By Dustin Evermore & Lisa Hartjes

[June 29th, 2033, Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Neo York.]

Jason had fallen asleep somewhat fitfully the night before, uncomfortable because Midori wasn't there. She had received a message from Nakata Miro, HariChem's Chief Financial Officer, about a "situation" that required her attention. Midori had promised to come back as quickly as she could.

He took an almost scalding hot shower, trying to wash away the events of the previous day. The stress and fatigue finally caught up with him and he fell asleep on top of the covers, wearing only a towel tied around his waist.

Jason had had a vivid dream after that. It had started with Midori calling his name softly, taking the towel away, tossing it over the back of the chair, and pulling the blankets up over him. She began to change out of her clothes, things went blurry, then Midori was slipping into the bed with him.

When she cuddled up against him, he drew her on top of him and kissed her. Jason dreamt that he had slid his hands from her thighs up over her bare and softly yielding flesh and under the midnight blue nightshirt until he had lifted it almost to her rib cage. Their kiss deepened, and then the scene went hazy. It had become more sensation than sight, of soft skin quivering under a strong touch, and pleasure.

As Jason became more aware of his surroundings, his nose was filled with Midori's scent as his face nuzzled the nape of her neck and his left hand was filled with her breast. He realized he was spooning her - cool, sleek satin against his chest, and warm, supple skin on his abdomen and hips. Jason felt himself stir, and almost as if in response, Midori shifted her hips in her sleep.

Jason opened his eyes slightly and saw Midori's midnight blue nightshirt had ridden all the way up in the front to expose the breast he had been caressing. Realization hit and his eyes widened as he wondered what he had dreamed and what he had not. He felt excitement rise within him and he was both fearful and hopeful Midori might awaken. He wasn't sure how or when his hand had arrived upon her soft, warm breast, but he was loath to move it now.

Her backside was comfortably pressed against his lap. He felt light-headed. If you were anyone else, Midori... he thought to himself. I wouldn't even hesitate. Damn. Damn damn damn damn damn. Whoever gave her this no-sex-before-marriage idea ought to be shot.

He couldn't help but notice that his hand upon her breast was at least not making her uncomfortable. With a sigh, he decided that it would have to do. He lay there, just like that, wide awake until the sun broke through slanted shades.

Midori sighed and felt utterly content. Jason had been deep asleep by the time she had returned from dealing with Nakata and some other things that had to be done. He had barely twitched when she took the cold and wet towel away and tucked the covers around him. However, when she slid into bed next to him, she thought he had woken up because he pulled her on top of him.

She almost control of herself and given in to the eruption of sensations brought on by his caresses, but she remembered the promise she had made herself when she was a child. It was a promise that had baffled her mother, but it was her mother who had ensured that Midori learned how to pleasure a man and herself without intercourse.

Jason's whispered words of love and need nearly broke her resolve, but she used what she had learned to give him release, and then cleaned up before trying to fall back asleep.

Her own unsatisfied desires suddenly flared up again like a firestorm when Midori felt Jason's hand on her breast and the heat and hardness of Jason's body against her back. She could tell by the way he was holding her that he was awake this time, and it sent her heart into overdrive. Midori tried to still her body, but she felt like she was fighting a losing battle.

Midori felt her legs open, hips tilt and slide backwards of their own accord, but when she felt her flesh starting to part she let out a whimpering cry and scrabbled out of Jason's embrace. She swung her legs over the side of the bed and sat there, hugging herself, trying to bring her rampaging emotions under control, unaware of the raw need leaking through the link she shared with Jason.

"I'm sorry, Jason," she whispered, her efforts to control herself obvious in her voice. "I can't... I promised myself that I'd wait until I knew I'd found the one, but... Oh Jason, you think you have a beast inside you. It's nothing compared to what's inside me..."

At that moment, Jason was pretty sure he'd promise her anything and mean it, too. He tried to bring some order to his thoughts, and stick to what he thought were real feelings, instead of just ones spawned by lust.

"Midori, there have been other women in my life. Not many, but a few. Some of them were exploratory, some of them were fun. One of them was maybe even a little romantic. But none of them made me want to do the things you inspire me to do. None of them made me feel good about both them and myself."

Jason sat up in bed. "Last week we shared something, you and I. It came at just the right time for me, but it allowed me to spill my guts out. You got to see who I was, and in only a few days you let me in close enough that I got to learn who you were, too. We skipped through what would normally take two people months to figure out. And the best part is that we want to be together even more than ever.

"You might not be sure that you found the right one, yet. But I am." There. He had said it. It felt like a tremendous weight had been lifted from his chest. Even as his ears burned in fear of being put off, or worse, rejected, the rest of him felt like dancing.

