"Are you ready to go in," asked Mei after about ten minutes of cradling Yuzu against her chest, conflicted at the sensation of not wanting to let her wife go, but also at the knowledge that if she didn't stand up soon, her legs would start falling asleep.
"No," answered Yuzu, nuzzling Mei's chest and pushing past the fabric of her wife's shirt so she could begin kissing the soft pale skin beneath it. "I don't want to go back. I want to take you away and hold onto you for as long as I can without anybody getting between us."
"That is a pleasant thought," smirked Mei, holding back a gasp as Yuzu gently bit her clavicle, " however we have guests waiting for us, and it would be rude to run out on them, our children in particular."
"Can't we give them to Udagawa or our parents," begged Yuzu, continuing her kisses and pulling Mei closer. "We can see them at the airport in the morning?"
"Unfortunately we can't," gasped Mei when she felt Yuzu's hair hit her ear as she lifted her wife's head. " Besides, you'll have me to yourself for the next couple of weeks, barring any major issues in regards to work or Airi. You only need to be patient."
"I don't want to be patient." Yuzu began her assault on Mei's neck, keeping the kisses light but forceful enough that she hoped she could entice her wife enough to delay heading into the house. "I want you now."
"I know," panted Mei, biting down on her lower lip to stop the tingling sensation that was spreading through her body, managing regain control of her senses just as Yuzu's hands began moving up her skirt and pulled them away, a smile on her face. "But we have a duty to our children and guests, but if you're patient, I promise to reward you after everything settles down."
"You better." Yuzu removed herself from Mei's neck and pressed their lips together, relaxing as her anxieties and fears from earlier washed away from the kiss and the sensation of Mei's arms encircling her neck.
"Keep this up, and I may just give in," chuckled Mei, kissing Yuzu's neck and cheek while stroking her wife's long hair. "But knowing you, that's what you're going for, isn't it?"
"I just said it was," pouted Yuzu, sticking her tongue out at Mei before stepping away and helping her off the hood of the car. "But, you said I gotta be good so...oh geez are you okay?"
"Ye...yes," grunted Mei, sliding off the car and causing her knees to buckle as a series of pins and needles shot up her legs, forcing her to rest against Yuzu. "I just need a moment for the circulation to return to my legs."
Lifting Mei's arm to her shoulder, Yuzu helped the taller woman to adjust her position and watched as her wife slowly and painstakingly walked in place in an attempt to recover quicker.
Yuzu couldn't help but smirk at how cute Mei looked with her eyes screwed shut and when she finally saw the familiar purple of her wife's eyes couldn't resist giving Mei one more kiss.
"What was that for," asked Mei her face turning bright red.
"For being cute," giggled Yuzu before tilting her head toward the door, her smile growing as Mei's blush deepened. "You think you can make it?"
"I believe so," replied Mei taking a cautious step and nodding. "But if you don't mind, I'd prefer holding onto you in case my legs grow weak again."
"You know I don't," smiled Yuzu before slipping her arm through Mei's and inching closer, humming happily as she and Mei walked slowly toward the front door.
When they entered, they both inhaled deeply, savoring the delicious savory scents that were wafting from the kitchen. Yuzu could pick up the scents of rosemary, sage, along with tomato and basil. In addition to those, there was a strong hint of garlic along with lemon and butter and freshly baked bread. She could even smell a hint of chocolate and what was possibly coffee but she couldn't quite place it, but whatever it was, she could tell by the look on Mei's face that Reo had outdone himself and laughed when she heard a loud gurgle come from wife's stomach.
"Aww, someone's hungry," laughed Yuzu as she tried to rub Mei's stomach.
"Of course I'm hungry," snorted Mei, swatting Yuzu's hand away. "I haven't eaten since lunch and our detour didn't help."
"You should have said something," sighed Yuzu as she pulled her shoes off, wiggling her toes. "I could have grabbed you something from the restaurant."
"Well, our son getting arrested didn't help," retorted Mei with a faint smirk. "Had we not been interrupted I would have made sure to ask you for a slice of coffee cake before coming home."
"I'll make sure to head to the shop and grab a few tomorrow," Yuzu chuckled and brushed some hair out of Mei's eyes, making her wife blush. "Can't have you going hungry."
"Given how well you and Reo cook, I don't think I'll ever have to worry about that." Mei poked cautiously at her stomach and sighed. "We really should start eating earlier in the day."
