|Tea Leaves, Coffee Beans, and a Touch of Mint
Author: Biblia PM
The Festival is over, but the mind of the quietest HiME is anything but quiet. Yukino has Haruka back, but she still doesn't have all of Haruka, and doesn't believe she ever can. But Fujino Shizuru might have something else to say on the matter...Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Humor - Haruka S. & Yukino K. - Chapters: 10 - Words: 69,930 - Reviews: 64 - Favs: 67 - Follows: 43 - Updated: 03-17-10 - Published: 11-04-06 - Status: Complete - id: 3229787
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The door opened, and the two padded in with quiet footsteps. Even the sound of the door clicking shut sounded behind her sounded startlingly loud to Yukino, filled to her freckled cheeks with a giddy swirl of nervousness and exhilaration. Haruka felt her friend's searching gaze on her back as she walked to the middle of the room. She nervously shifted her eyes around the room in some vain search for guidance, but unfortunately, neither the lamp nor kitchen pantry offered any insightful direction. Haruka needed some direction now, for sure. This single moment gave her heart's truth to the day's lie, the day spent doing her best to pretend to the rest of the world that nothing was different between her and her partner. Really, she was not quite sure how she might behave differently, anyhow. Haruka did not think she could ever bring herself to the sort of public displays the Bubuzuke woman indulged in... not that she wanted to engage in any display at all, whether public or otherwise! It's more that... she did not know how to act any other way. But still, perhaps it was Yukino's earlier accusations of less-than-forthright behavior with her partner that caused Haruka to harbor such doubts about her actions.
As it happened, she need not have worried. Yukino might have been discouraged by Haruka's completely unremarkable behavior... except that that she herself had done the same, particularly where Shizuru were concerned--and Shizuru had been concerned in a great many places today. Thankfully, there had yet to be any private moments where the crafty president might have been able to speak to her more candidly, but the extra time after school in which Shizuru had found a dazzling multitude of things to discuss had been harrowing enough. That had been a terrifying exercise in suspense, constantly suspecting that the next words from the President's mouth would be some crafted, seemingly innocuous excuse to get Haruka out of the room. For reasons known only to Shizuru, however, nothing of the sort had happened.
Haruka had grumbled quite a bit on the way home, wondering why the Bubuzuke Woman just now found it so very necessary to talk over things that Haruka had been harping on her about for months, while Yukino's mind churned with doubts and suspicions over that same thing.
Their short walk down the path to the dormitories was lit by street and star light. Yet another late night, which would make catching up on class work more difficult. Even more difficult than that, however, was either of them trying to think about classwork anyway. Haruka took a deep breath, berating herself her anxiety and tension. She loosened her necktie and sat down on the chair in their room, twisting her head and cracking her neck in a painfully audible way that made Yukino wince. Yukino cautiously sat down at the foot of her own bed, folding her legs under her and leaning back on her arms. She watched Haruka for a long time, the older girl's head resting on the back of the chair with eyes closed, but clearly not sleeping. Of a sudden, Haruka pitched herself forward and lay crossed arms over her knees.
"It's been a long day, Yukino."
"Yes, it has," Yukino replied, head tilted with cautious inquiry. Haruka planted her hands on her knees and levered herself up, taking a few long steps to the bed where Yukino sat. She stood there for a few very long seconds before her legs turned off with all the alacrity of a blown fuse. She bounced on the springy surface, once, and fell back. Her hair flew all about, and a few strands curled around Yukino's fingers and wrist.
"Tell me something, Yukino. Love isn't easy, is it?" Haruka asked next.
"Not all of the time, no," Yukino answered truthfully, twisting her neck slightly to peer curiously into Haruka's face.
"There have been a lot of times that it wasn't easy for you, haven't there?"
"A few," Yukino replied, again truthfully.
"Because of what I said. Because I didn't realize how you felt, even though you were by my side every single day." Her voice was tinged with bitter regret. Haruka had tried--god knows she had!--to get some handle on her feelings today. She wanted to be able to give Yukino an answer. Instead, she'd found herself wandering down the roads of her memory, only now seeing such things as she had run blithely past before. Does it even matter what I feel, after all that's happened?
Yukino was dismayed at the somberness of Haruka's declaration, and immediately asserted: "Because I was a coward, and wouldn't tell you how I felt."
"Because I scared you. I said stupid, angry things that had nothing to do with you, but you were hurt by it."
"Not on purpo--"
"That doesn't matter!" Yukino stopped in mid-sentence, taken aback at the vehemence that flashed lightning-like in Haruka's eyes. Haruka bit her lip, and her eyes softened to a distant sorrow, like a fading rumble of thunder.
"What in the world did you see that was able to be loved when you looked at me, Yukino? How could you keep loving a blind, hateful person after what you went through?"
Yukino smiled a small, sadly amused smile at that question, "I didn't. I don't think I've ever been in love with any blind, hateful people," Yukino drew up her legs and lay back, propping herself up on one elbow. She stroked her fingers softly over Haruka's head and through her hair, "Don't you think you're being a little dramatic?" Yukino could hardly miss the irony in that question, but thankfully, Haruka was capable of doing just that.
"No," Haruka said with an annoyed pout, though her denial lacked a certain ring of sincerity, "I am not being dramatic, I'm telling you what I think."
"Haruka-chan," Yukino spoke softly, "Right now, this very second, and for years before, my happiest memories have come from times with you. Please quit talking as though you personally put me through some hellish trial. I love you, Haruka-chan, and anything I went through is just as much the result of my holding in, as anything you--"
"But you held in because of what I--"
"You didn't clap your hand over my mouth, did you? You didn't make me do anything. You wouldn't have, either, no matter what, because that's not something you would do. I understand that you're feeling guilty now, and... really, I should apologize, I think I was just a little angry and not thinking right earlier today--" Yukino was cut short, blinking in some measure of surprise as Haruka reached up and placed her fingertips over her lips.
"You stop right there! Don't you dare apologize. There isn't a single damn thing in that conversation that didn't need to be said, and you know it. It all worked out, didn't it?" Haruka removed her hand.
"Not if you're thinking that you're some kind of terrible person," Yukino replied forthrightly, but calmly enough that Haruka would not try to quiet her again. She did not know that she could handle any bit of Haruka so close to her mouth again without doing somewhat she might regret. "I tell you I love you, and it makes you feel this badly? I don't call that 'working out,' Haruka-chan."
Haruka was surprised to see a glimmer of wetness lining the bottom of Yukino's eyes. She enveloped her partner's hand and squeezed it reassuringly.
