"D-don't be stupid!" Nana exclaimed, setting the last of the clips on the counter. Her hair fell beside her face as she opened the drawer and unsympathetically shoved the clips over the side of the counter. They fell into the drawer haphazardly.
"That was a mistake," Momo sighed.
"What was?" Nana asked, slamming the drawer shut.
"Taking the clips out. You should have washed the makeup off, and then taken the hair clips off."
Nana stared at her reflection for a moment, then closed her eyes and braced her hands against the counter. "Go away," she said again. It was bad enough that Momo was there in the first place. She didn't have to point out her mistakes as well. She could spot them all very clearly without needing to be informed of them.
The smile returned to Momo's face. "No," she said simply. Nana turned, eyes narrowed, lips pursed and ready to shout, but she found herself watching Momo walking away. Perplexed, she tilted her head. The door slid open before the Third princess, but she did not walk out of it. Instead, she turned and smirked at her sister. "Hey, Ane-ue," she called.
Nana paled. "You idiot!" she hissed. She hurriedly turned the sink on and splashed water against her face, but it was too late. She could hear her older sister's footsteps coming down the hall.
"What's up, Momo?" she asked as she appeared in the doorway. Momo smiled and pointed at their sister. Lala turned curiously. Her brows arched. "Nana? What happened?"
Embarrassed, Nana shut off the water and slowly lifted her face from the sink. She turned towards them timidly. Momo almost burst out laughing at the sight of her older sister. Strands of hair was plastered to her forehead, its pink color mixing with that of the powder. Lines of diluted green makeup ran down from around her eyes like tears, and like splashes of pink paint from her cheeks. They streamed down her face and fell to the floor in small droplets.
"Ara." Lala looked her up and down and tilted her head. "Nana, were you trying to put makeup on?"
The sounds of dripping water and makeup tapping against the floor were the only sounds in the bathroom for a moment. "... yes," she said at last.
Lala smiled warmly and grabbed the washcloth off the counter. "Silly," she chided. "You should have asked me or Momo for help." She turned the faucet's handle and held the cloth under its running water.
Nana drew her hands into fists and averted her eyes from her older sister. "I know." The handle squeaked as Lala turned it off, and she dabbed the cloth lightly against Nana's cheek.
"Why don't I teach you how to use all this stuff," Lala suggested, glancing at all the bottles on the counter.
Nana's eyes brightened. "Really?"
Lala nodded. "I'll even show you how to do your hair."
"Who knows," Momo added, smiling sweetly and twirling a lock of hair around her finger, "maybe we could dress up, too. And show Rito-san."
The beaming smile that had just appeared on Nana's face vanished.
"Oh, that's a wonderful idea, Momo! What do you think, Nana?"
"H-humph!" Nana crossed her arms defiantly. "Why should I go to the trouble of getting dressed up just for that beast?"
"Oh, Nana, don't be like that. It'll be fun."
"W-well, if you want to, Ane-ue..."
Lala smiled. "Of course I do. I like dressing up for Rito."
Surprised, Nana looked at her sister questioningly. "Why?"
Lala's smile brightened. "Because I can always tell that he likes it."
The First princess giggled. "Rito likes it when I dress up. His face always gets red, and he can't talk straight."
"You … like it when he looks at you?"
"Of course. I love Rito. I want him to look at me always."
Her statement gave Nana pause. To always look at her? Maybe with Ane-ue's help, he'll look at me. Not always. Definitely not always. But... if just this once... She nodded slowly and looked to Lala. "All right. Let's get started then."
"I still can't you believe you forgot you school bag."
Rito smiled at his little sister. "I know, Mikan. You told me already."
"Honestly, you worry me, Rito." Wiping her hands on her apron, Mikan, glanced over at the carrots Rito was chopping. She nodded approvingly and sighed as she turned to the sink. An open brown bag lay on the counter next to it. She opened a drawer and pulled out a peeler.
"At least I don't have that much homework tonight," Rito offered.
"True," Mikan considered, shutting the drawer and pulling a potato out of the bag. "But don't make this a habit."
Rito almost laughed. "Hai."
"Oh, and the shopping needs to be done tomorrow, okay?"
"Ta da!" Before Rito could answer, Lala's voice sounded through the house. The siblings looked up at the stairs to find Lala, Nana and Momo standing next to the bannister in a single-file line. Rito's eyes widened. Mikan smiled.
"My, don't you three look pretty," she said, setting the potato and peeler down. She wiped her hands on her apron once more and walked towards the princesses with her hands clasped before her chin. "Don;t they, Rito?"
"Uh, ye-yeah, I uh ..."
Lala smiled and nodded to her sisters. They stepped off the stairs and paraded around the living room, showing off their outfits. Mikan looked back at her brother and shifted her smile to a smirk. His mouth was literally hanging open. She sighed to herself and stepped beside her brother. She punched him lightly on the shoulder and took his arm in hers.