"How many times do I have to tell you that you're fine? The doctors said you're healthy and that you don't have anything to worry about. Besides, you know I still find you irresistible." Yuzu leaned in and kissed Mei's cheek and then her earlobe, causing the taller woman to flinch. "Sorry."
"It's fine." Mei played with some of the hair around her ear and smiled, "and I'm aware of how attractive you find me Yuzu, and I I'll admit I do find it rather cute when you blush whenever I catch you staring at me. It's just something I thought I'd be over by now. Even if I'm healthy now, things like this can become burdensome the older we get.
A look of concern flashed over Yuzu's face and she couldn't help but press her head against Mei's and ask, "The doctors haven't said anything, have they? You haven't been keeping secrets from me?"
"It's just as you said, they say that at the moment I am perfectly healthy," answered Mei, returning Yuzu's affections and closing her eyes. "However they said it would be beneficial for me to take some time to myself each day."
"Then let's take tomorrow to see if we can figure out some mandatory, 'Mei time'?" Yuzu's smile widened, and Mei didn't know if she should be excited or concerned.
"What exactly do you mean by, 'Mei time,'" inquired the younger woman, separating from her wife and setting their bags on the small table next to the entrance. "Is this some excuse for you to cling to me more than you normally do? Because if it is, I'd like to state for the record that I'm fine with the current amount."
"Why do you have to be so mean," whined Yuzu, wrapping her arm around Mei, nearly sending them to the floor. "I wasn't trying to make you spend time with me. I was offering you the chance to have some alone time when you're home. You work hard, and you deserve it, and all you have to do is tell me that you need a break and I'll pick up the slack."
"I wasn't trying to be mean," sighed Mei while placing a warm hand on her wife's, "and I appreciate your concern. I'll think about your offer so long as I get to set the terms should I decide to take advantage of your offer and only if you promise me you'll do the same. I know you've been having back problems again and don't you dare try and deny it. I've heard all about it from your employees, and you promised me you'd hire some more people."
"I am," answered Yuzu, both dismayed at Mei's frustration with her and flattered that Mei was so concerned about how things were going at the restaurant. "I have new people starting next week when they get back from trips, but until they get there and are trained, I don't have a lot of time to relax. But I promise, once they know their jobs I'm going to take more breaks, okay?"
"I'm going to hold you to it," huffed Mei, glad that Yuzu couldn't see the smile on her face. "But for now, could you please let me go? I want to see what Reo and Mother made for us."
"So do I," groaned Yuzu, feeling her stomach growl as she picked up a strong scent of vanilla and lemon hit her nose. "Speaking of Mama where is she? I figured she would have come out and yelled at us about Hideki. You think Udagawa-san or Papa talked her down?"
"I'm not sure," hummed Mei, wondering not only about what was going on with her step-mother but also wondering about what her father had to say if he was with her. "It is rather unusual, but it is possible they were able to keep her calm. Though I am worried about how quiet it is, do you think they might have decided to eat outside?"
"That's probably it," grunted Yuzu while doing a couple of quick stretches to help the knot in her back. "Wanna go check it out?"
"We may as well," yawned Mei before rubbing her eyes. "I'm getting tired and we have an early day tomorrow."
"I know, I know." Yuzu took Mei's hand and lead her toward the main living space where the living room and dining room connected, expecting to see Reo standing behind the counter, fervently finishing dishes while his dad or Ume helped him finish up as Sho and the others set the table or entertained Hina and Airi.
Though they weren't surprised to find the house empty, both Mei and Yuzu were mildly disappointed to see that nobody was waiting for them. While there were still some dishes in the sink along with a few measuring cups and some pots and pans resting on the counter, it was otherwise spotless and as empty as the rest of the common area.
"I guess they did go outside," muttered Yuzu as Mei let out another loud yawn making Yuzu laugh. "Are you going to make it through dinner?"
"I will," confirmed Mei with a tired nod. "Though I may need some coffee to keep me awake."
"If you say so." Yuzu gave Mei a peck on the cheek and then looked out the sliding door where she saw an excited girl with black hair and glasses alongside a giggling Airi waving at them through the glass door.
"What are you..," began Mei when she saw Yuzu begin to wave and smiled when she heard the door open followed by Hina and Airi's giggles. " Hello, girls."