"You... You don't understand." Midori turned to face Jason, arms still wrapped around herself like she was afraid she was going to fall apart, and though the need she felt burned like stars in her eyes, there were tears trailing down her cheeks. "I'm afraid that I'll hurt you, and not in a way that I can heal. I'm afraid that in the heat of passion, I'll lose control and take over your mind and force you to do what I want you to do. Or that the shields I have in place might slip." She shook her head. "I've gotten sexual release from a man, but never through actual intercourse, and I've never, EVER wanted a man as much as I want you. And it scares me."

"Last night, I had much better control. But now that you're awake and fully aware..." Her voice trailed off, her eyes devouring his naked body, and she leaned forward as if in a trance.

Jason looked longingly at her. He couldn't bear to see her upset, so in a moment he had slid over to her and wrapped an arm around her. "Hey, don't cry, love." He touched her chin with two fingers and lifted her face toward him. "I'm glad you told me that. But try not to worry so much. I know the risks now. It just means that we need to take things slow, one step at a time. Nor do we really want things to build to a breaking point, right?"

He slowly leaned forward and gently kissed her hand and began to work his way up her arm with more kisses.

Jason sensed Midori's body relax slightly, only to shudder at his feather-light touch. Her eyelids drooped for a moment, and when her lips parted with a gentle sigh he could feel the mental link between them start to open like a delicate flower. Midori's breath caught for a moment when Jason reached the sensitive skin on the inside of her elbow, just below the satin of her nightshirt.

"Jason," Midori said, her voice husky with desire. "Do you remember anything from when I came to bed last night?"

"I'm pretty fuzzy on what happened. Whatever we did... I liked it."

"I'd be comfortable sharing that with you again," Midori offered hesitantly, unsure of whether he'd be willing to accept the limit of how far she wanted things to go for now.

Jason gently, lovingly pulled her back down in the bed with him as he continued to give her his complete attention.

A rattling at the door to the bedroom disturbed the exhausted couple. Some time during the night, someone had thought to lock the door to ensure privacy.

A frustrated little grunt emanated from the other side the of door. A young, distant voice called, "Uncle Hobbs! It's breakfast time and Dad won't get up. And where did Midori go?"

"Uuunnhh," stated Jason as he attempted to lift an eyelid. He still felt too comfortable to move. "I hate Wednesdays," he sighed. He sat up, rubbing his eyes. "I'm going to jump in the shower real quick." He leaned over and gave Midori a quick kiss on the cheek before slipping out of bed.

Midori was sorely tempted to offer to join him in the shower, but decided against it. Things would take far too long and likely get out of hand. She nodded at Jason and smiled as she watched his lean form retreating. Midori sighed and rolled over onto her side.

She remembered what they had been doing only a short while ago. While Jason wasn't one of the most skilled men she had been with, he was enthusiastic and considerate, and with her use of their mind link, she was able to show him what pleasured her the most. Midori relived the moment he brought her to the edge and over with his tongue and fingers. She'd never felt anything like it before, and she wondered if it was because there was more than mutual physical attraction between them.

Midori sighed again and rolled over so her back was to the bathroom door. What were they going to say to Moira?

"Your turn." Jason stood smiling as he finished toweling off. "Unless you'd rather try that big tub."

"Tub," Midori said. "You got a tub? Now you tell me... All my room has got is a shower." She sighed, flung the covers off and stretched languidly before getting up. With a single move, Midori swept the nightshirt over her head and tossed it on the bed and walked to the bathroom in comfortable nudity.

Jason paused to take in the sight for a moment. Could an art lover walk through the Louvre and not stare? Nor could Jason pass up the opportunity the natural Asian beauty that graced his bedroom. He then left Midori to the bathroom, finished dressing, and joined Moira and Hobbs.

"You missed breakfast," Moira told him.

"Did I?"

"Yes, and Midori did, too." Moira looked up at him suspiciously. "Was she in there last night with you?"



"Because when two adults grow close, they want to share everything between them. That includes sleeping together."

Moira stood up and kicked the tri-vid remote across the room. It smashed to pieces against the wall. Moira disappeared in her bedroom as Jason stared in surprise. He looked helplessly at Hobbs.

"I believe the young miss knows she will never grow up, sir."

"Oh, shit." Jason went after Moira and sat on her bed talking with her until Midori finished getting ready for the day.

Midori poked her head out of Jason's room to see if the coast was clear. She felt unaccountably guilty about this sneaking around, and she was afraid that she might hurt Moira's feelings, or make the girl think that she was trying to take her father away from her.

She slipped out of the room and tiptoed down the hallway towards her room. Midori started and whirled around in surprise, losing hold of her towel. It fell to her waist before she caught it again, and when she realized it was Hobbs' behind her she froze, almost like a deer caught in a pair of headlights.

Midori quickly regained her composure and put the towel back in place. "Good morning, Hobbs." Her voice was calm and peaceful, but she felt as if she was a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar, and that Hobbs knew exactly what she and Jason had been doing. But what was wrong with that? They were both consenting adults.