"Come on, Rito, let's go see the pretty girls." She led him to the living room and smiled at her friends. "So what's the occasion?"
Momo smiled sweetly. "No reason. We just felt like dressing up. We are ladies, after all."
Lala nodded, a beaming smile on her face. "Uh-huh. What do you think, Rito? How do I look?"
It took a moment for Rito to respond. He looked her up and down, too stunned to bother to hide his gaze, but Lala did not seem to mind at all. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and the bangs on the left side of her face were drawn back by two black hair clips. Her strapless dress was navy blue. It held tight to her form, and a slit parted the skirt over right thigh. The slit was partially covered by a black cloth that flowed from the waistline of her dress that swept down just above the hem of her skirt, then rose back to the left hip of her waistline. Golden circlets hung from her wrists and encircled the base of her neck, and black, sandal-like high heels adorned her feet. It took a moment for Rito to tear his eyes away from her. "What?" he asked, finding Lala's gaze. Beside him, Mikan smiled and shook her head.
Lala giggled and spread her hand before her. "How do I look?"
"Oh, uh… you, um..." It took Rito a moment to compose himself enough to even think clearly about answering her question.
"Pretty," Mikan said, elbowing her brother in the side. "She looks pretty."
"Y-yeah! Pretty!" His face red with embarrassment, he raised his gaze almost timidly to Lala's. "You look very pretty," he said quietly.
"And what about me, Rito-san?" Momo asked from beside Lala. Momo's dress was a deep green in color, and two straps rose from the neck line to cross over her bare chest and connect at the back of her neck. Her arms were bare save for the flowing green sleeves that spilled from black rings of material that clung to her arms above her elbows, and the green shawl that was draped around her shoulders and rest in the crooks of her arms. Viridian-colored flats covered her feet, and emeralds inlaid on golden bases hung from her ears.
"Y-yeah, you too, Momo. You look reall pretty." He looked them both over once more and nodded in affirmation. Last was Nana. The sides of her hair had been drawn back to be bound at the back of her head into a braid that fell freely down her back with the rest of her hair. Her bangs were brushed to the left side of her face, and held there by one white hair clip. Her dress was simple; black in color with a pleated skirt. Discreet, white ruffles embroidered the neckline along her chest. Aside from these ruffles, the straps were about the most elaborate things about the dress. They were like puffs of cotton upon her shoulders.
She watched him apprehensively as he looked at her. "W-well?" she demanded. He looked up at her and smiled.
"You look really nice, Nana"
Nice. The word echoed through her mind. Nice. Her fingers twitched. Her eyes hardened. Nice.
"Well excuse me for not being as pretty!" Oh, how she wanted to scream those words. But she didn't. She only bit her lip as her hands continued to shake. She balled them into fists, lowered her head, and walked past him wordlessly. Confused, Rito turned and watched her ascend the stairs.
"Nana?" She didn't answer, but disappeared onto the second floor. "What happened?" He looked around questioningly, but no one answered him. Momo and Mikan just shook their heads, and Lala stared at the stairs.
"Don't worry, Rito," Lala said, her gaze still on the stairs. "I'll go talk to her."
"No," Momo sighed. "I'll do it."
"Trust me," the Third princess said as she walked past Lala. "In this case, it'd be better for me to talk to her." Lala said nothing, but watched her go up the stairs until she, too, disappeared from view.
Water ran from the faucet, pooling into Nana's hands and quickly splashed against her face. A myriad of colors dropped into the sink as her makeup slid off of her face in one great stream. She looked up at her reflection miserably. A face covered by trails of smeared and diluted colors stared back at her.
Nice... She didn't know why she was surprised. She should have expected as much from a stupid beast like Rito. Had she really thought that a little makeup and a different hairstyle would change anything? No, she knew better. Rito was nothing but a perverted beast. Why should she have wanted to do anything to see him be pleased with her? Just a perverted beast. But … for some reason, his words stung her.
Nice... Her vision blurred, her eyes stung. Stupid Rito.
The door slid open, and she quickly reached for the wash cloth. She pressed it against her face as the door slid shut. Whoever had entered didn't say anything, but walked towards her. She could hear the footsteps come to a stop beside her.
"Well," the person said, "that went well."
Momo. Nana wiped her face dry and lowered the cloth. In the mirror, her face was decidedly less colorful. She rinsed the cloth out in the sink and started scrubbing at the remaining makeup.
"I can see you're back in your regular clothes again," Momo said, glancing down at the dress Nana had worn. It lay haphazardly on the counter beside her, rumpled and clumped together.
Nana ignored her sister. She had tossed the dress away as soon as she had gotten into the bathroom. There was no reason to keep wearing it. Not now, not ever.