"But, Yukino, you really--"
"I really made a mistake, and you really made a mistake, and I really did love you, and I really do love you, and I really want to continue loving you. That's all that needs to be said." Yukino spoke with a firmness that she found in the same little chamber of her soul that she had only just begun to plumb.
Haruka struggled with herself, finding it suddenly hard to maintain any sense of self-loathing in the face of somebody who found absolutely nothing loathsome about her. I'm... hurting Yukino's feelings by feeling terrible about hurting Yukino's feelings? Haruka's mind shied away from contemplating that too much. Better to just stop it now.
"Fine, but I made a bigger mistake. You have to acknowledge that," Haruka answered with a touch of petulance. She still did not like being wrong, even about being wrong about how she was not quite as wrong as she had thought.
"Whatever you say, Haruka-chan," Yukino conceded to Haruka's ego, seeing that she had been able to resolve at least some of Haruka's doubts. She traced a line down Haruka's temple and cheek with her fingers, curling her fingers under her chin briefly. She let go, self-conscious, before Haruka got uncomfortable.
Haruka felt a nervous flutter in her chest at Yukino's touch, but self-consciously tried not to look startled, so Yukino would not feel uncomfortable.
Stretching out her legs and arching her back and neck in an attempt to disguise the awkwardness of the moment, Haruka offered a half-hearted attempt at levity: "Hmm. Yukino, either your bed is more comfy than mine, or I'm just getting tired. I think I need to get up before I fall asleep over here." Haruka started to lever herself up on one arm, but Yukino put a hand on her chest and gently, though firmly, pushed her back down into a laying position, awed at her own boldness.
"That's fine with me, Haruka-chan," Yukino said. Haruka's eyes widened.
"Ah..." Haruka wondered what exactly she was to do now, "But, um..."
"Yes?" Yukino asked innocently. Haruka closed her eyes and she shook as she tried to contain an unreasonable urge to burst out laughing at herself.
Smiling in resignation, she reached up with her free hand and gently tugged Yukino's tie loose. "Fine, I won't be arguing with you any more today." Yukino swallowed, firmly reminding herself that Haruka was just being a friend, and being close, like friends, friendsand that this was not an invitation to anything else. She needed calm down. She calmed down. Then Haruka smoothly slipped the tie from her neck , the material whispering a sensuous tale across the nape of her neck. Yukino swallowed, and calmed herself again.
"So... right, we must have gotten accustomed to company over our last assignment, and cannot rest as well in separate beds unless we take the time to readjust. We have a lot of work right now, and no time to do that adjusting, so in the interest of our stamina, we sleep together," Haruka felt an absurd need to rationalize her actions vocally, though for whose benefit she could not be sure. "Er, in the same bed, that is. Innocently. Temporarily, until we can---" Haruka suddenly felt a spike of worry, would Yukino think she was being cold, or take this as a sure rejection? Not that Haruka was accepting, either but... "Ah, perhaps temporarily, not that it couldn't be later, and the innocent part--that is, if I should--because it's entirely possible that I will, but not yet, and maybe not but I wouldn't want to say that..." Blinking, she allowed her mangled, tortured sentence a merciful demise and sighed. Yukino was probably laughing too hard to be listening anymore, anyway.
Straightening glasses on her nose, Yukino turned and leaned over to Haruka.
"Haruka-chan, you can be so cute," she remarked and, before she lost her giddy euphoria, kissed Haruka's cheek, which immediately glowed scarlet.
"C-cute?" Her partner stammered.
Haruka considered this. Of course? Cute? Cute. Yukino thought she could be cute. She shook her head. Nobody had ever called her cute before. Er, except for when I was really little, but that was just my family. To have Yukino say it felt... nice, if a little strange. Trying to hide her discomfiture, she stood up and went back to the closet to fetch her pajamas. She hung up her tie and put her skirt and blouse in the laundry, and walked over to the little dresser. She reached her hands behind her back to unhook her bra, but suddenly felt a prickle on the back of her neck, as though eyes were... she turned back to Yukino, and found the younger girl following her movements with rapt attention.
"This is going to take some getting used to. Sorry, Haruka-chan," Yukino remarked, blushing and averting her eyes. Haruka privately agreed, and quickly slipped into her pajamas. She studiously examined the wall while Yukino changed after her, only turning back at the younger girl's vocal signal. Yukino had watched her all the while, but could not decide how to feel about Haruka not peeking, even just a little bit. That's just how Haruka-chan is, though.
Haruka folded the bed sheets back and gestured Yukino to make herself comfortable first. While Yukino slid in, Haruka flipped off the light switch and slipped into the bed herself, fighting off a shiver. This was nothing different from, say, their hotel room last week... but for the things she knew now that she did not know then. She almost flinched away when she felt the bed move and heard Yukino shift, and fought down a yelp when slim fingers lightly grazed her bare shoulder, though she could not suppress a shiver.
"Good night, Haruka-chan," was all that Yukino said, and then she rolled away from her. Haruka blinked, and noticed her breath had quickened. She lay there for several minutes after, mystified by the feathery, ghost-like impressions of those fingers on her skin, and a little scared of the titillating sensation fluttering through her stomach. She felt, like a physical presence, every scant inch of space between her and Yukino on the bed, and she smiled ruefully. There really was nothing different, knowledge aside; this one little courtesy of Yukino's was proof enough of that. This was still the same honest, good-hearted girl Haruka had known and called her friend this entire time, the same person that she had valued more than life itself. Impulsively, though not without doubt, Haruka rolled over and lightly lay her arm over Yukino, holding the girl close, removing that uncomfortable block of space between them.
"Good night, Yukino," she said softly. She did not respond, and Haruka assumed her partner asleep. While waiting for sleep to take her as well, Haruka suddenly thought that life had begun to move far, far too fast for her. And by my standards, that's really saying something.
Maybe tomorrow life would make more sense again.
Life did not, in fact, seem to make much more sense the next morning. She woke up the same as ever, except being a little more careful not to disturb Yukino while getting up. She took her morning shower, got out to find Yukino awake, and had her morning coffee. Yukino told her what topics they might want to bring up for the morning conference while she brushed her teeth, and read out some of the more important tidbits of the what the investigation team had turned up at the dojo yesterday. A regular morning for a regular friendship, but Haruka felt that something was different. Besides from the obvious, that is. Was it her imagination, or was Yukino smiling a little more this morning, and was it a little warmer? Was she standing a little straighter, moving more assuredly than Haruka remembered? Were these things all in her mind, or was this how Yukino should have looked every day, but had not?