"Hi Auntie Mei," said Hina happily, dressed in the summer version of the Aihara academy's elementary school uniform. "Do you like my new uniform? How come I had to change it and how come Airi doesn't to wear one?"
"I like it very much," said Mei patting her surrogate niece on the head. "You look very pretty in it, and you wear it because a lot of schools require you to wear uniforms and they change with the seasons. As for Airi..."
Mei turned to her daughter just in time to catch Airi pulling her finger out of her nose and begin wiping it on her shorts.
"Airi," Mei rolled her eyes and pointed at the kitchen sink. "Go wash your hands."
"Why?" Airi stuffed her hands in her pockets, grinning up at her mother.
"Please don't start, Airi," grumbled Mei, thankful that Hideki had never picked up such a disgusting habit. "You had your finger in your nose so please just do what I say and go wash your hands."
"But I didn't pull out a booger! See!"
Airi raised her hands and began stepping toward Mei, but was thwarted when Yuzu appeared from behind her and with a loud grunt slung the squealing girl over her shoulder and turned toward the kitchen.
"Mama," whined Airi, kicking feebly. "Mama! Put me down! I was trying to show Mommy I don't have to wash because I didn't have any boogers."
"Doesn't matter," chuckled Yuzu while Mei sighed and Hina giggled. "I saw you put your finger up there and so did Mommy which means you have to wash your hands."
"But Uncle and Grandma and Grandpa said we had to bring you out when we saw you." There was a loud thud as Airi stamped her foot on the step stool they kept near the sink, specifically for the girls. "Everyone's waiting and Reo made a really yummy dinner that he wants you to try."
"I promise you we'll try it," laughed Yuzu as she poured some soap in Airi's hands. "But first you need to get cleaned up and after that Mommy and me will eat a bit of everything that was cooked."
"Fine," was the last thing Mei heard Airi say before shaking her head and returning her attention to Hina who was continuing to giggle.
"Have you been having fun, Hina," asked Mei as the girl began playing with her skirt.
"Yeah." Hina smiled and lifted her skirt before pointing at her knee. "I got to help Reo and Grandma Ume with dinner. I helped make the dessert and Airi showed me where she fell when Grandpa Shou helped her change the bandage. It was gross because when Grandpa Shou pulled it off there was blood. Airi thought it was cool and tried to make me look at it, but Grandma Ume told her to stop. "
"I don't like blood that much either," said Mei with a small chuckle. "But I've gotten used to it with how much trouble your brother and cousin get into. You'll get over it one day, especially since your father told me you wanted to spend some time with your mother learning how she does her job."
"But Mommy's not a doctor," said Hina raising her finger and adopting a somewhat condescending tone. "She doesn't talk to patients, she stays in her office and talks to business people."
"That is mostly true," answered Mei as the worrisome sound of Yuzu and Airi's mischievous giggles filled her ears, "but your mother does talk to patients sometimes, especially when there are problems with how their treatment went."
"Okay," said Hina rocking back and forth on her feet while she chewed on her lip. "Do you have to talk to people like Mommy does? Is that why you don't come see me when I'm in school?"
"I do most days," grimaced Mei as she remembered all of the meetings she had scheduled in the coming weeks, "and it's very tiresome. Some days are better than others, but there are a lot of days when people yell or scream at me, or nobody wants to agree on anything and it takes us much longer than I'd like for us to solve the problems. But that's why I have so many people there to help me, it gives me the time and energy I need to focus on more important tasks, which occasionally includes checking in on the other schools. However, the reason I don't visit you that often is because my visits are scheduled and I can't make special trips to see you every time I go to the elementary school because that wouldn't be fair to the other kids. Not to mention that I'm there to monitor the teachers and see how the children are being treated, not to play. But I promise you that I'll make a trip to your class soon on the condition that you allow me to do my job. Is that agreeable?
"I guess," sighed Hina looking disappointed. "I just wanna see you more because Mommy and Daddy haven't brought us over in a long time and you don't visit a lot, and I like coming to visit."
"I understand." Mei smiled and pat Hina's head. "I enjoy our visits as well, but part of being an adult means you don't always get to do the things you want to do. But we do the best with what time we have and your Auntie Yuzu and I have to make time for Airi and Hideki as well. But I will make a stronger effort to spend more time with you and Reo once I have some more free time, is that all right?"
"Fine," grumbled Hina rubbing her toe into the ground and tilting her head back and forth before adding, "but if I wanted to, could I help you after school since Airi doesn't go there? I'm good at helping and I want to see your office, and you still haven't told me why Airi doesn't have to wear..."