"What, you're not even going to talk to me?"
"Will you just go away," Nana said from behind the wash cloth.
"Alright." Momo smiled and shook her head as she turned to leave. "Have it your way, then." She paused though, when she reached the door. It slid open before her as she turned to her older twin. "Maybe it was the clothes."
Nana glanced at her curiously. "The... clothes?"
Momo nodded. "You don't really have that many girly clothes in you wardrobe. Maybe if you went shopping for a nice dress tomorrow with Rito-san, you'd get a better reaction. You never know." With that, the Third princess turned and walked away. The door slid shut behind her.
Nana stared at the space she had been standing for some time before she turned back to the mirror. Go shopping with Rito? It was fair to say that she hated him now more than she ever had, so why would she want to go shopping with Rito? Though she preferred to maintain this stance, an inkling of a thought began to nag at her. What if it was the clothes? It was true,s he didn't have that many "girly" clothes, as Momo had put it, but then, she had never really felt the need for it. As far as she was concerned, there was nothing wrong with a pair of shorts and a tank top. Momo was the one who liked to dress up, not her. But still, it was possible that the dress just wasn't enough, wasn't it? Everyone had different tastes and preferences, after all. And if she did go shopping with Rito, mightn't she have a better chance? He would look at her then, wouldn't he? But, to go shopping with Rito...
Her face reddened, just a little, and she gazed at her refection with uncertainty. "I can't do that... can I?"
It was with nervous steps that Nana walked beside Rito the next day. Rain still poured from the gray sky only to fall upon their umbrellas in a myriad of taps as they walked down the street. The idea her sister had proposed had not been an easy one to accept. In fact, when she finally felt comfortable enough to ask Rito for his company, it came out as more of an order than a question. But he had accepted the "request" willingly, which only sent her spiraling further into a panic. Even now, that panic caused a nervousness that threatened to spill out at any moment.
She jumped when she felt his hand on her shoulder, and pulled away hurriedly. "W-what?"
He smiled and gestured to the store on their right. "We're here."
She looked up at the grocery store and nodded. "Y-yeah..." She pulled at her sweater and looked back to Rito. Unfortunately, when she had asked him to go shopping with her, she had neglected to specify what kind of shopping.
"Well, come on."
She bit her lip as she watched him walk towards the doors. "H-hey, Rito..." He turned as the double doors opened before him.
"Would you..." Her eyes glanced down at the sidewalk, then lifted nervously up to his. "Would you mind going shopping with me right now?"
"But..." A look of confusion crossed his face. "But we are going shopping. See?".
"R-right, but I w-wanted to buy some new clothes." She could not see the expression on his face, for she was staring at the ground again and fidgeting nervously with her fingers, but she could imagine the surprised and bewildered look that surely must have been there. "And since we're already out here, I was wondering if you wouldn't mind going w-with me. You don't have to if you don't want to!" she added hastily, looking back up at him in a panic. He had a funny sort of look on his face, as if he were greatly confused, then he looked at the grocery store for a moment and shrugged.
"I guess we can get the food later," he said, turning back to her with a smile on his face. Relief flooded through her. She smiled brightly and nodded.
Their walk was a quiet one. Both were too nervous to say anything. They passed convenience stores and small shops, business buildings and homes, until they finally reached the shopping district. Not as many people were out due to the rain, but all the stores and shops were open, their signs and windows shining light into into the gloomy gray air. They passed many of these stores, looking at the products in the windows before moving to the next. Nana glanced about nervously. All about them were shoppers and cars, and more than a few of those shoppers were couples. They held hands and leaned upon each other, window-shopped and laughed together... If they were not careful, the two of them might be mistaken for a couple. The mere thought of this caused the girl's cheeks to rise in temperature. They continued on down the street until, quite suddenly, Nana stopped. Rito looked back at her when he noticed she was no longer with him. She was staring up at the sign of the store they were in front of. He glanced at it as well, then peered inside the window. His face reddened when he saw what kind of store it was.
"I-is this the store you want to go to, Nana?"
She nervously nodded as she drew her attention from the sign. Momo had recommended the place very highly when Nana asked her for advice. Perhaps she should have taken that as a sign, but she was far too occupied with the prospect of having to ask Rito to accompany her. This, she reflected as the doors slid open before her, was clearly an oversight on her part. Immediately upon entering the store she was greeted by the sight of women's clothing. To her left, in the window display, stood manikins modeling the latest fashions. On their right stood ring-shaped racks on stands bearing all sorts of blouses and shirts. She tried to ignore the undergarment section she had glimpsed beyond the manikins, Rito's presence beside her causing her cheeks to flush. They folded their umbrellas and set them against the wall, and as they stepped further into the store, they was met by a woman wearing a black sweater with a high collar and beige pants. The nametag pinned on the left side of her chest told Nana the woman was an employee of the store.
