Ano Toki
by Mia Koji/Yugue Nasuti

Mia Koji stood alone on her balcony that autumn evening. Yuli, after much resistance, was finally asleep in her full-size bed. The computer screen glowed through the window inside, seeming to nag her to get back to work, for there was more than enough to carry her through the night.

She turned her back on it spitefully, leaned forward on the railing, and stared into the night sky. The stars and moon seemed so peaceful, one could almost forget the savage battle happening in a place closer than she would've liked.

The wind had a tiny hint of winter in it. Mia held her arms then, and warmed her elbows. She looked down to her watch.

"Hmm…" she breathed a sigh. It was half-an-hour after midnight. She didn't feel tired, thought she told herself she should be. She could hardly have a restful spirit knowing that her dearest friends were quite possibly experiencing some of the worst moments of their lives. And here she was, stuck in her home, unable to do anything but put faith in them.

Somehow, she felt that she wasn't doing enough…

She tucked a strand of auburn-tinted brown hair behind her ear, and shifted her weight onto her right foot. Taking in a final breath of the clean and crisp air, she turned around and walked back in.

She held both hands on the door and slipped through an opening just large enough for her to fit through. She took extra efforts not to make a sound, so she wouldn't wake Yuli. She sat back down at the computer, and pushed up her sleeves. "Okay." She whispered, and rose her hands just above the keyboard. Just as she was about to type, she heard a stirring that made her jump. She spun around on the rotating stool, and searched the room rapidly with her eyes.

She fixed them on the chestnut-tressed man sitting up on her sofa. His arms were folded, and his head slightly lowered. She studied him for a moment, and concluded that he was asleep. His chest rose slowly and evenly, his mouth was relaxed and his brow soft.

Mia smiled warmly at the sight of the sleeping, peaceful warlord. She scolded herself for being so jumpy. I could've woken him up if I wasn't careful.

She slowly turned back to her work, but soon found it hard to concentrate on anything. She kept finding herself thinking how amazing, how remarkable a man Anubis was, proving that true integrity must lie in repentance.

A half-hour passed, and no work was getting done. Quietly sighing in failure, Mia stood again, and decided to go check on Yuli, to ease her rigid nerves, if anything.

She passed by Anubis as she went back to her bedroom. She took the throw blanket tossed over the side of the sofa, and gently rested it over him. Feeling an odd sense of accomplishment, she smiled again, and went to her bedroom.

Yuli had all of the sheets kicked off of him, and his mouth hung wide open. The bed seemed to swallow the little dear up with its almost out-of-proportion size. Mia walked up to the bedside, and covered him up again. The child compulsively threw them off, murmuring almost inaudibly. "…Ryo…"

The teenage girl gently stroked the boy's brown hair. "Shh…he'll be home soon, Yuli…sleep now."

"…Mama…" he murmured, this time more clearly.

Mia softly caressed his cheek, and made the decision to soothe him further. "M'here, baby, it's alright…have sweet dreams, now…"

Yuli seemed to rest better after she spoke those words. She moved to her windows, and shut the blinds, blocking out the moonlight. She walked back to Yuli, and covered him up again. This time, they stayed on.

Mia stood and watched him for a moment, hugging her arms again. He'd probably be sleeping better if White Blaze were here. She turned around, and heard another person's soft gasp.

"You're still up." Anubis whispered in the doorway.

In the complete darkness, Mia could barely see a silhouette of him. "Yes, I am." She whispered back.

"Why don't you rest for awhile?" his soft, raspy voice was soothing to Mia's ears.

"I'm not tired." Mia walked to the doorway. She wasn't lying. It was not one-twenty in the morning, she was still quite alert.

She passed Anubis, and entered the hallway. She began to speak, just above a whisper. "Tell me, what are you doing---" she felt a sharp pain in her back as she turned to look at Anubis. She grabbed her back and leaned against the wall.

"What is it?" Anubis's voice showed a sign of genuine concern.

"I don't know…" Mia pushed herself off of the wall, and crouched over a bit. "But I think I just pulled a muscle in my back…!" She winced as she tried to move her back.

"Let me help you…" Anubis cordially offered his assistance, and took Mia's left elbow and her right shoulder.

"I'm fine, just let me move a bit--!" she shrugged away from Anubis almost instinctively, apprehensive of having such a short distance between them. She felt the surge of pain in her back again, and her knees hit the ground.