"Good morning, Miss Harihatu," he said warmly. "I have some tea steeping in the kitchenette. Would you care for some?"

"Are you sure you're not a mind reader," Midori said with a grateful smile. "I would love to have a cup."

"I shall set some out on the coffee table for you, then." Hobbs smiled briefly and then turned to let her go. "Oh yes. I took the liberty having your clothes properly cleaned and pressed. I hope you don't mind. You'll find them hanging in the closet."

Midori shook her head and laughed softly. "If you keep this up, Hobbs, I may just move in permanently as I won't be able to function without you. Thank you, Hobbs. And please, feel free to call me Midori."

"As you wish Miss Midori." Midori looked up and saw the elderly gentleman was smiling at the small joke.

Midori turned and padded down the hallway to her room and walked in.

The bed, which she had left rumpled and messy before she had made her way to Jason's room, had been neatly made and the pillows fluffed. The closet doors had been shut, and when she swept them open, she saw her outfits had indeed been neatly pressed and hung up in what appeared to be a specific order. Casual clothes (or outright slutty Zenshou clothes) on the left, more formal were on the right. Shoes were neatly tucked beneath them, using the closet space efficiently.

At first, Midori thought the maid service had come through, but the sight of the clothes quickly dispelled that notion. She stood there for a few moments, just staring, then she shook her head, half afraid, half amused at what Hobbs must have thought about her Zenshou clothes.

Midori finished drying herself off, then got dressed in a pair of smartly tailored cream colored pants and a deep red silk poet shirt. With deft ease, she swept her hair up into a French twist, then checked herself in the mirror. Midori was satisfied with the result, and went to the living room in search of the promised tea.

The living room was empty when she entered, though she could hear Jason's and Moira's voices coming softly from Moira's bedroom. Midori walked over to the coffee table to get some tea and stopped in her tracks when she saw the ornate plate full of food next to the silver teapot. Nearly half the items on the plate were things that she loved - she suspected the other half were Jason's favorites - and Midori couldn't help but chuckle softly and shake her head.

She sat gracefully down on the edge of the couch and prepared to pour herself some tea. As the dark liquid filled the cup, its fragrance reminded her of the tea she always drank at home, and a quick sip confirmed her suspicions. Midori's train of thought was interrupted by movement out of the corner of her eye, and she looked up to see Hobbs walking into the room from the kitchenette.

"Thank you for the tea, Hobbs," Midori said. "It's my favorite. As is about half the food here." She smiled. "It's almost as if you're trying to get me to want to stay." She paused, thoughtfully. Her eyes dropped to her cup for a moment, then she looked back at the elderly man with curiosity in her eyes.

"Are you," she asked softly. "Do you approve of Jason's choice? And it is your place to have an opinion on the subject. Other than Moira, you're the only family Jason has, and I know he considers you to be family, no matter what words may come out of his mouth."

"In spite of his position and personal wealth, Jason has been a rather unfortunate young man. This is, in my opinion, a direct result of spending too little time making friends and too much time making enemies."

Hobbs gestured to the couch, offering her a seat. As soon as Midori was seated, he sat down in a nearby stuffed chair. "Frankly, he is a very lonely person. There are few people who can look further than his money. Such relationships have never been very constructive, and to his credit he did break them off, eventually. However, I have noticed the way he looks at you is very different from the way he's looked at any other woman. And you seem to be good for him, too."

Hobbs pause to pour some tea for himself. "I truly hope that you can work out the tragedy that has befallen you, and I'm glad you have allowed Jason to help. I think you are very good for him, Midori. And I think that if you trust your heart, you will find that he is good for you, too."

After taking a sip of the aromatic teas, Hobbs continued. "Now that you have a few days to relax before you must leave for Hong Kong, may I point out that you have a chance to consider where you'd like your life to go after this is all over? I'd recommend you ask Jason to take tomorrow off. Spend some time with him, even if it's just one day, to relax and gain a glimpse of what your life could be like if you pursue this relationship."

Midori smiled. "You sound so much like my mother," she looked at Hobbs with newfound respect and affection. "My father is... was, always business before pleasure, and in that way I'm very much like him, but it was my mother that taught me the importance of family. I... I want a family, and I hope that I might find it with Jason. I know I love him, and I love Moira already as if she was my own daughter." Midori nodded. "Perhaps you're right. A day with him, away from everything, might help me find the answer."

Midori took a sip of her tea. "Is there a particular reason why you recommend Jason take the day off tomorrow?"

Hobbs nodded. "Yes. Tomorrow is his birthday. I suspect he was planning on working." Hobbs looked across the top of his tea cup with an amusingly sly look.

"I see," Midori replied with an equally sly smile. "Will you excuse me for a moment?" Her face took on a look of brief concentration, then slight annoyance, then satisfaction. "I had been planning on surprising Jason with this in a couple of days, but tomorrow would be perfect. You're aware how his mother's garden was destroyed in the attack?"

