Notes and Disclaimers: The characters in this story are the creation of Konno Oyuki and owned by Shueisha and Geneon. But they can't stop my need to keep writing about them, and, aside from everything else, it *is* meant as a form of flattery.

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A Little Advice
by Erica Friedman


The door slammed roughly behind Yumi, pressing into her back like an insistent hand. She stepped forward, away from the raw November wind into the warm cafeteria.Her cheeks stung a little as the warm air hit them. The warm breeze was redolent with the smell of something sugary, soy sauce and, she sniffed a bit, garlic. Chafing her hands together, Yumi headed across the cafeteria to the coffee station; one of the small pleasures of life at Lillian U., the coffee here was fresh all day. Yumi imagined that someone on the kitchen staff was a coffee drinker. Yumi poured coffee into a small Styrofoam cup, added sugar, and milk, stirred it once and reached for a lid.

"Yumi-chan?" a voice called loudly from what sounded like halfway across the large room. Yumi jumped, the coffee slopping over the sides of the cup, hot enough to penetrate the cold that immobilized her hand. Yumi sighed, mopped up the spill with a napkin or two, then put a top over the cup. Turning around, she raised a hand without even looking. She didn't have to. She knew.

"Good afternoon, Sei-sama!" Yumi bellowed across the cafeteria, watching with some satisfaction as Sei spit tea across the table. Yumi smiled at the image of Sei quickly reaching for something to blot the tea that had landed in her lap. Once upon a time, Yumi had asked Sei why she always seemed to be in the cafeteria. Why not the library? Or her home? But Sei has just waved her hand and said that the library was too quiet. "I like the noise here, it makes it easier to concentrate," she had said.So, whenever Yumi found herself here, it was inevitable that she would be greeted in the way most likely to cause mortification. It had taken some thought, but Yumi had been saving her revenge for a day just like today.Yumi greeted Sei more normally as she approached the table and bowed politely in the direction of the other party at the table. "Hello Kei-san."

"Hello Yumi-chan," Katou Kei replied, smiling too broadly. "You seem energetic today."

Yumi chuckled. "It's so nice out, who wouldn't be?" The trees outside shook in the cold wind.

"Nice one, Yumi-chan," Sei said. "But I'm made of sterner stuff than that. It won't work on me next time." She dabbed her leg where a stain darkened the slacks she wore. "That tea was kind of hot, though."

"So was the coffee."

Sei looked up quickly. "Did you get burnt? I can kiss it and make it feel better...." she reached for Yumi's hand, which Yumi pulled back into her lap.

"No thank you," Yumi responded politely, then turned her attention away from Sei immediately. "What brings you here today, Kei-san?"

Katou Kei's usually serious face was contorted. It took a moment before Yumi realized that she was laughing silently. Kei waved her hand back and forth. In between gasps for air and laughter she managed, "Yumi-chan, that was great!" Yumi smiled back cheerfully.

"How's life at Lillian U. treating you?" Sei asked. "Still pouring tea for Sachiko?"

Yumi stared disapprovingly at the older woman. The reference was to a day at the beginning of term when Sei happened to have walked by as Yumi and Sachiko were taking a (well-earned!) break between exams. Sei had caught Yumi pouring Sachiko tea and had, for some reason fixated on it.

"You make it sound like a bad thing," Kei chastised Sei. "I think it's nice that Yumi takes such good care of her...what was it, Onee-sama, is that right?" The last was asked directly to Yumi who nodded appreciatively.

"Classes are fine, thank you," Yumi said primly, doing her best imitation of Sachiko's clipped tone. Sei grinned.

"I'll leave you two to talk," Kei said, getting up and shouldering her handbag. "I have a book to return to the library."

"Please don't leave on my account," Yumi began, but the older woman shook her head.

"No, really, it's not that. If anything, I'd like to have a chance to catch up with you, but I do have to go." Kei bowed slightly, turned, then asked over her shoulder, "Maybe you can come by my place for tea one day? Bring Ogasawara-san. I'd like to meet her, I've heard so much about her."

"Well?" Sei asked, after a long moment. "What have you come to ask my advice on this time?"

Yumi pretended to be puzzled about this. "I have no idea what you mean."

Sei leaned forward, placing her chin pointedly in the middle of her intertwined fingers - doing an unerring impression in body language of Yumi's grande soeur, Mizuno Youko. "Now, now Yumi-chan, you can tell me. I'm your beloved sempai, after all. Advice is what I'm here for."

Yumi considered this. It was totally true that in years past she had relied heavily on Sei for advice and support in difficult situations. But there wasn't anything...except...

"Actually," Yumi said, sipping her coffee reflexively, "there is something." Sei nodded eagerly. "I was wondering..." Yumi paused dramatically, "why you haven't done anything about your situation with Kei-san."

Sei opened her mouth to respond, then the words sunk in and her mouth closed. Her mouth opened once more, then closed and, most interestingly, her cheeks colored. Yumi had no idea Sei could even feel embarrassment. She just always assumed that Sei was that kind of cheerful sociopath whose emotional life was confined to unsubtle extremes.