"My! What a lovely couple you two make!"
Nana's face went scarlet. Beside her, Rito wasn't doing much better. She shook her head adamantly and tried to convince the saleswoman that they weren't a couple, but the woman just smiled. "But we're not a-"
"Is there anything specific you're looking for today, or would you just like to browse?" the woman asked, not seeming to hear Nana's protests. Her mouth open to speak, Nana suddenly realized that she had no idea what she had wanted to shop for. Her mind had gone into a complete panic mode because of the woman's greeting. She was completely overwhelmed. As a result, no sound came from her gaping mouth. But then, as if a switch had been flicked, she remembered.
"I... I'd like to look at some dresses, please."
The saleswoman nodded to herself and gestured for them to follow her. "Ah! Such a good choice. I'm sure we'll be able to find you something adorable." As they followed her, Rito couldn't help but look around nervously. Everywhere he looked he saw women's clothing. He pulled at the collar of his shirt anxiously.
"Here we are! Dresses."
Rito looked at where the woman had brought them. In front of them stood one long, silver clothing rack that stretched a great portion of the store. Hanging on the rack were dresses of many designs and colors. Rito, of course, had no idea what to do, but as memory served, he remembered that there was really nothing for him to do but stand around and wait.
"Now, is there anything particular you had in mind?" the saleswoaman asked, turning to Nana.
"Well, come along then. Let's see what we can do." She led Nana down the rack, looking at dresses and shaking her head. Rito trailed behind them as they continued on. "No... this won't work either." She put he dress back and turned to Nana. She folded one arm and rest her other's elbow against it as she placed her fingers over her lips in thought. She looked at Nana very hard for a moment, nodding to herself as she took in the girl's height and build. Her gazed stopped at the pink hair, and a smile blossomed. "You, know, I think I may have just the thing! I'll be right back."
As the woman walked away, Rito glanced at the many, many dresses next to them, then looked at Nana. "You don't like any of these dresses?"
"Of course I do, but I want to see what she has in mind," Nana said.
"Ah." He nodded and pulled out a dress at random. It was a deep violet-colored dress with a single strap and a plunging neckline. He looked it over and shrugged before putting it back. "But while you're waiting, shouldn't you at least see if there's a dress you really like?" She looked up at him thoughtfully and nodded.
"I suppose so," she said slowly, turning her attention to the rack again. She let her fingers flit across the dresses as she walked slowly alongside it.
"Say, uh, Nana?"
"Why'd you want me to come shopping with you, anyway?"
"Oh, I... I just wanted a m-male perspective, ya know?"
"Y-yeah... huh." Her fingers paused on a deep red dress. She stared at it for a moment, then reached out and unhooked it from the rack. It was a beautiful dress to be sure. Its material seemed to catch rays of light, and its shoulder straps held three layers of ruffles that fell across the hanger attractively. Five similar ruffles fell from the left side of the dress' sweeping skirt, and one hung down from the modestly cut neckline like the lip of the sun setting on the horizon. The dress really appealed to Nana, and she found herself smiling as she looked down at it. That same smile on her face, and a sense of giddiness beginning to flood through her, she lay the dress against her body as she turned to Rito.
"What do you think?" she asked.
He looked at the dress and nodded. "It looks good."
Good... The smile dropped a little. She blinked at him as he turned back to the dress rack, unable to understand his meaning. Good. She looked down at the dress sadly. She really liked the dress, and Rito's lack of genuine approval somehow dampened her spirits.
"Here we are! The dress!" the saleswoman announced, stepping beside Nana again. "Oh, have you already found on?"
"N-no," Nana said somberly. She set the red dress back on the rack and turned to look at the woman.
"Well, good. Wait'll you take a look at this!" In her hands she held a black dress accented with deep pink highlights. Its skirt was pleated, its neckline cut down in a small V, and the shoulder straps were long, single pieces of wavy cloth. Pink highlights ran down the bodice's sides in upside down triangles, on the shoulder straps in a single line cutting across the middle, and on the skirt all along the hem and waistline, stretching both down and up, but never touching in the middle. It wasn't a bad dress, but it didn't appeal to her as much as the red one. She turned to Rito and asked "What about this one?"
"Looks great," Rito said, giving the dress a once-over.
Great. His tone was the same, so was "great" any better than "good"? She had a strange look in her eyes as she gazed at him, but he only saw it for a moment, for the next she turned from him and accepted the dress from the woman.
"Thank you very much," she said. "Could I try it on?"
"Oh, of course," the woman smiled. "Right this way." She led them back the way they had come until they reached a long line of booths with curtains for doors. Most of them were open, revealing hooks for clothes to be hung, small boxes for clothes to be placed, and full length mirrors for clothes to be admired. "You can change in any one of these open booths," the saleswoman said.
