Happily Ever After - Epilogue

Why? Why am I even here? Matsudaira Touko stared out the window as she questioned a great many things, her life most prominently among those. The petite brunette rested her elbow on the top of her desk and cupped her cheek in her hand in a very unladylike manner. Outside the window the weather was cold and dark clouds were rolling in, blocking out the warmth of the sun. It wasn't all that long ago she realized that just about everything had been set in her life. Unbidden an image of two girls crying in each other's arms came to mind. Well, maybe not everything, Touko hastily amended to her thoughts.

Even while she was still in middle school she had heard rumors about a first year student who had managed to become the Petite Sœur of the then Rosa Chinensis en Bouton, Ogasawara Sachiko. This alone had drawn the young middle schooler's attention, being the younger cousin of the red rose about to bloom. While the she didn't like to admit it, Touko knew that she was a bit of a gossip and the fact that the rumors were about her own dear Sachiko Onee-sama; she just had to discover the truth. "She must be a very special girl to capture the attention of Sachiko Onee-sama," Touko had told her middle school friends. It was a few weeks after that she learned that the same girl had the audacity to return her cousins rosary. More than ever the middle school student desired to meet this Fukuzawa Yumi-sama so she could give her a piece of her mind, upperclassman or not.

During the time she waited to graduate and move on to high school all manner of thoughts about what a terrible person that Fukuzawa-san girl must be blossomed in the younger girl's mind. The first day of high school arrived and Touko not only met the girl but stopped her and spoke to her. Touko smirked recalling that she had been disappointed. Where were the horns, the clove hooves and pointed tail? Where was the fire and smoke breathing out of her lips and nostrils? Where was the beast she had imagined her to be? Who was this girl with the large brown eyes, pigtails and who generously offered to guide her to the Rose Mansion if she needed assistance? Life is not always what you think it will be. Try as she might, over the course of the next several weeks she could find no fault with the older girl except for perhaps low self-esteem the older girl seemed to cling to possessively. She even befriended me! Me, who had shown her no kindness at all! Touko recalled in disbelief as she remembered those earlier days.

I don't think I'll ever forget that day, Touko mused while the teacher droned on about what to do over break. Today was Christmas Eve and they would be starting a week long break from school. Even now, months later, recalling that day sent a shiver down her spine. It was during the time when Sachiko Onee-sama's grandmother was on her deathbed Touko recalled, giving up all pretense of paying attention to the teacher. I was so certain that Yumi-sama had hurt Sachiko Onee-sama on purpose. A sad small smile slipped across the brunette lips. I couldn't have been more wrong. Touko had called out the older girl in the middle of Milk Hall only to be forced outside and away from prying eyes. Only much later did she realize that Yumi had saved her much embarrassment by doing so. It was there, behind that school building that the younger girl caught her first true glimpse into the enormous heart hidden within the chest of the girl she was angry at. The force of the emotions she had witnessed that day had staggered her. Just thinking about them even now she could feel her legs quiver in remembrance. Touko still felt shame for what she had said to the older girl at the time and the manner in which she had treated Yumi. Even though I was so cruel to her…she still comforted me? Touko still didn't know why Yumi had hugged her but she could still recall how safe she had felt with the older girls arms wrapped protectively around her.

The school bell suddenly rang breaking the petite girl from her private musing. "Touko?" The girl in question blinked several time before looking to the tall girl standing beside her desk. "I'm going to Milk Hall for lunch; would you like to come along?" Kanako inquired.

"No," Touko replied with a slight nod, setting her curls to swaying back and forth. "I think I would like to remain here today, Kanako."

"Would you like me to bring you anything back?" Kanako offered.

"Arigato, but I have everything I need," Touko said as she slipped the bento box her mother had made for her that morning from inside her desk.