"Mia!" Anubis knelt down beside her.

Mia let out a nervous, soft laugh. She was on all fours, and frozen stiff. She smiled. "This is humiliating, you know."

Anubis's look of concern melted into a smile. "Shall I offer my services again?"

"I don't know. If I say 'no', what position will I wind up in next?" Mia teased, trying to let the pressure off of an otherwise mortifying moment.

Anubis laughed deep in his throat. It was a sound Mia found quite familiar, but it was vaguely different, somehow. It lost the wild insanity it had while under Talpa.

Mia found herself lifted a few feet above the ground in an instant. She saw the floor first, and then looked up to see Anubis's face. She blushed a bit when she saw how her was carrying her. It was the proper way for a lady to be held, like what Mia saw in picture books as a child.

"Wh-what are you doing?!" Mia struggled to keep her voice down. "You're holding me!!"

"Rather be piggy-backed?" Anubis asked with a straight face.

Mia suddenly wanted to slap Anubis silly, but-he was serious!

"…no…" Mia clasped her hands together in her lap, and looked at them sheepishly.

"Where to, dear Lady?" Anubis smiled again.

"…the kitchen, I suppose." Mia kept her eyes on her hands.

"Very well…" Anubis took her down the hallway.

"Do you know where it is?" Mia looked up from her hands.

"What kind of question is that?"

"A good one." Mia interrupted Anubis.

"My, you're a witty one in the wee hours of the morning." Anubis looked to her. "Of course I don't know
where it is, you do."

Mia sighed. So he's not completely transformed. "Turn right, and when we reach the dining room, go straight back, and the kitchen's the next room."

Anubis didn't say anything until they entered the dining room, where he walked straight into some of the chairs around the table. Then he let out a rather hushed and unusual mixture of exclamations.

"You might want to look out for chairs in here." Mia mentioned in a humorously (or so she thought) untimely manner.

"Hmph." Anubis replied, to which Mia had to stifle a giggle. He really wasn't too intimidating at all!

The two entered the kitchen, and Anubis slowly let Mia down so she could hit the light switch. The bright lighting made both of them squint for a moment.

Mia hobbled over to a cabinet, and got out a light blue mug. She opened the refrigerator, and got out a jug of cider. She stuck it in the microwave, and set it to heat for a minute. She hobbled over to a chair at a more casual dinette area. She let out a loud sigh as she sat. "Ugh! I am * too * young for this." She looked to the doorway.

Anubis still stood there, watching her with a smile.

"You can sit down, if you like." Mia smiled back. "I don't need a sentinel watching over me, I can manage."

The microwave went off, and Anubis brought her cider to her, and sat across from her.

Mia tenderly held her mug, and blew her cider. Her eyes rose to Anubis. The silence ate at her nerves more than anything, but Anubis's eyes were stuck on her, and she hated it when people stared at her for no reason.

"Are you hungry? Feel free to help yourself to the food in the kitchen." Mia cheerfully offered, closing her eyes and smiling. She had the feeling that she wouldn't regret offering him free use of the kitchen, unlike with a certain group of teenage boys.

"You're too kind, but I'll settle for some tea right now." Anubis stood.

"Cups are in the cabinet above you, and tea the drawer next to the fridge." Mia watched him fill a kettle with water, and put it on the stove to heat.

"You've adjusted well to the mortal world." Mia paid Anubis a compliment.

"I think so." He replied, not turning around to look at her.

Mia spoke again after another elongated moment of silence. "It was probably wise for you to stick to just tea. I still haven't re-stocked on food since Kento's last kitchen raid!" Mia laughed a bit. "I better hop to it, or he'll have nothing to eat when he gets back!" Mia's heart ached at the thought of the Ronins. She forced her smile to remain on her face, and she sipped on her cider. Her eyes began to sting. "Those guys…" she let out a soft laugh, trying to force back tears.

Anubis sensed something, and he turned around, his smile gone. "Are you crying?" his gravely voice lowered.

Mia used the back of her hand to quickly wipe away any of the tears betraying her eyes before they could burn her cheeks. "It's just late, that's all…I guess I am getting tired, after all…"

Anubis returned to his seat across form her, and rested his chin on his left palm. He stared at her, a smile on his face again. "Why is it…"

Mia looked up while sipping her cider.

"Why is it…I always feel compelled to smile when I'm with you?"

Mia felt the blood rush to her face. "Wh…what kind of question is that?"