"Indeed. That was a great pity."

"Don't ask how," Midori said with a smile, "but I managed to get samples of all the plants that were damaged beyond saving and had them taken to one of the HariChem labs. They're in the process of cloning the plants and force growing them to a point where they'll be able to survive the winter if they're planted in the fall. I just told Nakata to send me some clippings from the plants, and to get on the lab to get the work done with extra haste." She took a sip of her tea.

"I suppose you've been able to arrange things so that Jason has no excuse to go in to the office tomorrow," she asked, the smile returning to her face.

He smiled. "It was in my power to do so, madam, and so I have."

Midori shook her head and grinned. "What would we do without you, Hobbs. No," she said, holding up her hand and laughing. "Don't answer that. Do you have any recommendations as to what to do with him tomorrow? And how to get him to agree to take the day off? If he really wants to work, I don't see..." Midori's face turned thoughtful. "I know... I'll need some help, and I know exactly who to ask." She turned back to Hobbs. "Thank you," Midori said sincerely.

"You may wish to keep your evening open, however," he advised.

Midori looked at him with a raised eyebrow. "Is there something planned that I should know about?"

"I'm afraid I really shouldn't say, Mis-- Midori."

She stood and walked over to the door of Moira's bedroom and knocked to get their attention.

"Come in." It was Jason's voice. As the door swung open, Midori caught sight of Moira sitting on Jason's lap (not an easy thing for most people to support, given Moira's actual mass due to the metals in her body). It looked as if Moira had given Jason a hug. She hopped off his knee as Midori came into the room. She was still wiping her eyes, but appeared to be wearing a smile.

"Moira, I have a bit of shopping to do, and I was wondering if you'd like to come. That way, if you haven't done so already, you can buy a birthday present for your dad because it's his birthday tomorrow."

Moira looked from Midori to Jason. "It's your birthday? I didn't know that!" She squinted mischievously as her father. "How old are you gonna be?"


"Geez, Dad."

"Thanks, kiddo. And I don't need any presents. I've had lots of birthdays already, as you can tell," Jason told her. "Why don't you go find something for yourself, instead?"

"Nope. You're already getting me what I want, so it's your turn!"

Jason shook his head with a smile. "Well, I'm late for work all ready, so I'm going to have to trust you two not to get into trouble while I'm out." Jason caught Midori's eye and it was clear he was especially thinking of her clandestine Zone excursions.

Jason gave her a disbelieving look, but smiled.

"Us," Midori said in mock innocence, and looked at Moira with conspiratorial mischief in her eyes. "Get into trouble? How could we possibly get into trouble shopping?" She took a step into the room so Jason could get through the doorway. As he passed, Midori gave in to impulse and curiosity, captured his hand and stepped close to give him a gentle kiss. "Have a good day at work, love," she said softly. "See you when you get home." As she released his hand, she opened their mental link and caressed his mind softly.

~I'll be back early, if I can.~ He was already looking forward to quitting time. ~Oh, and Moira tends to overrate her ability a bit and sometimes even manages to fall right on her face. She's only had that body a few months and she's still getting used to it. She gets upset, but if you just smile and tell her that it's okay, she'll be all right.~

~I think you need to have a bit more confidence in your daughter's abilities, love,~ Midori sent. ~I suspect she's a lot more capable than you believe.~

Midori proved a far more interesting companion to Moira than Hobbs ever did. Moira discovered she really enjoyed the sights and sounds of the shopping center, maybe even more than the actual shopping. Midori was even able to convince Moira that the 'cool clothes' she saw Midori wearing as Zenshou was a disguise and not really what she would wear to go out.

By lunch, Moira was had been excited enough by the shopping trip that she ate with little urging. In addition, Midori managed to get a description of precisely what kind of computer that Moira thought was really 'the coolest'. A quick side trip and quiet talk with a salesman at a mall computer shop meant Midori was able to get a pair of machines custom ordered and hand assembled. They were to be delivered to the Waldorf Astoria by late afternoon.

In the early afternoon, Midori had helped Moira find what she wanted to get Jason. It was a plain white gold ring with a date inscribed upon it and the message, "I love you, daddy" etched inside the band. Triumphant, the two returned to the Waldorf bearing the trophies of a successful expedition.

Midori looked at the dress one last time before she closed the closet doors in her room. After what Hobbs had said, she figured that it would be a good thing if she had bought one. Her thoughts drifted to the tub in Jason's bathroom, and the idea of a long, luxurious soak sounded wonderful to her.

~Jason,~ she sent tentatively, hoping she wasn't disturbing him.