"Alright, then I'll be going," Kanko said as she turned away and walked to the class doorway only to pause and glanced back with a concerned expression at the smaller girl who was once more staring out the window. Stepping into the hallway she had little choice but to go eat lunch alone at Milk Hall as it would look peculiar if she suddenly changed her mind and ate in the classroom. Perhaps she just needs some time alone, Kanako thought as she walked along. Touko seemed to be spending more and more time alone it seemed to her, a fact that worried her greatly. I'll talk to Noriko about it. There has to be something we can do for her.

Touko set her bento down but didn't even bother to open it as she had no appetite at the moment. Thinking back several months the first year student knew one thing for certain it wasn't just for her cousin's wellbeing that she had agreed to help Yumi with her plan concerning her cousin. I did it so that I could spend more time with Yumi-sama, she admitted to herself. Maybe if I spent more time with her she would come to feel about me as she felt about Sachiko Onee-sama. Once again I was so incredibly wrong, Touko conceded as she shook her head at her own folly without even realizing it.

For reasons that still bewildered the petite girl, it seemed to her that the less interest Yumi had shown in her the more she had chased after the older girl. When she finally did show some interest in me all I did was push her away. The way we played cat and mouse would almost be comical if it wasn't so painful, she thought as she maintained her own inner dialogue. Thinking back she realized it all became too much when Yumi had taken an interest in a first year student by the name of Hosokawa Kanako. It hurt so much seeing them together. I couldn't even bring myself to go to the Rose Mansion any longer. Touko recalled the frustration she had felt having no one to talk to concerning her feelings. I couldn't talk to Sachiko Onee-sama without tipping Yumi's hand to her. As much pain as I was in I didn't want to cause any trouble for Yumi-sama. For a while Touko had been very resentful towards Kanako, almost to the point of being downright mean. More than once the small girl had heard references to the two of them as 'natural enemies'. I never stopped to realize what a sweet girl Kanako is or wonder what problems she could possibly be going through. Touko still wasn't sure how through it all they had managed to become friends but she was certainly glad of the tall girl's presence at her side. I don't know what I would do without her and Noriko.

Try as she might Touko couldn't help but still be drawn towards the older girl. I tried to stay away and give Kanako and Yumi-sama their room, both for them as well as for my own fragile emotional wellbeing. Even now the memory of the relay race was painful to recall. Touko, even though she was a member of the red team had cheered for Yumi, a member of the green team, enthusiastically. After the race was over Touko had hurried over to congratulate the older girl on her win only to see Yumi embracing Kanako. The two of them were laughing and grinning like fools. I so wanted that to be me in Yumi-sama's arms! Right there, unmindful of everyone else around her, she had started to cry. I didn't care who saw me or what they would think. I just wanted to curl up in a ball and have the entire world go away, Touko recalled painfully. The next thing the petite girl knew was that a warm arm was wrapped around her shoulders and was leading her through the crowd of people and off the field. The soothing sound of her cousin's voice worked to calm her down to the point that the tears had finally stopped. I still need to thank Sachiko-sama for that. When pressed for what was bothering her, Touko had evaded answering. It wasn't till days later when Sachiko-sama, under the guise of a Yamayurikai related need, had pulled her from class that she had finally broken down to the older girl while sitting within the meeting room of the Rose Mansion. Touko couldn't help but cringe looking back and recalling Yumi walking in upon them as she was giving Sachiko a hug for being there for her. Talk about your worst timing ever!

What had followed had been both bliss and misery for the younger girl. Due to assisting with the Yamayurikai play she was able to spend a great deal of time in the presence of the girl she had come to admire and perhaps even love. It was however pure misery watching the brown eyes she would give almost anything for to notice her remain fixated upon her cousin instead. Touko snorted softly remembering how eager she had been to assist Sachiko in her plan to deal with Yumi. The plan had worked too! Perhaps a little too well, Touko was only now realizing. A small corner of Touko's heart had dared to dream just a little. Just a little tiny wisp of a wish, barely anything at all really. I had hoped that once Yumi-sama's issues with Sachiko-sama were resolved she might notice me once again. Thinking back she found it almost humorous just how available she had made herself. She was at the Rose mansion every day while volunteering to help in any manner she could. For a while she had even neglected her responsibilities to the drama club. It had taken her an entire month to realize that the newlywed euphoria the two older women seemed to be enshrouded in would probably never wear off. Resigned to her fate she had finally given up.