"A good one." Anubis's smile widened a bit.

"You really are a cruel man, smiling while I'm in tears." Mia haughtily said before sipping her cider.

Anubis straightened up then, and rested his hand on the table. "Your friends will be fine, Mia. Have faith in Wildfire."

"Sure, now try to fix things…" Mia set down her mug. "We're not getting anywhere, I feel like I could be doing something more!" Mia held her head, and stared at the table. "I feel so worthless."

"You could start by getting some sleep." Anubis stood to check on the water. "Or you * will * be worthless come morning."

Mia knew Anubis was right, so she didn't argue. Does she really feel safe sleeping with a former warlord in the house? She didn't have much of a choice. Besides, he hadn't tried anything thus far, and the Ronins trusted him with her.

Anubis leaned against the fridge. Mia didn't notice until now, but Anubis had dark shadows beneath his eyes. He was more exhausted than he sounded!

"Why don't you go to bed? I mean, you look wiped out." Mia smiled. "I'll go to bed as soon as I finish my cider, I promise."

"I still have my tea." Anubis pointed to the kettle.

"Hmm." Mia admitted defeat, and sipped up the rest of her cider. "I guess I'll sleep in the living room. You're welcome to the guest bedroom."

"Why don't you take the bed?" Anubis took the kettle off of the fire. "Your back shouldn't take too much more."

"All right." Mia sighed, having no energy to argue. Must've been all the hours in the computer chair… She moaned a bit as she got up, and slowly walked out of the kitchen, muttering about where the heating pad could possibly be.

Anubis stood against the fridge still as the teenage girl walked out. He brought the teacup to his lips and sipped it, inhaling the sweet aroma of dried sakura blossoms. "Rest well." He called.

"`Night." Was Mia's reply.

Mia didn't take long to settle in the cold, empty guestroom. Usually, the whole house was like that. She felt the muscle in her back relax a bit with the heat given by an electronic heating pad. She closed her eyes, and tried to drift off to sleep. Please…please, everyone, be safe. Mia prayed, piling on the blankets. She prayed the same thing over and over again as minutes passed.

It was now five minutes after three in the morning. Anubis turned off the kitchen light, and walked through the hallways again. He stopped outside of Mia's bedroom, and looking in to Yuli, who was now sleeping peacefully. He moved from the doorway, down two doors, to a room, which was also open. The blinds were still open, and a faint beam of moonlight shone on the foot of the bed in which Mia Koji slept.

Silently, he walked in. The teenaged girl had most of her sheets kicked off, and she lay there in a huge, oversized resort nightshirt. With on eof those "compelled smiles", he pulled up the sheets to her middle, and bend lower to softly touch her lips with his.

Mia's steady breathing ceased when she inhaled sharply. Anubis opened his eyes, and pulled away quickly. "You're awake?" his voice was barely a breath.

Mia's eyes were open, and they were wide with shock. "Yes." Was her shaky reply.

Anubis was frozen. His hands were on the mattress, and one knee propped him up onto the bed.

"I hate awkward silences." Mia broke the silence.

Anubis searched for something to say, but all he could get out were a few utterances.

"You too?" Mia smiled warmly, pleasantly surprised to see a scared look on Anubis's face. She propped herself up on her elbows, and then turned to her side.

"I'm sorry." Anubis managed to spit out. "I wasn't thinking."

Mia put the fingers of her right hand on his mouth to silence him. "Shh…you'll wake Yuli." She got on her hands and knees and crawled closer to him. She closed her eyes, and softly brought her mouth to his. She knelt there on the edge of her bed, the fingers of Anubis's right hand softly cupping over her jawbone. It was a good minute before they pulled away.

"What possibly possessed you to do what you did?" Mia asked, centimeters from his face. She warmly looked into his dark, piercing eyes.

"Hush now. Enough questions have been asked today." Anubis purred, and lightly brushed her lips with his again. "Tonight, let's sleep."

Mia crawled into Anubis's embrace. She rested her head against his chest, and listened to his heart beating. She closed her eyes. "Lay down, Anubis."

Anubis cradled Mia in his arms, and inhaled the sweet scent Mia's perfumed shampoo left in her hair. They both lay on the kind-size bed in the guestroom. Mia heard Anubis sigh contentedly before his breathing became slow and deep. She closed her eyes, and at three-forty-five in the morning, sleep finally found her.