"Airi's school doesn't require a uniform," said Mei cutting off Hina's latest barrage. "That's not entirely correct, she does wear a shirt with her name on it while she's there, but outside of that, she gets to wear whatever she wants as long as it's appropriate. But when she's older and goes to junior high and high school, she will."
"Okay," nodded Hina looking satisfied with the answer, "but what about me being your helper? I help my teacher all the time and Mommy and Daddy too and they say I'm a really good one so can I help you?"
"I'll...discuss it with your father," said Mei unsure of how to handle Hina's request, but flattered at the girl's willingness to support her. "But for now why don't you and AirIIIIII…."
A spin numbing chill shot through Mei's body as a tiny pair of cold hands planted themselves firmly on her neck, causing Hina to gasp while Airi giggled maniacally behind her.
"I got you, Mommy," laughed Airi, wrapping her arms around Mei's neck and hugging her while Yuzu appeared shaking her head and smiling.
"Yes….you certainly did." Mei turned from Hina to Airi who was in the process putting a couple of ice cubes in a small bowl that Yuzu was holding. "I take it you were somehow involved in this?"
"Maybe," grinned Yuzu setting the bowl down on the counter and grabbing a towel and handing it to Mei. "Are you mad?"
"I'll tell you later." Mei dabbed at her neck and chest before returning it to Yuzu and focusing on Airi who was doing her best to smile innocently and failing miserably. "As for you, you know better than to interrupt me when I'm having a conversation."
"I'm sorry." Airi's smile disappeared and she moved slowly next to Hina. "I just wanted to make you laugh."
"I understand that," sighed Mei at seeing the worried look on her daughter's face. "But that was rude and you know I'm not a fan of that kind of joke, so the next time you and Mama decide to play a joke on me, wait until after company leaves."
"'Kay." Airi took Hina's hand and gripped it tightly so her cousin couldn't pull away. "Am I grounded?"
"No," said Mei with a soft smile. "You aren't grounded, and won't be so long as you remain on your best behavior for the rest of the evening and all of tomorrow. That means no fighting when we wake you up or yelling at Hideki or tantrums, am I clear?"
Airi's eyes flitted toward Yuzu and then back to Mei after her birth mother nodded vigorously and gave Mei an energetic nod, causing her copious amounts of brown hair to fly in several directions as she said, "Yes, Mommy."
"Good," Mei reached out and took Airi's free hand and gave it a reaffirming squeeze before turning her attention to her wife. "Now, Yuzu, I think our daughter and our niece were given the job of taking us out into the yard where the rest of the family is waiting. Are you going to join us or are you going to stay inside for the rest of the night?"
"You better believe I'm coming!" Yuzu's face lit up at the question and raced toward the girls and took Hina's hand. "You think I'm going to miss seeing how hard they all worked? Seriously, Mei, I thought you knew me better than that."
"Well, that's because you never stop surprising me," coughed Mei adjusting some of her hair to hide the how red her ears were turning, smirking when she saw how red Yuzu's face had become.
"Come on," whined Airi, interrupting Yuzu. "I'm hungry and Hina and I wanna show you what's outside! Don't you Hina?!"
"Umm," Hina's face turned red as she nodded, "yeah. Can we go outside, please Auntie Mei and Auntie Yuzu?"
"All right," sighed Mei smiling down at the girls before smiling at Yuzu. "Lead the way girls."
Hina and Airi both cheered and pulled the two women toward the door while Yuzu whispered, "What do you think they have planned?"
"Just humor them," replied Mei with a smirk. "They're excited, and it seems Hina put in a lot of hard work, not to mention after everything Airi and Hideki went through, we can allow them to have a little fun before souring the mood."
"That sounds a little sadistic," chuckled Yuzu as they approached the door and looked down to see Hina and Airi whispering excitedly. "But you're right, as usual. I'm sure Mama and your dad are already freaking out over the condition Hideki is in, so yeah I'd say having fun takes priority tonight."
"I'm glad we agree," said Mei before leaning over their daughter's head to kiss her wife only to hear a disgusted grunt come from Airi.
"Quit it," snorted Yuzu letting go of Hina's hand briefly to tap her daughter on top of the head. "You give Hideki, Mommy, and I kisses all the time so why can't Mommy and I kiss each other?"