Nana nodded in thanks and headed for the nearest one. She closed the curtain behind her, and for a time she just stood there. Doubt and confusion began to creep up on her.
Stupid Rito. She had felt fine until he said what he did about that dress. She really like that dress, so why should she care if he likes it or not? She shouldn't, of course, but... She shook her head. She had come here for a reason. There was no time to deal with doubts. Try as she might though, those feelings of doubt and confusion continued to nag at her while she was changing.
Outside, Rito stood around awkwardly. The saleswoman had left, and every time a woman passed him, he couldn't help but feel they were giving him dark looks or thinking untrue and unkind words about what he was doing there.
"Why did Nana want to go clothes shopping with me, anyway?" he asked himself. He wasn't sure he bought the answer she had given him. After all, why would she care about how he thinks she looks? She never had before, right?" The sound of curtains opening caught his ear, and he turned to find Nana stepping out of the booth. Rito's eyes widened, just a little. Every now and then, he had to remind himself that Nana was a princess. She wore the dress well, to say the least.
Nana smiled when she saw the expression on his face. It hadn't been what he had done for Ane-ue and Momo, but it was more than he ever had before. She walked towards him with that smile on her face. "Well?" she asked.
"Wow. That looks great, Nana." He looked her up and down and smiled. "Really nice."
And there it was. Nice. The light in her eyes seemed to dim as she gazed at him. It was more than the word, it was the tone in which he spoke. With Lala and Momo he had been pleased, but with her, it was as if... as if he were looking at a kid. That was his tone. It cut into her like a knife. She turned from him without a word and walked back to the dressing room When she emerged again, she was dressed in her own clothes. She walked by him hurriedly, pulling her sweater on as she went.
"Nana?" She did not answer him, but walked out of the store and into the rain. He looked back to the dressing booth. The dress was hanging on one of the hooks. After a moment, he turned and hurried to the doors. They slid open as he grabbed the umbrellas. He tucked hers under his arm and opened his own. It spread open with a whumping sound, and he stepped out of the store. He looked right, then left, finally spotting her in the distance.
Jeez, she walks fast. He set off after her, practically running his way through the shopping district. By the time he caught up with her, she was walking at a brisk pace on the road near the river. He could see the rushing river down the hill from the road. Its waters sped by rapidly, the rain adding greatly to its current. He passed under the bridge, and called her name. She didn't respond. He called her again, and this time she did stop.
"Nana!" He came to a stop behind her, his breath fogging the air as he looked down at her worriedly. "Nana, what happened? Why'd you run out like that?" She did not answer him. She did not move. He reached out for her shoulder. "Nana?"
"Why... won't you look at me?" Her voice was barely a whisper.
Rito paused, then slowly withdrew his hand. "What?"
"Why won't you look at me?" she cried, turning to him. "You look at Ane-ue, and you look at Momo, but you never look at me! At least... not like that." Her fists shook, and though the rain covered it, tears crawled down her cheeks. Her face red, she looked up at him with fierce eyes and pressed her hands upon her chest. "Am I so insignificant, or not as gifted, that I'm beneath your notice?"
"Why?" Her fists shaking at her sides once more, and her shoulders reared up, she shouted the question to the ripple-strewn walk. "Why won't you look at me like that?"
Though Rito's mouth opened, no words came out. He didn't know what to say. He could only watch her as she stood there, drenched by the rain. Her head rose, and though her eyes were still fierce, she looked more tired than angry.
She shook her head and turned away from him. "Go away."
Pain shot through his chest at her words. He wanted to talk to her, but he couldn't come up with the words. He'd had no idea he was hurting Nana. He closed his mouth and stepped towards her. She was shivering. Watching her, he couldn't help but shake his head.
Stupid Rito. Tears mingled with rain as they streamed down her cheeks. Stupid me. Why'd I have to go and open my big mouth. She heard his footsteps as he walked towards her, but she didn't turn. All she wanted to do was run away, run away with nothing but the cold rain pouring over her. That rain though, it stopped, and she looked up to find red above her. Warmth in the form of a jacket too large for her covered her shoulders. She looked down at the black material, recognizing it, and turned to see Rito standing by her, holding her umbrella above her head and shivering from the cold.
"You forgot this back in the store," he said sadly. He handed it to her, then turned and walked away, his own umbrella doing very little to keep the falling drops from hitting him.
She bit her lip as she watched him go; her hands grasped the flaps of his jacket, drawing them tightly around her.
Rito ran a hand through his hair as he closed the door behind him. Water dribbled to the floor all around him in small puddles, and Rito could only shiver as he set the grocery bags down.
"Oh, Rito! What happened? You're all wet!"