~Yes? Is everything okay?~

~No, nothing's wrong. I hope I'm not disturbing you. Is the offer of the use of the tub in your bathroom still open?~

~Hon, you can use any tub you like. Especially if you make room for one more.~

~Don't be a tease,~ she sent, and he could "hear" her sultry chuckle. ~I'll be sure not to leave too much of a mess, love.~

A mess wasn't really the picture that was in his mind when he looked back at the faces of the four hospital administrators who were silently staring at him. He'd stopped mid-sentence and they were wondering if something was wrong.

He cleared his throat. "I'm sorry gentlemen. I'm afraid I have something of a headache. I'm sorry folks. Can we meet again on Friday? I think I'm going to call it a day."

"You should take an Advil," suggested one helpful administrator.

"No! Tylenol is much better," said another. An argument was definitely looming.

"Thank you gentlemen," Jason said over the rising din. He practically fled from work in his haste to get home to the Waldorf Astoria suite.

Midori let out a sigh of contentment. The luxury of a huge bathtub full of hot water was one she never thought she'd miss until she ended up in the Zone. She would have loved to stay in it longer, but the bubbles were slowly beginning to dissipate, and her fingers were starting to look like prunes.

She opened her eyes and began to reach for a towel when she heard a crash from the bedroom.

"Moira? Is that you," Midori called out, concerned. "Are you okay?"

"No, uh.. It's just me," called Jason. "You still in there?" There was the sound of someone hopping outside the bathroom. "Damn, damn," mumbled Jason.

"Yes, I am," Midori replied. "I was about to get out, though. I'm getting all wrinkled."

"Ow!" Midori heard him say it this time.

"What happened," Midori asked, half swimming in the tub to the side closest to the door.

"I stubbed my toe on the bed frame," explained Jason. He had meant to get home in time to join her but not only missed his chance, he had managed to bang the hell out of his middle toe because he was rushing. He felt like such an idiot as he wondered if he broke it. He sat on the bed and held his throbbing toe and considered. I just up and left an important meeting and ran all the way home just because I suddenly wanted to see Midori. I must be loosing my mind.

"Are you okay," Midori asked in concern. "Come in here and let me see it." She moved to kneel on one of the small ledges in the tub, bringing her bubble-clad torso out of the water to just below her narrow waist.

Jason went into the bathroom, red-faced and looking more embarrassed than hurt. He walked over and sat down Indian style. He knew he was acting like a teenager this afternoon, yet he just couldn't help it. "I'm okay, except for being a silly oaf." His eyes ran up and down the curves of Midori's body as he spoke, appreciating every shape and even every bubble.

He leaned forward and whispered, "I missed you already." He softly touched her lips with his and pulled her close. He managed to dampen his shirt, but didn't care.

Midori chuckled softly and returned his kiss gently, then pulled back slightly. "I was so busy with Moira that I didn't miss you one bit," she teased.

Jason smiled. "I hope you both had some fun. I saw some packages on the way in."

Midori nodded. "We had a great time. I think Moira enjoyed getting out and seeing the stores more than she did actually buying stuff. And don't worry, I was able to guide her to choosing clothing appropriate for her without being a bully." She smiled. "I really enjoyed spending the time with her. Did you know she's a veritable font of information when it comes to computers and hardware?"

She looked down at Jason's chest. "You're getting yourself soaked," she said as lightly she drew a design with the tip of her finger on the wet cloth. "Hobbs said you had an important meeting at the hospital this afternoon, and you weren't due back for at least another hour. What happened?"

At that moment, a cool draft wafted in through the open bathroom door. It made Midori shiver slightly and she unconsciously leaned into Jason's body for more warmth.

Jason hugged her close, then reach over to pick up a towel, which he wrapped around her. He began gently drying her as he spoke, "The uh, meeting was moved to Friday. I wanted to come see you.

Midori raised an eyebrow at Jason's words, obviously not quite believing him, but remained silent.

"Well, I faked a headache and moved it to Friday, because I wanted to see you." He grinned like he had just gotten away with a great prank.

Midori chuckled and shook her head in amusement.

"Thank you for taking Moira out today. I know she appreciates that, especially since it's hard to find schooling for her in the summer months." His fingertips caressed her cheek. "In fact, I'm amazed at how well you've handled Moira being around." He kissed her again.

Midori reached up and threaded her fingers through the hair at the base of his skull. "She is your daughter," she said softly, "regardless of the fact there is no blood shared between you. She is your family." Midori paused for a moment, searching for the right words to express her feelings. "Some women see Moira as a burden, a piece of unwanted baggage. They are selfish, and cannot understand why anyone would care for her, or anyone that cannot cater to their whims. All they see is your money and power, and that Moira likely stands in their way of getting it.

"I don't give a damn about money and power. They are simply tools, not an end unto themselves. And when it comes down to it, I have my own, and I don't need, or even want, yours. I want things that money can't buy, like love and a family. Not a group of people, related by blood, who bicker over whose allowance is larger, but a real family." She smiled softly. "It's only been a short time but I couldn't imagine not having either of you in my life. You help fill the holes in my heart."