So why then? Why did I end up at her house the other evening? Touko pondered this for a long moment as she lifted her head from her hand and reached out to open her bento box. On that night she had learned from her parents that her grandfather's hospital was to be given into the care of a wonderful couple, who were long time employees of the place, to manage when her grandfather retired. She had long believed that one day she would receive the hospital. Certain of this fact she had taken it to heart as a means of repaying her parents who had taken her in as a baby and raised her. Touko knew she was adopted. She had learned from overhearing remarks made when adults thought she wasn't listening. The petite girl loved her parents and felt a strong sense of responsibility to make them proud of her and to repay them for their kindness. To her young mind, taking over the family hospital was the perfect manner in which to do that. Bereft of what she had welcomed as her reason for being here she had felt that there was no need for her presence and had run away from home. Touko had wandered for a long while only to look up and realize that she wasn't far from Yumi's house. No sooner had she realized this then the girl's younger brother Yuuki had happened upon her and brought to their home. Perhaps the most shocking part of the entire day, even more so than her disagreement with her parents, was the fact that Yumi had welcomed her without asking how she had gotten there. While Yumi-sama had expressed concern about me, Touko realized, she didn't try to pry into what was bothering me. The more Touko thought about it the more she realized that Yumi had never pried into her personal life. Yumi-sama always accepted me at face value, never expecting or asking more of me than I was willing to give. She never cared who I was or where I came from or what I was doing, only that she could be there with me. She's perfect! This realization however did little to ease her pain at not being with the older girl. With a silent inward groan she replaced the lid on her bento box and put it away as other girls started to return from lunch.

A few moments later Kanako walked through the door and approached her. "Touko," the tall girl said softly. "We're wanted at the door." Touko reluctantly stood up wondering who could be calling her out just prior to class starting again. As she neared the doorway she saw Shimako standing there and next to the current Rosa Gigantea was Yumi.

"Gokigenyou," both members of the Yamayurikai intoned in unison with matching warm smiles. Kanako and Touko were quick to reply in kind though slightly out of sync.

"I…we…would like to invite the both of you to the Christmas party at the Rose Mansion later today," Yumi announced to the two underclassman.

"I already have plans for later today," Kanako replied in a slightly disappointed tone of voice.

The two upper classman looked towards Touko expectantly. "I…um…well," the smaller girl stammered not wishing to directly come out and say she didn't want to attend. Shimako and Yumi glanced towards one another as if you say 'I thought so' only to turn back upon hearing Kanako.

"If it would be alright to leave early though we could come for a little while?" The tall girl's request drew surprised looks from the other three present there at the doorway.

"I think that would be very acceptable," Shimako responded with a bright smile, pleased to know they could make it after all. Yumi, for her part watched the smaller girl's face next to Kanako and saw it cloud over even though there was no object forthcoming.

"Would we need to bring anything?" Kanako inquired automatically including Touko in her statement simply be using we instead of I.

"No," Yumi was quick to reply with a warm smile for the taller girl. "We've already bought most of what is needed though perhaps if you could come early and assist with setting up that would be appreciated."

Kanako reached over and grabbed Touko's hand before she replied for the both of them. "We'll be pleased to attend then. Expect us shortly before the party begins." Touko, having remained quiet during the entire exchange had little choice but to go along with the tall girls words at this point.

-oOo-

Sachiko smiled brightly feeling Yumi's presence beside her. The Christmas party was in full swing. The third year student was pleased to see her cousin as well as Kanako in attendance at the party. As there was no real schedule to the festivities they played games, sat and talked among themselves as well as shared in the Yule Log cake that Shimako had made this year under the guidance of Rei. Sachiko glanced to the brunette next to her who, perhaps feeling the sapphire eyes upon her, chose that moment to look up at the older girl with an affectionate smile. "Having fun, Yumi?"