He looked up at his sister as she hurried over to him with a dry towel. He gasped when she threw it over him. "Th-thanks, Mikan." He smiled gratefully as he retracted his umbrella and lay it against the wall.
"Now what happened?" she asked sternly, eying how sopping wet he was.
"I may have dropped the umbrella and had to chase it down a street," he chuckled.
Mikan rolled her eyes as she drew the towel more tightly around him. "Where have you been? Nana got home a while ago." She turned and hurried back to the basket of half folded towels on the kitchen table.
"Ah, I uh, I had to take care of a few things," he said, his teeth tapping against each other as he shivered. "Did she get home okay by herself?"
"Well, of course she did. She's not you," she said as she returned to him and started patting him down with her towel.
Rito half chuckled, half grunted in pain as his sister attempted to dry him off. "I got it, Mikan, I got it." She gazed up at him with an expression that told him she surely doubted that, but nodded and handed him the towel before taking the bags from the floor and walking to the kitchen. She put the wet bags in the sink and shook her head.
"Dry off as much as you can, then hurry upstairs and change your clothes," she sighed. "Honestly, I just did a load of laundry." The plastic crinkled as she removed the groceries from the bag.
"Gomen," he apologized, still shivering. He glanced up at the coat rack and paused for a moment. His coat stared back at him silently, the occasional drop of water still dripping to the towel laid below the coat rack. He was somewhat surprised by this. His parting with Nana had not been pleasant, yet she had hung up his coat. Or she had thrown it on the ground and... "Hey, Mikan?"
The girl looked up at her brother as she unpacked the last of the groceries and crumpled up the plastic bags. "Yeah?"
"Did you hang my coat up?"
"No," she replied absentmindedly, dropping the crumpled heap in the trash.. "Nana put it up when she came in."
"Mm?" He turned his attention back to his sister. Sh had returned to the table and was lifting the basket of towels into her arms.
"Can you put these away for me?" she asked, walking towards him with the load. He accepted the basket from her and glanced at the table.
"What about those?" he asked, nodding at the remaining, unfolded towels.
"These are so I can clean up the mess you're going to make when you walk across the living room. Now get going. I have to start dinner." There was a smile on her face as she shooed him away with one of the towels.
"Hai." He almost laughed at her playfulness, but just smiled and started across the living room, water dripping from his clothes the whole way.
When he collapsed onto his bed only a short while later, his clothes changed and pleasantly dry, he was still troubled by what had happened. Nana had been acting strangely lately. What with her reaction yesterday, and her request for him to go shopping with her today, he wasn't quite sure what to make of it. She had never asked him to shopping with her, and she had definitely never asked him to go clothes shopping with her. He stared up at the ceiling in thought and chewed his upper lip. What could she possibly have hoped to gain from asking him such a thing? His eyes closed and his brow furrowed in concentration.
"Rito, what do you think?"
She had seemed so... nervous... no, more anxious, when she had asked him that, as if she were really hoping for him to be impressed with her. And he was. She had looked very pretty. He had said as much, hadn't he? Then why... did she get so upset?
"Why won't you look at me?"
Ah. He opened his eyes to the white ceiling.
"You look at Ane-ue, and you look at Momo, but you never look at me! At least... not like that."
"Am I so insignificant, or not as gifted, that I am beneath your notice?"
How... could he not have noticed? The way she had acted yesterday, and the way she had acted today. Compared to how he had complimented Lala and Momo, his response to Nana was... beneath what she had hoped for, and beneath what she had deserved. No, he had never looked at her, or thought about her, like that, but there were things about Nana that he had never noticed or payed much attention too, that perhaps he should have. She was always yelling at him and beating him up over misunderstandings, but... she had a pure, sweet side to her, one that lacked the deviousness and masked intentions that Momo often possessed. She had a connection to animals that he could never fathom, and she was so very protective of her sisters and friends. She could be very open when she wanted to, and when she was, he caught brief, fleeting glimpses of a warm, sweet girl who was still growing up, trying to find out who she was and what her place was in the world. Or universe, he supposed. He rest a hand on his forehead and sighed.
"Stupid." She had gone out of her way to ask him to help her pick out a dress, and he totally screwed everything up. He sat up and ran his hands through his damp hair. "I should go apologize."
The hall was empty when he stepped out of his room. He gazed at the lift pad silently for a moment before he stepped onto it. His world disappeared. Glowing light filled his view. The white living room appeared as the light faded. He glanced about, but the room was empty. The hallway he walked into was also devoid of life, but then, he wasn't expecting to see anyone anyway. Not at this hour of the day. The princesses were most likely downstairs now, watching TV with Celine, or playing games while Mikan cooked dinner. But there was one princess he was still hoping to be there. He knocked on her door as he came to a stop before it. No one answered.