That was another disquieting thought, but Haruka barred it from her mind. Instead of worrying about what had happened, she should be grateful for what was happening, as Yukino had said. Yukino was happy now, so whatever did Haruka have to complain of? She listened to her partner's softly musical voice, now methodically listing the supplies the contracting company was requested for the start of the project--Haruka made them submit figures on everything by the middle of the month so she knew exactly where the academy's money was going--and she found that she wasn't really listening to the figures as much as she was just listening to Yukino. Taking time to smell the... what was it, hoses? Why would anybody want to smell a hose? Whatever. She stood behind Yukino, and watched her working at her computer. Admittedly, there wasn't much to see, just her pinkie finger clicking the down arrow key now and again to view more of the list. Even so, Haruka found herself staring at that movement from that delicate little digit for a strangely long while.
"Yukino, if there isn't anything needing immediate attention in there, you don't have to read it all out like that."
"I'm just following the routine we had, Haruka-chan; I thought you wanted to be kept up to date. I don't mind," she added with another one of those seemingly-warmer smiles.
I'm not sure I mind either, Haruka thought privately. Yukino had the most charming voice. She fondly remembered a few occasions when they were both children, and Yukino had read aloud to her. She normally had little patience for frivolous fiction and the like, but Yukino's voice, even back then, had a captivating musical flow that kept her rooted from beginning to finish. What a strange thing to remember this morning. Even so, she could not accept that as enough reason to make Yukino go through what must be a dull process.
"Good effort, Yukino, but I think I'll be satisfied with your ability to keep everything straight," she squeezed her partner's shoulder appreciatively, then extended her hand to help her up. Yukino nodded her happy acquiescence and closed her computer, getting hoisted to her feet. As soon as Yukino straightened up, though, she saw a frown on Haruka's face.
"Hold on a moment," Haruka said, something Yukino had read off finally filtering through and ringing an alarm, "Did you say that they had requested some kind of fruit for the west wing of the scientific building? What do the builders need fruit for?"
Yukino looked at her, nonplussed, "Fruit, Haruka-chan?"
"I swear, you mentioned a fruit in that list, didn't you?" Haruka cursed her lagging attention, but she was sure she'd heard something about a fruit.
"I don't believe so...?" Yukino shrugged helplessly.
"Eh, never mind then."
She walked out the door, Yukino following. They made it to the council room, and the first thing Yukino saw when she entered was Natsuki's eyebrow shoot up questioningly in her direction. Yukino carefully avoided meeting her eye, and found Shizuru's instead. That was not much better. The President's gaze did not seem to offer any outward sign of question, but the way those eyes fixed on Yukino just a hair longer and more pervasively than usual was question enough. Those two meant well, but it made her uncomfortable, so Yukino just sat down at her desk and opened the laptop to take the minutes. It was an easy enough task by this point that she often entertained herself by carrying on some other endeavor while she was at it. Her fingers lightly tapped over the keys, and she kept one ear open to the discussion for anything she should pay special attention too.
Of that, there was not much: polite inquiries and updates on a few upcoming functions, the reconstruction, the dojo case, the upcoming graduation and the celebration thereof, and other such matters. Haruka was in peculiar form today, managing to find less fault with... well, most everything presented, speeding things up considerably and giving Yukino less to record. Yukino was able to focus mostly on adding up funds and figures, having gone back to the contracting company's submission. Sub-contractor wages, equipment rental, steel pipe, glass panes, mortar, brick, studs, ducts...
Without warning, she came across what she thought Haruka must have been talking about back at their apartment and laughed shortly. She did not think she was loud, but she heard the background buzz of conversation cease, and raised her eyes to meet those of everybody else in the room. She focused on Haruka's, trying still to avoid giving any clues to the other two; they could know what was going on when she was ready to tell them.
"Sorry, but I think I found the point of, ahem, concern you were referring to earlier, Haruka-chan. The builders were just notifying you that they wanted to rent a pair of 'cherry pickers.'" Haruka looked at her blankly, then her brows knitted in a frown. "Ah, that is, not any actual fruit--" Yukino tried to continue, but she was interrupted.
"But that's still no good!" Haruka exclaimed, Yukino looked at her oddly, wondering what could be the matter. "Why do they need to go out picking cherries? We're paying them to build a school, not a.. a... fruit salad!"
"N-no, no, Har--" Yukino tried to rectify the misunderstanding, but she was too slow.
"Fujino-san! I'm sorry, but I'll be taking an early exit this morning to go find the foreman and ask him about this matter." She frowned severely and turned to the door. "Try to slip one past Suzushiro Haruka, eh?!" She finished, mostly to herself. She took matters of finance quite seriously.
"Ah, of course, Suzushiro-san," Shizuru answered, suppressed mirth dancing behind otherwise serious lips. Natsuki rolled her eyes, and Yukino hung her head in embarrassment for the both of them, scrambling to close her notebook computer and follow as Haruka buzzed out of the room.
"Haruka-chan, wait!" She called, but to no avail. Yukino also pretended not to hear Shizuru politely calling for her as she hurried into the hallway. She despaired of ever catching up, seeing no trace of her friend as her eyes roamed over the hall. Okay, I would go left if I wanted to get to where the foreman put up the office, so... feeling a little guilty for her logic, Yukino turned right and hurried in that direction, only to be bowled over at the end by Haruka speedily rounding the corner, footsteps and mutters of, "no, this way..." not quite reaching her ears soon enough to offer warning. Haruka had just enough time to look chagrined before she lost her balance as well. Her momentum carried her several hopping steps past Yukino before she tumbled forward. Yukino propped herself up with one arm, wincing at a dull throb in her tailbone and hoping her laptop was okay for the light jarring it had taken. Haruka rose to a kneeling position and directed a concerned glance back to make sure Yukino was all right. Satisfied that she was, at least in that she was not sprawled out unconscious on the floor, Haruka faced forward once more.
"Sorry, Yukino! But good to see you, come on, we need to go take care of this nonsense now."
Haruka tried to raise herself back up, but only started to stand before a pair of slender arms wrapped around her waist and held her back. Haruka turned to look incredulously at her partner. Yukino had thrown herself at Haruka's legs in a desperate attempt to hold her there.
"Yukino!" She said in a voice higher than normal, casting worried eyes back and forth across the hall "This isn't the time or the place to get into something like this," she whispered worriedly.
Yukino colored slightly, but held on without correcting her. When Haruka tried to heave herself up again, Yukino pulled back as hard as she could, planting her bottom on the ground, painfully, for the second time. Haruka, having no way to counter-balance, followed suit, falling back and plopping on the ground between Yukino's thighs.