Yumi's soft brown eyes sparkled as her hand entwined with Sachiko's gave a gentle squeeze. "I think this may be the best Christmas ever, Onee-sama!" Yumi, feeling that now would be a good time to give the older girl her present excused herself for a moment and went to retrieve the blue bag the gift was in. As the Rosa Chinensis en Bouton stood up from retrieving the bag she had brought with her she spied Touko, her coat on and bundled up against the cold, slipping through the biscuit colored door. Yumi, without even hesitating, followed the petite actress out the door.

Sachiko watched her cousin leave and then moments later as Yumi followed Touko out the biscuit colored door. Knowing that it was a matter just between the two younger girls Sachiko walked over to speak with Rei and be introduced to Nana-chan, a middle school girl that Yoshino had brought to the party to introduce to Rei. There had been several moments of unrest when Rei had announced her intentions to attend school at someplace other than Lillian University, however as was usually the case between the Foetida sister, they were just as quick to make up as they were to get angry at each other.

Sachiko glanced nervously at her watch again as it had already been a quarter of an hour since Touko had left with Yumi close behind her. It is just like her to run out without her coat, the concerned older girl thought silently as she retrieved her handbag and silently slipped from the room and made her way down the rickety stairs. The Rosa Chinensis stood just inside the door at the bottom of the stairs for several more long moments before growing impatient and going outside herself. Sachiko shivered as the cool early evening breeze blew around her. Where can she be? Blowing upon her hands to warm them she finally heard the soft tread of someone walking along the pathway. Sachiko smiled and looked up to see a slightly dazed and confused Yumi shambling towards her. "Yumi?" Sachiko said in a questioning tone as soon as the younger girl was close enough for proper conversation.

Yumi, lost in her own thought suddenly heard her name spoken by the one person she most desperately wanted to see at that exact moment. "Onee-sama!" Yumi replied as a smile that didn't quiet reach her eyes appeared upon her face. The younger girl hastened her pace to close the distance between her and the older woman waiting for her.

"I thought that if I waited out here we might have a chance to be alone," Sachiko stated to her little sister as she reached into the handbag hanging from her arm and withdrew a white flat rectangular box. "I wanted to give you your Christmas present while it was just the two of us," she stated to hide the slight blush she could feel creeping upon her cheeks.

"Onee-sama!" Yumi exclaimed as her eyes lit up and she accepted the box. "It's a handkerchief," the younger girl guessed from the size and shape of the box. Upon opening the box she saw a white laced handkerchief which had their combined initials, S and Y overlapping and entwined neatly stitched into the corner. Around the hand sewn letters were red roses. "It's beautiful!" Yumi said in awe of the gift, suddenly feeling like hers was inadequate compared to what she had received. "I have one for you as well," Yumi said as she reached into the blue bag she still carried and handed a small box to her Onee-sama. "I did the best I could with it," the younger of the pair said as she watched the packaging being opened.

"Oh my!" Sachiko exclaimed in surprise. "It's a book cover isn't it?" Yumi smiled and nodded. "And you placed a red rose on the front of it. We were both thinking of the same thing," Sachiko said with a soft smile as they had both added a red rose to their present for the other.

"I...I wanted to make it something special," Yumi said even as her vision blurred as her eyes seemed to fill with water on their own.

Sachiko, hearing a quiver in her Petite Sœur's voice, looked up sharply from putting the book cover away, just in time to see the first tears slip from Yumi's shimmering brown eyes. "Yumi?" Sachiko asked her voice thick with concern for the smaller girl and what could have upset her.

Yumi, couldn't understand why she was smiling and crying at the same time. "Onee-sama…," was all she could say before she felt the raven-haired woman's arm encircling her and holding her close.

Sachiko held the smaller girl protectively to her for a long moment before asking the only question that made any sense. "What happened with Touko-chan?" Haltingly the small pigtailed brunette answered her.