"Nana," he called out as he knocked once more. "It's Rito, are you there? I want to talk to you." Silence still met his voice, even when he knocked a third time. Resigned to Nana not answering the door, Rito drew in a breath and scratched at his cheek with his hand. "I just wanted to say that I'm sorry about earlier. It was wrong of me not to understand how you were feeling. It's okay if you don't want to talk to me, just know that I'm sorry." He stared at the door somberly for a moment, then turned and walked away. Behind the door, Nana could hear the footsteps receding down the hall. Her hand hovered over the button that would open the door, not moving for the longest of times, then slowly lowered, and returned to her side as she, too, turned away.
The next day was Sunday, and rather than go to school, students used the day to do whatever they pleased. It was still raining, however, so the range of things they could do was limited somewhat. Most decided to stay home where it was nice and warm rather than go out and brave the cold weather, and it was in this manner that the inhabitants of the Yuuki house chose to spend the day.
"I wonder where Rito-san is," Momo lamented.
Mikan glanced over at the Third princess as she took a bite out of her taiyaki. She was leaning against the windowsill, staring out at the rain-drenched street. Mikan swallowed her fill and smiled at Yami. "He said he had some things to do today," she said, popping the rest of the snack into her mouth. Momo turned her head to look at her. She sat side by side with Yami on the couch, snacking on fish pastries and watching television.
"I know," she sighed, "but he's been gone for a while now."
"I'm sure Rito's fine, Momo," Lala said, looking up from her favorite show. "Right, Nana?"
The younger princess did not answer, but continued to stare at the TV. How should she know how Rito was doing? She had made it a point not to speak or even be in the same room as the boy.
Lala just shrugged at her sister's silence and turned her attention back to the TV. "I'm sure he'll be home soon. Oh! Go, Kyoko!"
"Right..." Momo stared at her oldest sister, unable to hold back the smile at her childishness. When she turned back to the window, however, she discovered that Lala had been right. Even now, Rito was making his way to the porch. "Rito's home!" she announced cheerfully, and bound across the living room to the door. Cold air swept into the house when she opened it, and she greeted the chilled and slightly wet Rito. "Rito-san!"
"You're late from school, Rito," Mikan said in a stern voice.
Nana did not turn to look at the boy as he greeted everyone and apologized to Mikan, but rose from her position on the floor and walked to the stairs.
"Rito, Rito, what's in the bag?"
Lala's voice was the last distinct sound Nana heard before she stepped onto the second floor, and soon the voices faded altogether when she stepped onto the pad. It's not as if she were mad at Rito, at least, not really, but yesterday's... events, had her feeling a little uncomfortable to be around Rito. She would forgive him eventually, and things would get back to normal, but for now, all she needed was space, and there was nothing Rito could do to change that.
The rain stopped a few days later, giving way to the bright sun and making way for thinner layers of clothing. Not too thin, though. There was a chill about the air, as if the rainy weather was trying to cling to the city for as long as possible. Umbrellas hung unused on their hooks or lay leaning against walls of dark closets, and for the students of Sainan high, they wouldn't have it any other way. It certainly made the walk home much more pleasant, and it was warm that the coming of summer was the barest of figments in many minds. They would be reminded soon enough, of course, but for now they were perfectly happy to remain ignorant to the coming change.
For Nana, though, the seasons were the least of her concerns. Things between her and Rito had not changed, and, for now, she was fine with his absence in her life. It was with this sentiment that she opened the gate of the Yuuki house and headed down the path.
"I'm home," she called as she entered the house. She left her shoes by the door and looked about the living room. The downstairs was empty save for Mikan. She sat at the kitchen table doing homework.
"Hey, Nana," she said, looking up from her papers. The Second Princess was already at the foot of the stairs.
"Hey, Mikan ." She walked up the stairs without saying anything further. The hall was luckily empty. She glanced down the hall towards Rito's room. Its door was wide open.. He wasn't inside. At least as far as she could tell. She shrugged at this as she stepped onto the pad. It didn't matter to her what Rito was doing. In the devilukan home, Momo was seated on the floor, her legs drawn up beside her as she leaned against the front of the couch and looked up at the book she held in her hand. Lala sat on the couch beside her, leaning forward and staring down at a paper on the table. She tapped a pencil against her leg in thought. Momo caught sight of her and lowered the book. She lay it against her legs in with one hand and brushed the bangs from her forehead with the other.
"Hello, Nana. How was cleaning duty?" Nana only glared at her smiling sister as she walked by. Lala looked up from her work and straightened.
"Are you okay, Nana?"