"Haruka-chan, stop for a moment!" Yukino pleaded. She did not want to watch Haruka barrel forward into another embarrassing situation, and thought to head this one off... by tackling her in the middle of the school and hugging her from behind as they sat in skirts on the cold linoleum. Because this is less embarrassing by far, correct? Yukino thought that this plan could perhaps have used more work, but it was too late for that now. This was still better than having stayed alone in the room with Shizuru. She just hoped their skirts were concealing enough from whoever might, and probably would, be coming out to see the fuss.
"Ahem, Yukino," Haruka began after they had settled, "I understand that there are certain things that are understood differently between us now, but--"
"You don't need to go talk to the foreman, a cherry picker has nothing to do with fruit!" Yukino decided to just blurt this out rather than try to reason with Haruka. She held tightly until she saw that the words had found their way through the maze of speeches Haruka was undoubtedly forming. Then, she continued to hold tightly anyway. It felt rather good.
"What, but it's--"
"A piece of equipment used to safely elevate personnel and supplies to wherever they might need to be on a construction site." Yukino explained patiently.
Haruka considered this for a moment, "Oh. I see. And they actually do need these things?"
"For the area and task in question, yes. Safe, and very cost-efficient," Yukino knew that would catch her approval.
Haruka considered this for a moment, "I see," she repeated. "So they haven't done anything--"
"Wrong? No, I'm afraid not."
"Ah. Also, was this really so important to tell me that you had to, well, entrap me?" Haruka was more than a little unnerved by the direct means Yukino had implemented.
"Um... no, not really. I mean, you wouldn't stop when I tried to talk to you..." Yukino was glad that Haruka could not see her face too well. She still did not let go.
"I see," Haruka said yet again. The seconds ticked by, and Haruka cast about herself helplessly, trying to think of a polite, tactful way to extricate herself from a person that had knocked her over and pinned her to the floor. Something seems off about that... Haruka looked up; she looked forward and then down, where something caught her attention. A thought struck her, something she remembered in a vague sort of way from some other time. She reached out her hand and lightly squeezed Yukino's knee.
"Ah!" Yukino gasped involuntarily and her knee flexed, shifting her skirt. Haruka's eyes widened as she suddenly saw more of Yukino than she really thought she ought to be seeing, but she kept enough presence of mind to also notice that Yukino's grip had relaxed, so she prised her arms apart quickly, and whirled around, still holding Yukino's arms and pulling her up in the same motion. Her eyes widened again, even larger, and they shot up towards the ceiling to count tiles. Yukino's skirt was in some amount of disarray.
"Ah, Yukino, I... .uh, you have really pretty legs! Do you use lotion? I thought they looked soft and I just had to, um, feel?" Haruka grit her teeth. I sound like an idiot! Commenting on personal grooming? Get it together, Suzushiro!
Yukino arranged herself and picked up her laptop, flushing lightly. However, she had made a promise to herself. Whenever Haruka-chan looks like she's being dishonest, I have to be more honest for the both of us. She looked both ways down the hall and, satisfied that there was not anybody to see, wrapped her arms around Haruka again and embraced her closely. Haruka "yeeped" and looked hurriedly back down from the ceiling. Yukino smiled coquettishly, and hooked her leg around Haruka's knee, rubbing their calves together in a manner that could perhaps be described as indecent; Yukino certainly found it immensely satisfying.
"You too," She returned, stepping around Haruka and brushing their hips closely together on her way past. One flirt deserves another, Haruka-chan. Yukino thought with a smile that brought a kittenish brightness to her eyes. She was almost absolutely certain that the little knee-squeeze and compliment had been Haruka's attempt--a roundabout, impetuous, and perhaps subconscious attempt, but one nonetheless--at displaying a more... physical degree of affection than before. If it was not Haruka's subconscious at work... well, Yukino felt she could hardly be blamed for thinking it was. Haruka caught up with her in a few fast steps.
"You sure seem chipper today, Yukino," Haruka remarked in a neutral tone of voice, after they had walked abreast for a few steps.
"Any reason I shouldn't be, Haruka-chan? I am in love," she looked sidelong to see Haruka's reaction.
"Ah..." Haruka did not have much more than that syllable to offer.
Yukino stopped after a few steps, as Haruka had stopped stock-still. Tilting her head curiously, Yukino decided that she did not look particularly uncomfortable or scandalized, so...
"You should try it sometime, Haruka-chan," Yukino said pointedly, and this time Haruka's single syllable was somewhere between a cough and another "yeep." Yukino smiled and stifled a giggle, and started walking again, her step slightly quicker with a happy energy. Haruka reached out and gathered her wits, walking after her partner, but she lagged behind purposefully, just watching Yukino pull ahead. In spite of herself, her lips stretched out into a smile. I think I might already be, Yukino. She stopped again, but was a little quicker in gathering her wits this time--she was getting a lot of practice--and catching up with her partner. Haruka did not know what it felt like to fall in love, but whatever she felt right now was quite pleasant, and there was only one reason that she could think of for it. Well, it doesn't not feel un-wrong. Or something. Haruka shook her head, telling herself to stop thinking so much, at least for right now.
"Yukino!" Haruka barked suddenly, louder than she had intended.
"Yes?" Yukino looked at her, though, unconcerned. Haruka figured that she probably did her fair share of barking most of the time, nothing unusual there. With a greater degree of unfamiliarity, she softened her voice and did her best to take her customary edge of command from it.
"You want to go for a walk? We still have bit of time before class, and I don't think there was anything left to say back to the President."
Haruka lounged against the wall, sweeping her eyes automatically out the classroom windows at the students milling around outside, enjoying their release from the daily tedium of classes. Yukino had just gotten in the last extended report from their investigation team, and she was compiling the individual dispatches to try and narrow their list of suspects down. It was a time-consuming process, as there really were not that many people that could be discounted, and also a one-person job that Yukino had the most experience with, so all Haruka could do was try to entertain herself with pacing and observing the students, listening to the clock tick the seconds by. That was what she tried to entertain herself with, but without any trying at all she kept finding her attention drawn back into the classroom and to her partner typing away with such an attentive, serious expression on her face. She's still the same Yukino she's always been. Haruka thought with somewhat akin to surprise, though even she recognized it was ridiculous to think so. This was a thought that kept coming back to her. Yukino was still the same intelligent, diligent, disciplined, uncomplaining companion that had been by her side for years. Aside from a few playful outbursts that had surprised her recently, Haruka recognized that Yukino was... the same. She was still the person Haruka respected and cared for the most, the partner that loved her enough to stay with her through thick and thin, through all her hardheadedness and all the unintentional heartache.