Jason looked back at Midori through wide, inspired eyes. He hugged her tight and with relief and happiness in his voice, he said, "You make me so happy Midori. I promise you that I will prove to you how important you are to me."

He covered her mouth with more kisses as he lifted her out of the tub and finished slowly toweling her off. To complete her bath, he then swept her off her feet and took her back to the bed, where he began a thorough, full-body massage. Although he was not a masseuse, he made up for it with thoroughness and attention to detail.

Hobbs felt quite pleased with how things were going. He had spent the day lining up contractors and negotiating with the estate's insurance company to begin reconstruction on the Stone estate. Summer months were busy times for construction companies, however, and it took some doing to get a contractor to come out within a reasonable time table. It would be a week, minimum, before estimates would be done.

Hobbs had come back in from his own busy day around four in the afternoon, which was shortly after Moira and Midori had returned for what appeared to him to be a successful shopping expedition. Moira was so excited that while Midori retired to the bath, she had to show Hobbs all the great new clothes that they had found.

The packages that had arrived was the object of some speculation by the excited girl, and even Hobbs had wondered what Midori might have had shipped. While Midori was occupied in the bath, Hobbs managed to divert Moira from getting a little too curious.

Much to Hobbs', amusement, Jason had come home in a pretty big rush to find Midori and his room was rather quiet for some time after that. Smiling to himself, he occupied Moira by teaching her things she could do with some low-level but more powerful commands on Jason's laptop. He thought that her interest and long attention span (for a child) when it came to computers would serve her very well if properly trained.

The evening concluded not long after a pleasant supper that Hobbs ordered from room service. It did his heart much good to see Jason, Midori, and Moira all together at a dinner table, talking and laughing. Jason even seemed quite amenable to the idea of taking his birthday off work, and spending it with Midori and Moira instead. Tonight, all seemed right in the world.

Moira scrambled out of bed early in the morning and had intended to skip into Jason's room, as she often did, but was intercepted by Hobbs. She had almost forgotten it was a special day! Hobbs and Moira meant to let the couple rest and have their privacy until late in the morning. But Midori and Jason were soon out and about and the reason why became clear very soon.

Moira greeted a delivery man at the door who presented her with a large package with Jason's name on it. At Midori's encouragement, Jason opened it up to discover a mock-up of the Stone gardens restored to what it was using fresh clippings from re-grown plants cloned from surviving ones at the estate had arrived. Jason was surprised and excited! Midori wanted to see the garden be restored as perfectly as possible and the mock-up showed that she had gotten it right. When HariChem was finished, one would not be able to tell the gardens had been damaged at all. Moira had never seen Jason so excited and pleased about anything before. At Midori's prompting, Hobbs even admitted that he did help a little with giving Midori's people the layout of the gardens.

By then, of course, Moira was nearly bouncing off the walls in her enthusiasm to give Jason the present she had picked out. After breakfast, she had run to grab the little box with the ring and gave it to Jason. Jason had opened it and looked pretty surprised. When he saw the inscription, though, Moira almost thought she made a mistake because he seemed like he almost was going to cry. The date inscribed upon the ring was, of course, the exact day that Jason had adopted her. But he told her he loved the ring and put it on right away, saying he'd always wear it.

Midori had yet more gifts for both Jason and Moira. Jason and Moira tore into the boxes and soon had the two identical computer systems up and running. Jason looked impressed and happy, but Moira was beside herself. It was everything she could possibly want in a computer, and she could play with her dad by networking them together. Ghost programs even allowed one to virtually piggy-back the other to watch when navigating the Net in 3d space.

Jason dressed in a tailored Versace suit. The egg-shell colored ensemble included matching slacks, vest and coat worn over a white shirt with black lines on the edges, and a tie. He looked fit to visit kings. And well he should, for this evening, reservations had been made at the Daniel, a fine dining restaurant that featured the best, and often most experimental in French cuisine. This restaurant's clientele was generally reputed to have, on any given night, a greater net worth than the gross national product of most small countries. Daniel had a pretty big reputation and Jason hoped that tonight, of any night, they would live up to it.

Jason waited patiently outside as Midori finished dressing.

Midori sighed, a touch disappointed, as she looked at herself in the mirror. She hadn't expected the tacky jewelry she had with her to go with the very expensive gown she was wearing, but now that she had it on again, Midori wished she had at least a nice pair of gold earrings to wear. She tucked the cheap costume jewelry back into the drawer, then did a last minute check of herself in the mirror.

She had removed the green streaks from her hair and piled it up on top of her head in a controlled riot of curls, leaving a few stray locks to curl freely. Midori had used a trick her mother had taught her, and managed to use only a few hairpins to keep everything in place. After adjusting one of the pins, she applied a final bit of powder to her face and smiled at the result.