"I'm fine. I'll be in my room." Nana left them behind as she walked to the hallway and entered her room. The door slid shut shut behind her as she dropped her school bag next to her desk. She turned to her bed and paused. Her head tilted as she looked at the object sitting there. It was a simple, white box. Only a couple of inches tall and perhaps a meter long, the box lay neatly across the middle of her bed without any note or wrapping. She stared at it curiously for a time before she moved forward and picked it up off her bed. It was light. She lifted the top carefully and set it down beside her. She gasped when she saw what it had hidden and picked it up. Red material tumbled down from its folded position as she lifted the dress from the box. It caught the light shining down fro the ceiling and reflected it beautifully. She lay it against herself and smiled. It was the exact dress she had wanted when she was at the shop. A color caught her eye. At the bottom of the box, contrasting slightly with the white surface, lay a envelop light blue in color. She folded the dress and draped it over her arm before reaching out to grasp the envelope.
She sat down and turned the envelope over in her hand. There was no markings or writing on it. She turned it back to the front and gazed down at it. The flap was tucked into the envelope. It wasn't sealed shut. Carefully, she upturned the flap and pulled out the card. The images on the card showed white birds flying in a cloudy blue sky. The image was similar on the inside, but she also found words scrawled across the right side.
For someone beautiful, who deserves beautiful things... Rtio
She looked up from the card and gazed at the dress. Rito...
His room was empty when she returned to the second floor and peeked her head though the doorway. She sighed to herself as she straightened and walked into his room. It was clean, and the only sign that he'd been there recently was his book bag sitting on his desk. It was probably a good thing, she thought. She wouldn't have known what to say if he had been there anyway. What she needed was air, time to think.
"I'll just go for a walk," she told herself, and headed towards the stairs. Downstairs, Mikan was still doing homework, and Rito was nowhere to be seen. Mikan looked up briefly as Nana stepped off the stairs, waving a hand as she returned to her papers. Nana nodded in return, and slipped her shoes on when she reached the door.
"There. That's better, isn't it?"
Rito smiled at the small girl as he zipped up the front of her coat. "Mikan, I'm going out with Celine to get the groceries," he called out as he rose to his feet. He reached for the coat hanging next to the door and paused. He hadn't used the coat since it that day he went out with Nana. She hadn't talked to him since that night, either. He smiled sadly at the coat and shrugged it on.
Mikan looked up from the kitchen table and smiled at the two. She straightened and let her cleaning rag hang limp in her hand. "You two finish gardening for the day?" Her brother nodded at her as he kicked his shoes on. "Well, make sure you don't forget anything."
"Hai." Brisk air swept into the house as Rito opened the door. He smiled down reassuringly at the little girl and headed out. She skipped happily at his side, and beamed up at the clear blue sky. She spread her arms wide as if to embrace it.
Rito chuckled as he closed the door and locked it. "Come on, Celine. We got some walking to do."
"Mau!' She skipped happily across the walk and pointed up at the fence's latch.
"I'm coming, I'm coming." He took her hand once more and opened the gate. Her hand almost slipped from his, she was so excited. He laughed as she tried to pull him down the sidewalk. He was about to close the fence when he spotted Nana walking towards them. She did not meet her eyes, and she only nodded when he said hi. He held the gate open for her as she passed though, and watched as she made her way down the path.
"Hey, Nana," he called out as she reached the porch. She turned to him with a cold expression on her face. He merely smiled at this. "You look beautiful today."
Her eyes narrowed, but she did not speak. Rather, she nodded stiffly and turned back to the door. There was a small smile on her face, however, one that Rito had not seen as he turned and started down the walk with his daughter. It pulled at the corners of her lips as she retrieved the key from her pocket and fit it into the door's knob.
The reason for this smile, she would not say when Mikan asked her about it, but shook her head and began her ascent up the stairs. To herself, though, she could not help but think one warm, glowing thought. The reason for her smile, the dress on her bed, the exchange she and Rito had just had- they were proof. Proof of one very important thing to Nana.
Things had changed, if only a little, and for now that was enough.
A/N: I hope you all enjoyed.
On the Writing of Fanfics: Tides of the Shifting Hearts
It's hard for me to see Nana and Rito as a couple; every scenario I thought of for a romance seemed a bit forced, so I tweaked one of them and came up with this. The original concept for this was a chapter for the harem fic I was writing. I hope you enjoyed it. I really think this kind of arc would work better in a chapter fic, but... yeah, I hope I did it justice.
Character Writing- In the case of Nana: Nana is not a character that I can strongly write. I'm just not as adept with her character. I can write her in her basic functions of the series, but when it comes down to writing a story with her as the main character, I can't seem to get a good grasp of her. I'm just not drawn to her character, I suppose. I think I did an adequate job of her character in this story, but I'll let all of you be the judge of that.
Character Writing- In the case of Lala: Whenever I think of Lala, I always picture her as I wrote her in A.L.G.O.- the patient motherly figure. I always have to remind myself that there are many more aspects to her character than that, like her mischievous side, for instance; if she really wanted to, she could put Momo to shame when it comes to that any day.