For all that she realized Yukino had done for her, she might have tried to argue with herself that she was merely "entertaining" the idea of being with another girl out of fairness, or consideration for her friend's feelings. Guiltily, she knew that was what she had originally assumed. Haruka thought she was just going to respect the idea of a relationship like that, and try to view it objectively for the sake of respecting Yukino's feelings. But there was nothing really all that objective or intentional about how she kept looking at her friend in new ways: noticing her pretty eyes, and graceful hands, and dimpled knees, and cute, tousled hair, and that adorable little sprinkling of freckles across her nose, and those silky, cream-colored thighs, and--no, she was noticing all of those things quite suddenly, before she even noticed herself noticing.
That was also when she thought that her thoughts were going a little far, a little fast. Haruka shifted her shoulders uncomfortably. Should she really be able to feel like this already, so soon? She had told Yukino that she needed time to think, that she was only just now able to consider the possibility of Yukino as something more than what they had been. But she noticed that her thoughts very rarely, if ever, lingered on that consideration It did not feel like she were trying to consider Yukino as more than a friend; the idea had made itself right at home with the ease of a familiar guest. But that couldn't be right! This was not familiar, this was alien and new, strange and unexpected! Wasn't it?
It did not feel that way. Her thoughts kept lingering on Yukino in the most confounding ways; indecent ways, even, and it happened so easily. What was more, those thoughts also did not quite feel wrong, or improper, or indulgent, or any of those other things she had been so very vocal in asserting... well, perhaps improper, but that had nothing to do with Yukino being a girl. So besides that--she knew why those kinds of thoughts would bother her sensibilities--what felt so wrong? She felt like Yukino's confession had opened up something inside her, something that she had fearfully locked away a long time ago, and now she had to face it. The problem was, she did not know what, "it,"was! She gritted her teeth. It was all so confusing, and she did not know what it was that was confusing! Yukino loved her, and Haruka felt like she could love her back, in the way that Yukino wanted. In the way that Haruka had begun felt that she, herself wanted, as well.
That was effortless, the decision made almost before she asked herself the question. What, love Yukino as a lover? Oh, of course. Haruka thought with disbelief over how easy that was. She was turning her back on a belief she had held for years, shifting her perception on the most important person and relationship in her life, and considering love for the first time; this supposed to be difficult, was in not? But the only difficult part was trying to figure out why she was accepting it all so easily. Haruka growled at herself. She could not change a single thing that had happened, could not change a single thing she had done; why could she not just accept that she could love Yukino, and take that girl in her arms and hold her close? She felt a rush of embarrassment at the candid thought, but shrugged it off. It was the truth; the painful, but simple, truth. She could not stand the idea that it was this simple. If everything was this easy, that would mean that she had been hiding from herself on a scale that she shuddered to think of. That would mean that Yukino had gone through so much worry and pain for nothing. It would mean that Haruka had been ready to love her and had instead wasted all this time. She hated thinking like this: her thoughts swimming around in a vast whirlpool, all chaos and energy circling in on itself and going nowhere, dragging her down. Thoughts like this did not accomplish anything.
Her eyes swept across the students outside, the crowd thinner now as friends headed off into the city to unwind or parted ways for home. The faint ticking of the clock and intermittent clicking of keys were all that came to her ears. With a grimace, she pushed herself off from the wall and started pacing around the room, hoping that a circuitous path for her body would distract from the one in her mind. Of course, she soon rounded the desk that Yukino was sitting and working at, and as she approached she slowed. Yukino's face was now fit with a little satisfied smile, telling Haruka that she was nearly done with her project. Haruka stepped slowly to the desk and put a hand on it, pivoting slowly around her partner. Suddenly, all she wanted was to be closer to Yukino. That made things better. Haruka reached her arms around Yukino and rested her chin on her shoulder.
"So what did they have to tell us, Yukino?"
Yukino leaned her head over and nuzzled Haruka's cheek lightly, somewhat told her it was okay, right now. It felt so good just to be able to touch Haruka without that rush of guilt mixed in with the pleasure of being close.
"Nothing conclusive, Haruka-chan. They found out the prints were made by the club sandals. You might take that as a sign for an 'inside job,' theory, but it's hardly solid evidence."
Haruka frowned, other thoughts laying down for a blessed rest as she concentrated on the new task at hand. There still was not nearly enough evidence to pin down the culprit yet, and it had been several days. Haruka did not like to consider failure.
"Anything else interesting in all of those reports?"
"Nothing affirmative, just a good deal of negations. There is conclusively no sign of forced entry, no stolen property, no missing keys, no other witnesses discovered, no better time frame, etcetera. Sorry it's turning out like this," Yukino consoled, she did not like to consider failure either, but that was mostly because she knew how much Haruka was bothered by it. She kissed Haruka's cheek lightly.
Haruka swore--at the lack of solid evidence--forgetting to be embarrassed about her kissed cheek. She recovered quickly, though, "But we can at least release this information to the captain. Those malefactors I spoke to before probably aren't smart enough to remember a thing I said to them. Maybe it'll cool their jets to know that the evidence points, however uncertainly, to one of their own teammates. Keep them out of trouble. Then it's up to Takeda to keep a leash on them, and he'd better manage it," Haruka concluded in a threatening tone, and Yukino prepared a dispatch to Captain Takeda to be delivered during their morning practice tomorrow. Haruka sauntered back over to the large desk in the front of the room and sat down, leaning back and staring at the ceiling with her arms linked behind her head. In a moment of mirthless humour, she was suddenly very grateful that Fujino had not, in fact, had that much trouble keeping up with the school in her absence. An unsolved crime spree and a mountain of work to come back to would have been a little much to deal with at the moment.
Yukino sent the mail, and looked over her glasses at Haruka looking so unusually unsure of herself, and so tense, as she stared upward. Yukino moved behind her. She noticed violet eyes following her curiously, but did not stop. Hoping that she wasn't terrible at this, she placed her hands on Haruka's shoulders and tentatively tried a gentle kneading motion, marveling that even she, certifiably inexperienced at this sort of thing, though that Haruka's neck felt very knotted and tense. She felt them tense further in a moment of surprise and was about to let go, but relaxed as Haruka released a long sigh.
"Ah, that's nice, Yukino."
"I'm glad, Haruka-chan," Yukino answered sincerely, and she was gratified to feel Haruka loosening up a great deal under her hands. Haruka stretched her head from side to side, stretching taut muscles and allowing Yukino easier access to them. Ah, Haruka thought, this is heaven. Who knew a neck rub could feel this good? Assuming it was only the neck rub. Haruka's lip twisted in a determinedly unsteady frown.