"You...what?" Sei asked lamely, shifting away from the table slightly. For someone always so ready to close the gap between her and Yumi, this distance was telling. Yumi adopted Sei's own tactics, shifted her chair a little closer to the table and leaned forward.

"Well, I was just thinking that it's obvious you like her..." Yumi help up a hand to forestall any denial, "...and it's obvious she likes you."

Sei, who had gone a little pale at Yumi's words, reacted to her last words with some vehemence. "That's not obvious at all."

Yumi smiled gently, leaning her chin on her intertwined fingers. "Why is she always here with you, then?"

Sei's eyes narrowed. She stared at Yumi with hard eyes, then leaned her head back and started to laugh. Loudly, long, until she was clutching her stomach, face down on the table. "Give, give!" she muttered, in between gasps for air. "You are the *best*, Yumi-chan," she slapped the table happily. "Or, should I say, Rosa Chinensis?" Yumi just smiled back at her with that same maddeningly gentle smile Sei knew so well.

While wiping her eyes, Sei took a moment to reappraise the young woman in front of her. She'd grown, that was obvious. No longer the monster's child she used to be, Fukuzawa Yumi reminded Sei more and more of the hard-working competence and helpful interference of Youko. It impressed and disturbed her...and she wondered how much of herself she had passed down to Shimako, or her little sister, Noriko-chan.

"Okay, I'll play." Sei said. "But only if you let me ask you how far you and Sachiko have gotten."

Yumi shook her head. "Nowhere. She is my beloved older sister and I treasure her, as she does me. Now, back to you." She cocked her head at the older woman.

Sei held up her hands and repeated, "Give, give. You win this time Yumi-chan." She picked up her cup of tea, sipped at the now-lukewarm contents, made a face. "You know, for the first time in a long time, I suddenly miss the Rose Mansion." She looked up at what was now an empty chair. Looking around, she saw Yumi headed back to the tea and coffee station, spend a moment pouring them both a fresh cup and return to the table. As Yumi placed the cup in front of Sei, the older woman took the younger's hand in her own for a quick squeeze. "I love you, Yumi-chan."

Yumi returned to her seat. "I know. You were saying?"

"It's complicated." Sei said, burying her face in her fresh tea cup.

"Is it?" Yumi asked. "It seems pretty simple to me." Then she fell silent while her sempai wrestled with whatever it was that made it so complicated for her. Yumi knew some of it, and she could guess at more of the circumstances. Kubo Shiori-san and Sei's history, the fact that she had put it all behind her years ago. And, although no one had ever so much as mentioned the possibility, Yumi knew from Shimako that Shizuka-san was a further complication. But Shizuka-san was in Italy and Sei-sama was here. And so was Kei-san. From Yumi's perspective it wasn't all *that* complicated - but she acknowledged that Sei-sama's perspective was different.

Sei's face was so different from her own, she thought, as she watched the other woman. Where she gave everything away, Sei-sama's face grew distant and impenetrable as she thought. As if it was made of stone. Sei-sama was not a conventional beauty, with a not-quite-Japanese face, strong cheekbones and pale eyes. But when those eyes glittered, Yumi thought, they would be hard to resist.

"Kei-san is...a responsible person," Sei spoke suddenly. "I am practically the definition of irresponsible. It would not be fair to her." The last few words were bit off.

Yumi thought about that for a moment. "They say opposites attract," she began, then shook her head. "No, that's not it. Sei-sama, you're not really irresponsible at all. You're good in your studies and you're very good with people - understanding them and understanding how to motivate them. And Kei-san, maybe she needs a little irresponsibility in her life. She's very serious."

Sei cocked her head again, this time with a small smile just touching the corner of her lips. "So, what's your sage advice for me?"

"Well," Yumi said, "I think you should wait until you're alone with her, walking home from class or something, and ask her out. Seriously. " Yumi smiled, knowing how hard that might be for Sei the trickster. "Tell her you mean it as a date. Then, if she says no, or that it would be difficult to fit in her schedule, you know where you stand. Then you can stop looking at her like that and just be her friend."

Sei's face was red again. She cleared her throat slightly, managing, "That's..." Sei sighed. "Well, its good advice, but I don't know if I'm brave enough to do it."

Yumi drank her coffee. When she was done, she picked up her garbage and walked it over to a centrally placed garbage can. Returning, she stood over Sei. Looking down into pale eyes, she smiled brightly. "Maybe you could use a little irresponsibility in your life too." She threw her coat over her shoulder, waved and turned to leave the cafeteria.

Sei watched her until she walked out the door, then let out the breath she was holding. "You've changed, Yumi-chan," she whispered, then smiled and pulled out her cell phone. "I gotta tell Youko. " Then she stopped, looked at the door Yumi had left through and put the phone away.

"After I talk to Kei."

The Beginning



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