-oOo-

"Wait," Yumi called out as she closed the biscuit colored door behind her. "Touko-chan…" The girl with the spiral curls paused at the bottom of the steps and turned to look towards Yumi who slowly made her way down the stairs, closing the distance between them. "Are you going home already?"

Touko glanced down at her coat and her book bag in one hand and then looked back to the older girl with a blank stare. "It would appear so," she replied without any real emotion to her words.

"Then I'll walk with you," Yumi said with a bright smile as she took a step down so that they stood upon the same stair.

"With no regard to what I want?" Touko asked, raising one brow slightly.

"You don't want me to walk with you?" Yumi inquired with a puzzled look upon her expressive face.

Touko paused for a long moment. Why would she want to walk with me? "Do whatever you wish," the smaller of the pair finally replied with a shrug of her shoulders as she turned and continued down the stairs. The two left the Rose Mansion and walked side by side for a ways without speaking. "So, you really just wanted to walk with me?" Touko asked in a disbelieving tone of voice. That would be just like her!

"Well would that be a bad thing? I feel like we haven't had much time together of late, Touko-chan," Yumi replied with a smile still upon her face. "You haven't been coming to the Rose Mansion either," Yumi accused.

"Everyone is busy and I don't want to be a bother," Touko replied as they walked along. "Besides, you've been busy with Sachiko-sama and becoming an en Bouton," the petite girl responded with, shifting the blame away from herself. I can't tell her that being with her makes me both happy and sad.

"Gomennasai," Yumi finally said after a long moment of silence which hung between them uncomfortably. "You're right," Yumi added, her smile slowly slipping from her face as she talked. "In all the excitement of becoming Sachiko-sama's Petite Sœur again I seemed to have neglected someone very special to me." Touko glanced sharply sideways at the girl walking next to her, not certain she was hearing just what Yumi was saying. "Gomennasai," Yumi said once again.

"You have nothing to be sorry about," Touko said, her own tone softening slightly upon hearing the other girl's confession and the genuine regret in Yumi's voice. "Seeing how happy Sachiko-sama and you are together I can understand where everything else would become less important. I'm happy for the both of you, Yumi-sama," Touko concluded with, forcing a smile upon her face even as they paused to pray before the statue of Maria-sama.

As Touko turned away from the statue to make her way down the gingko lined pathway Yumi called out to her. "Touko-chan, please wait a moment." The younger girl paused and turned back to regard her upperclassman who stood several feet away. "I…I have something I would like to give you," Yumi stammered.

Touko's almond eyes grew larger upon hearing her words. "I didn't get you a present, Yumi-sama. It wouldn't be right to accept one from you," Touko forced past her lips even as she felt her pulse race and her heart begin to hammer in her chest.

Yumi shook her head from side to side causing her pigtails to swing back and forth above her head. "No, it's alright. This is something I've been meaning to give to you for a while now. I just never could find the right time to do it." Yumi stepped forward as she slipped one hand into the pocket of her uniform.

Touko's heart threatened to leap out of her chest. She can't possibly be reaching for…no. It's not possible! Why do I always get my hopes up? Why would she want someone like me? "Yumi-sama," Touko started to say while raising a hand to wave off the older girl only to freeze as Yumi extracted an envelope from her pocket.

"I've had this for a while and it is for you," Yumi said with a little shrug of her shoulders as she thrust the envelope out. "So here. Better late than never I guess," the older girl added with a nervous laugh.

Touko, more confused than ever, accepted the envelope. Glancing down at it in her hand she looked back towards Yumi who nodded once to indicate she could open it. Hesitantly Touko opened the envelope and pulled out what was in it. Touko glanced up sharply with one brow raised, "Pisa?" she inquired in disbelief and utter confusion as to what it could mean. Yumi indicated she should turn the item over. Touko, after glancing once again at the picture of the Leaning Tower of Pisa turned the postcard over and read the back of it. 'In Pisa, enjoying the trip so far. I miss you' "Yumi-sama…" Touko uttered in disbelief as she looked at the address box off to the side and saw written in Yumi's neat hand writing 'Matsudaira Touko'.