"I still don't know." Haruka had to force the words from her mouth.
"Don't know what?" Yukino asked before she thought about it. Haruka winced slightly, having wanted to avoid being terribly specific, but a giddy feeling bubbled through her stomach without warning, and she was gripped with the realization about how ridiculous she was being, with her closest friend, whom she was supposed to be able to talk about anything with.
"A lot of things," Haruka laughed, "I don't know a lot of thing, Yukino. But I do know that I'm not going to figure them out by thinking around in circles all day." Haruka reached up and caught Yukino's right hand in a gentle grasp, and brought it to her lips, "If you really do want to give me a chance, I think that I probably could... love you, Yukino. Even more than I always have."
Yukino lifted a finger and caressed Haruka's cheek. Haruka hesitated a moment, then took a deep, resolved breath. She rose to her feet without warning, and whirled around to face Yukino and stepped to take her into a close embrace. Yukino found herself mostly immobile, face and body pressed tightly against the older girl as she was hugged round her upper arms, but did her best to hug Haruka back with the little arm mobility she had left.
Haruka almost did not want to change a thing, and just stay there with Yukino's body molded against hers and her cheek nuzzled atop Yukino's head, breathing in her fragrance and feeling the happiest she ever had, heart racing so fast and beating so hard, feeling crazier than in her most manic periods, more triumphant than when she had catching any vandal or delinquent. She could not hear anything over their mingled heartbeats, so loud they must be echoing from the walls, drowning out all else. There was a tingling running through her, that seemed to move her muscles without her volition, making her fingers tighten over Yukino's skin, and making her lean back and look at Yukino's face. She swallowed, nervousness washing cold over her suddenly. Haruka leaned in slightly, blinking, unsure of how to express that she, she really...
Does she, could she really want me to, to...? Yukino hurried to move her face forward before this dream ended, and their lips touched--
They flew from one another, both blushing furiously, hearts hammering in tandem.
"Wh-what!?" Haruka stammered loudly and angrily, her alarm melting to ire and funneling towards the as-yet-faceless young girl outside the room.
"Oh, uh, Director?" An uncertain voice sounded muffled through the closed door.
"Yes, it's me, get in here if you have something to say!"
A sharp-looking young girl with thick-framed, angled glasses and a short tumble of platinum-blond hair cracked open the door and poke her head inside, the rest of her following after, looking distinctly reluctant to be here after hearing Haruka's tone of voice. But she took a deep breath and stood straight as a rod to deliver in a clipped fashion:
"There's been a breakthrough in the vandalism investigation, ma'am. An anonymous source deposited a notebook at investigation headquarters at an unspecified time between twelve-hundred and fifteen-hundred hours. Finding this suspicious, the team undertook a cursory investigation of the notebook, and found several..." She looked as though she were struggling to come up with the right word, "I..l suppose you could call them drawings, yes. Several drawings that included a signature adorning the corners. This signature matches with what we had previously thought was a piece of illegible graffiti at the crime scene."
Haruka nodded, but did not trust herself to speak. She knew that this was readily important enough, and welcome enough, to have warranted this member's immediate dispatch. She could feel, somewhere in the back of her mind, the familiar rush of triumph and excitement at the news that they might have some concrete evidence. But... but... kiss... That familiar rush just was not quite as fulfilling as it would have been about five minutes ago.
"Excellent work, Takahashi-san." Haruka looked to see Yukino smiling and praising the girl. She placed a reassuring hand on Haruka's arm, then stepped back towards her desk. Yukino beckoned the new girl with wave of her hand, sitting down at her computer. She raised the lid and went to the appropriate file, and looked up with entreating eyes at the operative. Takahashi threw an apprehensive glance to Haruka, who just nodded (in an authoritative and decisive manner, of course) that the young operative should follow her partner's direction. Takahashi smiled and nodded cheerfully before walking--almost skipping! Are these our operatives now? Haruka glowered, but eased as she reassured herself, remembering that Yukino had personally approved all the Team members, so this one must have had something going for her--over to Yukino and bending over curiously to look at the screen.
"Now, I will need you to scan every page of the notebook and send me the image files later, but for now let me record those details. You say the notebook was found when, again?"
Haruka watched as Yukino listened to a repeat of the information and dutifully recorded it in the evidence file, occasionally inserting a polite question for clarification. In a new awareness, Haruka was struck by how much Yukino had grown in the last few years, or even the last few months. This was what she always knew Yukino could be, given half a chance and a little dose of confidence. Yukino had friends now, Minagi and Tokiha and Harada and Senou. She was smiling and talking with that operative, who had only a minute ago looked fearfully apprehensive, and was now happily hanging on Yukino's every word, question, and suggestion. Full speed ahead, eh, Yukino? Haruka thought admiringly, Looks like you caught on. Better than me, maybe. Haruka wondered if Yukino even realized how she had changed from the quiet, shy little girl who used to go miles out of her way to make herself unobtrusive.
But really now, all of that was besides the point this day. Of course she cared that Yukino was coming into her own as a woman, but far more weighty in Haruka's mind was how full her heart felt when she watched Yukino smiling and working away. Not so different a feeling than she had felt before when she would watch Yukino work, really. Haruka had always been aware of that warm glow that would fill her and give her confidence, the sure knowledge that she could do anything, anything, with Yukino there; maybe unobtrusive and quiet, but always there. She had just never known where that river of warmth in her heart came from. Love, is it? I figured that would happen eventually, but I wasn't in any hurry to go after it. I was just fine with me and Yukino. Pausing, Haruka did see the irony in that thought, this time, and smiled ruefully. It was certainly hard to deny now. She thought of holding Yukino in her arms, and that fleeting touch of their lips, and she felt... honestly, she felt a little frustrated. One, two, three--No, two and a half! She thought defensively; two and a half kisses, then, and she had not actually done anything with any of them! Somewhere in the back of her mind a little voice tried to ask her why, exactly, she cared that much so suddenly, but somewhere else a larger voice kept yelling about kissing Yukino, so the little one was hard to hear.
Soon Yukino was finished and Takahashi was bouncing happily out of the room, waving at Yukino and saluting Haruka as she turned out the door,
"Good day Kikukawa-senpai, Director!"
Haruka let go a breath of relief as she closed the door after the young operative and turned back to Yukino. Yukino looked from her desk at her, a bashful smile decorating her lips. Haruka's fingers twitched, but she steeled herself in place. Have to at least say something.
"Senpai...?" Yukino spoke aloud musingly. Haruka's nervousness deflated like a burst baloon, and she smiled,
"I'm sure they'd all address you like that, if you ever gave them a reason to talk to you." Haruka pointed out.