"It's cuz you guys sometimes use your tongues when you…."
"That's enough Airi," chuckled Mei nervously when she saw the uncomfortable look on Hina's face. "We're being rude by keeping everyone waiting and you're supposed to be taking us outside, remember?"
"Oh yeah." Airi looked to Hina and pointed at the door. "Ummm what'd your daddy ask us to do?"
"He said they have to close their eyes," repeated Hina confidently. "He said that we gotta have them close their eyes and lead them outside. No questions asked."
"Why do we have to…," began Yuzu only to have Hina raise a finger to her lips.
"Daddy said no questions," said Hina firmly. "So you guys gotta close your eyes, okay?"
"Why do we have to..."
"Just do it, Mommy," said Airi excitedly, tugging on Mei's arm. "You too Mama! You gotta close your eyes."
"Only if you give us a hint first," teased Yuzu with a wink at her daughter. "It's not fair if Mommy and I don't know why we gotta close your eyes."
"You already know," huffed Airi sticking her tongue out at Yuzu. "It's a surprise and if you see it then it won't be one. Mommy tell Mama she's gotta close her eyes."
"Just do it Yuzu," chuckled Mei closing her eyes slowly. "It's only a short walk so what's the worse that can happen."
"All right," sighed Yuzu in a perfect imitation of Airi before being enveloped by darkness. "Okay Airi, Hina, take us to the surprise."
"Okay, Hina, you hold their hands. I'm gonna open the door."
"'kay," answered Hina taking Yuzu's hands while Mei and Yuzu listened to the familiar sound of the back door sliding open. "Okay, Auntie Mei and Auntie Yuzu follow me."
"This better not be a trick," teased Yuzu, feeling Airi's hand take her free one. "You promise it's not a trick?"
"No," giggled both Airi and Hina in unison as they helped Mei and Yuzu step off the porch.
"We said it's a surprise," laughed Airi, bouncing up and down on the grass while Yuzu wiggled her toes against the soft ground while Mei fidgeted uncomfortably as she heard the sound of several hushed voices and clattering of silverware. "Come on, walk slow though cuz Hina forgot to clean up some of my toys."
"You left them…."
"That's enough girls," sighed Mei when she heard the beginnings of another fight. "Can we please get this over with?"
"That's not very nice, Mei," laughed the familiar voice of her step-mother while Shou groaned loudly.
"They already know we're here so why hide it?"
"No fighting," said Airi loudly cutting off her grandparents, "and you guys ruined the surprise."
"No they didn't Airi," said Yuzu squeezing her daughter's hand. "I've kept my eyes closed the whole time, and I'm sure Mommy has to. Haven't ya Mei?"
"All I know is that our parents are here and I'm tired so can we please get on with our evening? Airi can you please tell us what this surprise is?"
"You got it, Mommy!" Airi let go of Yuzu's hand and with a firm tug, pulled Hina away from Mei, both of them squealing as they ran toward the whispering voices of Udagawa and the others.
"What do you think it is," asked Yuzu excitedly as she fumbled for Mei's hand before finally grabbing it and shuffling closer.
"I'm not sure," sighed Mei, locking her fingers with Yuzus. "I thought this was supposed to be a party for Hideki. Why are we the ones that are waiting for a surprise?"
"Does it matter," asked Yuzu happily. "I kind of like being surprised by them for once. Besides you're the one who said we needed to let them have some fun so why don't you follow your advice for tonight?"
"You make a valid point," Mei chuckled and pulled Yuzu a little closer and took a deep breath. "Okay, everyone what's this surprise you all keep going on about?"
"Okay, Mom, Mama," said Hideki sounding like his usual cheerful self. "Open 'em!"
Together Mei and Yuzu opened their eyes to reveal their parents, Udagawa, Hideki, and the rest of the kids all standing behind a couple of large covered picnic tables, laden with homemade pasta, pizzas, salads, cheeses accompanied by cold cuts, as well as a couple of bottles of wine, tea, and soda.
None of this was a surprise, given that they'd smelled most of it earlier, but when they saw the huge smiles on their family members faces and their arms raised, Yuzu let out an excited squeak and pointed in the same direction of the others and whispered, "Mei, look!"
"I see it Yuzu."
Mei's lips parted in an appreciative smile when she saw the banner that was hanging between two small posts and the sight of their family member's smiling and shouting along with the banner, "HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!"