"Touko-chan, I wrote that while I was in Italy and before I even knew it I had addressed it to you," Yumi told the younger girl before her. "I think even back then I was subconsciously trying to tell myself just how important you were to me. Of all the people that are dear to me, my parents, my brother, even Sachiko-sama…when I was in Italy of all of them it was you that I wanted to know just how much I missed you. It was you that I couldn't wait to come back and see," Yumi confessed in a tender and loving voice that didn't fail to reach the heart of the girl before her.

"I…I missed you that week as well," Touko confessed around the lump in her throat as she clasped the post card to her chest. "It...feels as if I've been missing you for so long now, Yumi-sama," Touko continued with as she felt the first hot moist trail of a tear trickle down her cheek.

"Gomennasai," Yumi said as she reached out and cupped the smaller girl's cheek with one hand, wiping at the glistening tear upon Touko's cheek with her thumb.

Touko leaned into the other girl's touch not realizing just how strongly she had craved it till that very moment when she felt the soft warmth of Yumi's palm against her person. "It's alright; you needn't concern yourself with me. Just take good care of Sachiko-sama." The smaller girls shoulder silently trembled with sobs she attempted to hide even as the flood gates gave way and more tears began to flow.

Yumi leaned in and gathered the smaller girl within her arms, holding her as she had done once before behind Milk Hall. "Oh Touko-chan," Yumi said feeling her own tears roll down her face even as she kissed the crown of the smaller girl head affectionately. I know you're hurting, I can feel it and yet you try so hard to hide it. "I know I'm really not deserving…"

Touko closed her eyes in contentment as the warmth of Yumi's presence enveloped her. The sound of Yumi's voice rumbled pleasantly in her ear, where it rested against the older girls bosom. Once before this remarkable person had held her as such, making her feel safe and secure. I could stay here forever, she thought as a near dreamy euphoria seemed to invade her mind. Wait, what was that? Touko's tear filled eyes snapped upon and she leaned her head back so quickly it startled the older girl. "What did you just say?" Touko begged in a voice tinged with panic.

Yumi eyed the smaller girl for a long moment. "You're really going to make me ask it again?" Seeing the imploring look upon the smaller girls face she continued. "I said I know I'm really not deserving."

"No, after that," Touko clarified holding her breath as time seemed come to a standstill around the two of them.

Yumi stepped back, allowing Touko to slip from her arms reluctantly. "I said, I know I'm not really deserving but would you please allow me to become your Onee-sama?" Large brown eyes looked towards the younger girl expecting some manner of reaction but it was as if the other was turned to stone suddenly. Yumi reached under her uniform and grasping the metallic beads withdrew the rosary she had received from Sachiko on two different occasions. Lifting the rosary and spreading the strands wide with both hands Yumi continued, "Let's make this official. Touko-chan, will you allow me to place this around your neck and become your Onee-sama?"

Touko could believe her ears. How? How can this be happening? Even before the fall festival the small actress had wanted to become Yumi's little sister. Once Sachiko and Yumi had become Sœurs once again she had been forced to squash that desire to the deepest part of her heart. She can't mean it. There has to be a mistake? Dare I? Can I? Conflicting emotions warred within the youngest of the pair for a long moment. "I accept," Touko replied in an almost ethereal voice as she leaned her head forward. To not accept it would be to deny what is in my own heart.

"Arigato," Yumi replied with in a voice filled with tenderness a she gently settled the rosary around the smaller girl's neck.

-oOo-

Yumi tilted her head back and looked up at her Onee-sama with a smile on her face. "I'm so happy, Onee-sama!" She declared as Sachiko removed a handkerchief from her pocket and ministered to Yumi's tear streaked face.

Sachiko smiled, happy for both her cousin and for Yumi. "Where's Touko-chan at?" the Rosa Chinensis inquired suddenly, her hand pausing for a second in the midst of it's work.