Yukino rubbed the back of her head, flushing, "You really think so?"
"Mm-hmm." Haruka answered promptly, and arbitrarily decided that was plenty of conversation to get back to where they were, "And say, right before we had to deal with that anno--er, that is, important business, weren't we--"
"Director!" Haruka lurched forward as the classroom door burst open and slammed into her. Only bracing herself on a desk several paces in front of her kept her from tumbling ungracefully to the floor. She gingerly touched the back of her head, where she could already feel a lump forming, and turned furiously to the doorway where Takahashi was standing looking absolutely mortified.
"Di-di-di-director, I'm so sorry! Are you okay?"
"F-fine! Absolutely, one-hundred percent okay! Now, what are you doing back here?" Haruka managed in a strained voice, forcing herself to stand up straight, though all she wanted to do was fall to the ground and roll around while clutching her head in the most undignified manner possible.
"There are two boys fighting down the hall! I tried to stop them, but they wouldn't listen to me. Please, come do something!"
Haruka made a quick decision, "You came to the right place, Takahashi-san. Quick, hurry back to the scene, I'll be along in half a second! I better not pass you up!"
"Yes ma'am!" She ran off as fast as her legs could take her. Haruka glanced to the open door, then frowned, growling shortly at the ceiling, She rushed over to Yukino in a few long strides, pulled her out of the desk, and held her at arms length. Looking deeply into her eyes she flashed her a tender smile and said, in a rushed but sincere manner,
"I love you, Yukino." She pulled Yukino in a close embrace and spun her around one wonderfully dizzying time. Yukino felt herself flushing lightly, then more deeply when Haruka lay a chaste kiss on her still-rosy cheek before letting go and hurrying out the door, with one last half-apologetic, half-lovestruck, half-irritated, and half-righteous lopsided smile.
Yukino stood there for a moment, feeling dizzy, and the spinning had only a small part to play in that. She raised a hand to her face and laid her fingertips over the spot Haruka had kissed her. Haruka-chan kissed me. Kissed. Me. And, and she said, and before that... Yukino felt a heady flood of emotion. She smiled. She did not even care about the harried nature of that parting. She was in love with somebody like Haruka, after all. Yukino was pretty sure that if she was with somebody like Haruka, it would not be the last time she would have to leave with nothing more than a speedy kiss, embrace, and a parting, "I love you," before she had to go. But of course, Yukino thought as she finished putting up her computer and gathering hers and Haruka's things, while I might always be able to follow her, I'm still supposed to right now.
Yukino hurried happily into the hall to follow Haruka, and was befuddled for a moment as to which way to go when she got to the first intersection. But seconds later, screams of outrage flew gracefully through the air on angel wings to guide her way.
Yukino swished water in her mouth and spat it in the sink, rinsing it down for a few seconds more before shutting off the water. She walked out of the bathroom, clad in her pajamas. Haruka lay on the blankets of the smartly made bed, hands behind her head and eyes closed, but Yukino could tell she was not asleep yet. She stepped softly over and, after fighting off an absurd urge to leap over and surprise her friend with a flying Yukino tackle, sat down on the edge of the mattress. She took off her glasses and set them on the bedside table, and stretched out next to Haruka. She moved over and appropriated one of Haruka's arms for use as an extra pillow. She felt Haruka's head turn, and could imagine her eyes opening in that look of mingled surprise, amusement and embarrassment the older girl had often worn. She heard unsuccessfully suppressed laughter, and saw Haruka's middle shaking slightly with it.
"Hey, Yukino, isn't this something? Now that we might find such a thing more, um, appealing, we're back from that honeymoon suite." Yukino felt herself coloring, but when she opened her mouth to speak Haruka was already continuing. "What are the odds? Our Bubuzuke travel agent wasn't all the way wrong, just a few days early." Yukino raised herself up on one arm and away from Haruka a little ways, sitting up in the bed.
"Oh, yes, coincidence, Bubu--er, Shizuru wrong, ah-ha-ha..." Yukino's felt as though her mind had disconnected from her mouth without adequate forewarning, letting the latter chatter onward without much in the way of guidance. Haruka could see that something had made Yukino uncomfortable, and tried to recant a bit of what she had said,
"I'm sorry, Yukino, did that situation give you a hard time? You seemed like you were enjoying yourself, so I hadn't thought that--"
"No no, it's not that, Haruka-chan. This is something else entirely, that's also about last weekend. I'm not sure exactly how to say it, though." Yukino spoke quickly, before she could stop herself, that way she could not not say it now. This little detail had lain dormant, not forgotten but not forefront, in her mind. Haruka's bringing it up in such a blunt, unexpected manner, however reminded Yukino that Haruka deserved a little more of the truth of that weekend. Fair and square, honest, and everything else, Yukino thought with a touch of resentment. Being honest had been easy enough when it had come to flirting and such. Yukino sighed, knowing better than many that the rule honesty would rarely be such a joy to follow. She would just have to somehow let Haruka know that Shizuru was not to blame for any of it. That might not have been entirely true, but Yukino knew was the right thing to do, which won out in the honesty-versus-rightness argument. While she was prepared to disclose what the President might have preferred remain secret, Yukino was not going to get Shizuru in trouble with Haruka over it.
"You see, I've, um... I've been hiding something else," Yukino finally blurted as Haruka began to look impatient; Yukino had been chasing thoughts for a while now.
"Something else? Er, is this one my fault too?" Haruka asked, uncertainty written on her face as she sat up in the bed to face Yukino.
"Ah, eh? No! Not at all, Haruka-chan." Yukino could not help it, she laughed. Smiling warmly, she found the courage to continue steadily. "To the point: the assignment last weekend. You see, the thing is..."
One story later, Haruka was dumbstruck. She had not uttered so much as a peep during Yukino's disclosure, though Yukino had seen various emotions flashing through Haruka's expressive eyes as she related her initial conversation with Shizuru and the subsequent plotting, and other various details of the weekend the older girl hadn't been aware of. However, Yukino had no idea where Haruka's mood might progress to--or whom it might progress against--from here.
"Why that manipulative little, tea-drinking.... hussy!" Haruka barked, shaking her head. Yukino smiled tentatively, trying to think of ways she might defuse Haruka's irritation.
"Yukino," Haruka fixed her with an intense gaze, "do you know what this means?"
"What, Haruka-chan?" Yukino asked, throat tight, horrible expectations swimming through her mind like so many voracious sharks.