In an age where cosmetics were used to shock and draw attention in bright colors, Midori's face was deceptively bland. Her lipstick was a few shades darker than her natural color, and she had used neutral shades to accent her natural coloring. Midori's only other concession to color was a light smudge of dark blue on her eyelids that brought out the bright blue of her eyes.

"So," Midori said as she stood up and turned to look at Moira, who sat on the desk, swinging her legs idly. Midori had fallen in love with the dress the instant she saw it. It was cut of a red silk that changed hues slightly depending upon the how the light hit it, and on close inspection could be seen to have threads of gold running through it.

The gown bared one elegant shoulder and both arms, and hugged Midori's torso like a second skin. The seamstress in the store had marveled at how easily it had fit Midori, and she had only had to make a few small tucks around the waist to get it to be perfect. From the waist down, the dress was a flowing mass of silk that almost brushed the floor, and the store had been able to produce a pair of shoes that matched the gown perfectly.

Moira brought a finger to the side of her cheek and looked way up in space, making quite a show of the decision. "Mmmmm, let me think!" she managed before giggles broke through. "You look beautiful! Daddy's going to love that dress, silly!" she laughed.

"Thank you, Moira," Midori said with a smile. She turned and slipped her compact and lipstick into the small gold evening bag and turned to pick up her wrap from the bed. It was a long, gossamer-light wrap of a matching red silk, also shot with gold, that did little to keep even the faintest of breezes away. With a practiced move, Midori draped it around her shoulders and took a deep breath to ease her suddenly edgy nerves, then turned to look at the girl.

"Well, think your father will take me out to dinner like this, or send me back to change?" Midori was pleased to hear that her anxiety wasn't obvious in her voice.

Moira laughed, "Change into what? That purple outfit?" she pointed to a Zenshou outfit that looked like it might be made out of colored plastic wrap. She giggled some more but then became a little more serious. She had one of those little insights that innocents sometimes stumble upon. "Midori? You're wearing the dress. It's not wearing you. Just have fun!"

"I know, I know," Midori said with a laugh.

Moira saw Midori was ready so she slipped out of the bedroom. "Wow, Dad, you look pretty good. But just wait until you see her!"

When Midori caught sight of Jason, her heart caught in her throat. She'd thought he'd looked good in the power suit he'd worn at the Edge of Night, but compared to what he had on, he might as well have been dressed in rags. She swallowed, trying to moisten her suddenly dry mouth. "You look... fantastic," she finally managed to say softly.

Jason stood silent for a long, uncomfortable (for Midori) moment as he looked her slowly up and down, holding his comment. Finally, he shook his he slowly and said, "Wow, love. You look—you look wonderful."

He stood, still staring and Midori notice he was holding a rectangular box. It was the type that jewelry came in, but it didn't look new. The white box had yellowed with age and there were some spots where something hot had touched it.

Midori looked at the box, then at Jason with a puzzled expression.

Jason followed her gaze to the box in his hands. "I have something for you. I thought maybe you could use it and I wanted you to have it." He stepped close to her and gave her the box.

Midori opened it carefully, and was struck by the sheer beauty of the jewelry inside. It was a matching set of emeralds; a pair of earrings and a small pendant. The handcrafted pendant was shaped like a tiny starburst, with an emerald centre, surrounded by tiny diamonds, and with irregularly shaped rays bursting out, etched so they looked almost electric. "It's... It's beautiful, Jason. But it's so old.... I can't accept this. It should go to Moira, someone in your family. Not me."

Jason moved around Midori, pulling free the pendant and its chain. He stopped behind her and drew fastened it around her neck. "Humor me," he whispered into her ear. "It's my birthday." He wanted to kiss her, nibble at her ear, but reminded himself Moira was still there and watching.

A gentle shiver travelled down Midori's spine when Jason's warm breath caressed her ear, and was disappointed when he pulled back.

Jason winked at Moira and said, "Looks good on her, doesn't it?"

Moira was staring at the jewelry. "Yeah," she said with big eyes.

"Here love, you better put the earrings on yourself," Jason told Midori as he held them up for her.

Midori carefully took the earrings from his hand and put them on, fingering them to make sure they were hanging straight. "Whose were they," she asked softly.

"Does that really matter, love? They are important to me, yes, but tonight, I want you to have them. Please?" he asked softly.

Midori searched Jason's eyes, then nodded and gave him a gentle, loving kiss. ~If this is about what you said yesterday, about proving how important I am to you, you don't have to do that, love. You don't need to prove yourself to me or anyone else, for that matter.~

"I'll wear them," she continued softly aloud, "and I am honored to do so. Doubly so if these belonged to your mother."

"Thank you," he told her. "Moira, you should get some rest, kiddo. I'll see you in the morning, okay?"

Moira nodded quietly and Hobbs bid them farewell.