"She said that her parents were waiting for her and so she had to hurry home," Yumi replied with a soft sniffle and a wide grin that had as yet to leave her face. "She asked if I could go with her next weekend as there is someplace special she wanted to take me to."

Sachiko reached out and ran her hands across her Petite Sœur's shoulder to smooth away wrinkles. "Is that so?" the raven-hair senior asked as her hands trailed down the edges of the girl's collar. Slim nimble fingers quickly untied the smaller girl's sailor scarf only to retie it into a perfect knot. "Well, you can tell me all about it afterwards," Sachiko finally said with a warm affectionate smile. "Shall we go back inside and tell the others or make them wait?"

"I think I would like to tell them with Touko-chan here if that's alright, Onee-sama?" Yumi replied with feeling that it wouldn't be proper to do otherwise.

"I think that would be wonderful, Yumi," Sachiko said with an approving look towards her little sister as she took the younger girl in hand and lead her back into the Rose Mansion.

"Onee-sama," Yumi joy filled voice said as they stepped into the Rose Mansion, gently closing the door behind them. "I was wrong before," Yumi continued with as she slipped her hand into Sachiko's and entwined their fingers as they start up the creaking stairs. Sachiko glanced down questioningly only to be met with a pair of bright brown eyes and a radiant smile. Yumi squeezed the hand in hers and briefly laid her head against the shoulder of the woman walking next to her. "Now, this is the best Christmas ever!" Sachiko smiled and squeezed Yumi's hand back. I couldn't agree more," the raven haired beauty thought to herself.

-oOo-

Touko softly let herself out of her mother's room, making certain to quietly close the door behind her. The older woman was alert and so they had been able to sit, holding hands, and talk for a while. Touko still had pains of regret for the stress she had caused her mother which had brought on one of the elder woman's attacks, due to her heart condition. Turning she saw her father walking up the stairs towards her. "Working late again, Poppa?" the petite girl inquired.

"Just some last minute items so I can enjoy the holidays with you and Momma," the elder Matsudaira replied with a loving smile upon spying his daughter standing at the top of the stairs attired for bed. "How is she?" he inquired glancing towards the door his daughter had just stepped from.

"Better," Touko replied. "I was reading to her till she fell asleep," the small girl said wiggling the book in her hand.

Matsudaira-san glanced down at the book and smiled in surprise. "I used to read that story to you every night when you were smaller," he said affectionately. "You had many books but always wanted that one." Stepping up to his daughter he slipped a loving arm around her shoulder and steered her to the sitting room where they both sat next to each other upon the couch. "I know you're older now, Touko-chan, but how about you indulge an old man and let me read to you like I used to do?" Matsudaira-san chuckled as the petite girl next to him squealed and climbed into his lap just as she had done as a child. Opening the book Touko's father started to read, "Once upon a time there was a beautiful girl named Cinderella…."

~FIN


Author's Note:

Now you didn't REALLY think I was going to leave poor Touko-chan without her Happily Ever After as well did you? It's hard to believe that what started out as a short story spread to encompass nearly 130K words of a three part tale. Kind of like how a single drop of water can create ripples that grow in size. Speaking of ripples let me say that if you drop a drop of water in a still pond, the water will eventually returned to being stilled. If given enough time that is. Fate will not be thwarted it seems. Either that or I'm just a sucker for happy endings. Hmmmm could be!

I want to thank everyone who has stuck it out and stayed along for the entire ride. It has been a long one! This will officially conclude my Fairytale Arc. Yes I know I could continue on with what happens next however I think I prefer to leave that up to your own imaginations. The Muse may have gotten you here but where you choose to go from here is up to you!

As always, though certainly not required, I do appreciate any and all reviews.

Kind Regards,

EJ Daniels

All characters within this story, unless otherwise stated are the sole property of Oyuki Konno the original writer of the Maria-sama ga Miteru light novel series.