A short limo ride brought them to the fine dining establishment and Jason was soon escorting Midori inside. At their table, the couple agreed upon a bottle of wine and had it brought to them. Jason and Midori selected unpronounceable French dishes, which was the restaurant's specialty.

Near the end of the meal, Jason moved the topic to the jewelry Midori was wearing. "Actually, there is an interesting story to it. You asked if it had belonged to my mother. The answer is yes. My father had it made for my mother as part of an engagement gift."

Jason looked thoughtful as her remembered. "Dad always chuckled about that, but Mom always looked a little bit annoyed and amused at the same time, when he would bring it up. See, mom was pretty aggressive when they were dating. She said she always knew exactly who she wanted and after six months, she had made it pretty clear she expected him to ask her to marry him. So Dad got it in his head that she was taking the fun of surprise out of it. The night he proposed, he gave her those earrings and the necklace and a little box in which he told her was an engagement ring."

Jason chuckled as he reminisced. "Then he said there was one condition; she had to be able to open the box. He gave her some hints and told her there was a key in the house. She practically tore the place apart."

"But she couldn't find it. She was practically in tears with frustration. Dad gave in then, and told her the secret; the pendant was the key. He wouldn't trust something so important anywhere else other than right next to her heart. Mom didn't know if she wanted to hit him or kiss him." Jason grinned.

"Dad wasn't an easy guy to live with sometimes. But I like to think I learned just a little from his mistakes, although I've made plenty on my own. So I want to do this right."

Jason reached into his jacket and pulled out a small white box with a small lock on it. "This is my heart," he said as he slid it over to Midori. "Will you marry me?"

Midori sat there in stunned silence, her heart in her throat. This was the last thing she had expected. She felt like she was going to burst with love. She felt terrified.

"I...." Midori's voice cracked, and when she continued, it was little more than a whisper. "Are you going to make me search for the key?" She raised her eyes to look at him, showing him for the first time truly how much she loved him.

Jason shook his head, stood up and walked behind her. Carefully unclasping her pendant, he placed it in her hands. "If you open it, I'll take it as a 'yes'," he whispered softly into her ear.

Midori sat there, motionless, staring at the pendant. She still couldn't believe this was happening. She knew she loved Jason, and that he loved her, but she had never expected this. Not so soon. Midori thought back to what Hobbs had said to her last night, that today would be an example of what her life could be like if she pursued the relationship. What waited for her in that box was more than just the opportunity to pursue the relationship - it was the means to make it last forever.

She closed her eyes, trying to still the whirlwind of thoughts in her head. Midori needed to know if she was making the right decision. As she sat there quietly, she felt a sense of calm coming out of the storm. As it stole over her, she could almost feel the presence of her parents, and heard their voices whispering in her mind's ear.

To Jason, it felt like Midori had been sitting there, stone still, forever. Try as he might, he could not still the heavy beating of his heart, and the chilly sweat that began to glisten upon his forehead. This was a risk he'd never been willing to risk before, and it was the most important one he could ever take.

All at once, he could feel an aura of calm and joy coming from Midori. She reached out with a steady hand and unlocked the box. Inside was a delicate, bejeweled little gold ring, as finely crafted as any of the jewelry that Jason had given her earlier.

Jason's heart leapt with excitement. Midori had, by opening the box, accepted his proposal, but he still yearned to hear her voice. "I know this is both sudden and soon, love. But I believe this is the right choice. You're special and I would be a fool not to act when I have a chance. We don't have to talk about when just yet; I want to help you make sure things are right in your life again."

"Stop talking and put the ring on my finger," Midori replied softly, her voice full of love and amusement. "We'll worry about the details tomorrow." She picked up the ring box with her right hand and presented it to him while holding out her left.

Jason knelt and took the ring from the box. Savoring the moment, he put the ring her finger, and looked into her eyes with simple joy

~Did you talk to Moira about this,~ she asked, and Jason's mind felt like it was being caressed by warm velvet. ~What did she have to say? And I suppose it is safe to assume that Hobbs gave his blessing?~ Her eyes flickered around the room, then back to Jason. ~It appears, my love, that we have attracted the attention of some of the people nearby...~

~Moira loves you and of course Hobbs liked the idea,~ he responded.

Jason looked around and noticed some of the people at neighboring tables were beginning to take amused note. One elderly couple was even quietly clapping. Jason blushed red. "I'm sorry, I've made a scene and --"

~Shut up and kiss me,~ Midori sent, her mental voice soft and husky, ~and let's get out of here. I want to sit out under the stars for a while...~

~Your wish is my command,~ responded Jason. He kissed her deeply, taking his time.

They quickly paid the bill after ordering some desert to go, and soon left the restaurant.

"On second thought, love," Midori whispered in Jason's ear once they were ensconced in the back of the limo. "I think I'd rather just go home and take a bath, then go to bed."

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