"The Bubuzuke Woman actually tried to do something right!" Haruka declared, "She's not just a lazy, shirking, self-serving shrew! She was still a sneaky little..." Haruka's vocabulary failed, and Shizuru's subsequent descriptor was conveyed as a low, growling noise in Haruka's throat. "But the point is, she tried to do something good. For you. She even managed it, after a fashion."
Yukino blinked, Haruka still sounded faintly furious, as expected, but her words were nothing Yukino had expected.
"Dear lord, what does this say about me? I can't believe it took her to tell you what I was thinking and feeling, and what I would have wanted you to do. Is she actually getting a sense of propriety? Must have rubbed off from me, of course..." She noticed Yukino dissolving into helpless laughter and stopped. Haruka looked abashed for a moment, then she laughed too.
"Why are we laughing, Yukino?" She asked after a moment.
"I'm not sure. You weren't joking, were you?"
"Ah, no, that wasn't really a joke. Nobody laughs at my jokes anyway," she added with a trace of annoyance.
"Then," Yukino thought, "I think I was laughing because I would never have imagined you would react like that to what I told you."
Haruka looked genuinely surprised at that, "Come now, could I really hold too much against Fujino for noticing something that I should have been aware of years before her? She listened to everything you had to say, and comforted you in your time of need..." Haruka bit her lip, Yukino had been very candid about even the smallest details, and it had broken her heart to hear how Yukino had finally broken down. She cleared her throat, though Yukino was awed to see a wet shine lining Haruka's eyes that the older girl was fighting back for all she was worth. "And she even tried to help. She had good intentions in her scheme this time." Haruka paused then, looking skeptically thoughtful. "I think she did, anyway. Whatever. Either way, the results... I like them, and that's what matters." Haruka flushed as she said this, and flopped her head back down on the pillow and closed her eyes to hide her embarrassment. Yukino lay back down like they had been before.
That... that's it, then, isn't it? Yukino thought confidently, what am I waiting for? I've told her everything, and she said... today, she said she loved me, and she kissed me even, a little bit. She's done almost everything but outright telling me to, so why don't I...? Yukino reached her arm over and laid a hand on Haruka's chest, just over her heart. She inclined her head up to Haruka's, to meet her eyes looking back down at her. Haruka covered Yukino's hand with her own, and almost before she herself knew what she was doing, she was moving, meeting Yukino in a kiss. A long, somewhat clumsy kiss, but neither of them cared. They parted hesitantly, haltingly, breaking and coming back together several times. Yukino trailed a few extra kisses down her cheek and jawline as they separated, unable to help herself wanting just a little bit more.
Haruka found herself breathing deeply, and she thought she could feel Yukino's beating as well; the girl's chest rising and falling against her side. She felt the oddest tickly-tingly feeling all over. I hope I wasn't too bad at that for my first time really trying, she thought, though we didn't go too far. What exactly are you supposed to do with you tongue in those other kisses, anyway? As she came slowly back down from her place in the clouds where her fuzzy mind could dwell on those things, she noticed a tug on her pajama top, and looked down to see Yukino undoing the buttons, one by one.
"Er, hey, Yukino?" The younger girl paused. "I don't know if I'm ready for..." Yukino smiled up at her, though her hand stopped.
"You can't blame a girl for trying," Yukino shrugged, though she kept her hand resting atop Haruka's chest, fingertips lightly placed on the little bit of skin she had already revealed, the sensation sending doubts through Haruka's mind about what she was or was not ready for, but not quite enough to change her mind on this regard. Still, there was somewhat else... Haruka hesitated for only a moment, but the softness of Yukino's eyes melted any reservation she might have still held. Haruka turned onto her side and reached her arm over, pulling Yukino close to her, her hand still splayed on her chest. They lay together, face to face, and Yukino changed her grip, grasping the front of Haruka's pajamas and pulling herself even closer. Their legs intertwined and there was soon nowhere else for Haruka's arms to be but wrapped around Yukino. As Haruka breathed, she could feel Yukino's breath too, in the rising and falling of the vulnerable body against her, and in the gentle touch of each of Yukino's exhalations on her cheek and throat.
"Yukino," Haruka said softly, "This is kind of awkward." Even while saying that, however, she did not move. Yes, it felt awkward, but it seemed infinitely more undesirable to end it. Haruka felt a flush creep up her neck at thoughts that crept through her head, but no amount of embarrassment could stop her now. She kissed Yukino again. And again, and again. Yukino marveled at the feeling, Haruka's arms tightening and pulling her closer, pressed into a strong yet lush body that was even more sensual than her fantasies could ever have led her to believe, even through the fabric between them. She wondered at the feeling of Haruka's lips, that she had seen set into a line harder than steel and harsher than a desert wind, but felt soft as rose petals and gentle as a warm spring rain. Neither of them knew, or cared, how long they stayed up lost in one another's lips and eyes, and they did not care how long they took to find out just what you were supposed to do with your tongue in those other kinds of kisses. This night was a timeless treasure for them to enjoy, and there would be more than enough nights to discover what other treasures they could give to one another.
And that was what what they both kept trying to remind themselves as they shambled, still more than half-asleep, out of bed the next day with the clock's display reading a glaring ten forty-seven. Yukino had been awoken by a startled oath and sudden motion as Haruka was the first one to crack her eyes open and take a look at the time. Now they tried to get ready as fast as they could, Yukino throwing caution to the winds and jumping into the shower with Haruka--which was much less fun than one might imagine. Today, all it meant for them was a case of bumped heads and a few elbow jabs as they scrambled around one another. They staggered out of the bathroom, Haruka almost slipping and breaking her neck in the process. They dressed quickly, Haruka hurling out a sentence here and there when she had the chance.
"Okay, we missed the morning conference. We didn't get the chance to find out if they discovered the identity of whoever owned that notebook. We can go find that out during lunch, though, and I'm sure I can find out anything we missed from Fujino this afternoon. This is not a problem, just a little mistake. Right, Yukino?"
"Of course, Haruka-chan. Just a little... unexpected time off, happens to everybody."
"Right, right. Well, I'll see you at lunch, then." Yukino was startled to see that Haruka was already dressed and had her things ready to go... to all appearances, at any rate. When Haruka rushed over to give her a hug and a kiss on the cheek--seemed she was indeed trying to make a habit of that cheek-kissing nonsense--Yukino made sure with a discreet pass of her hand that Haruka was wearing the appropriate undergarments. Purely for Haruka's sake, of course to make sure she was not forgetting anything, though Yukino definitely enjoyed seeing Haruka yelp as she did so. Then Yukino firmly kissed her on the lips, hoping to encourage Haruka that this was how she wanted their goodbyes to go from now on. From the happy, almost punch-drunk expression that her kiss left Haruka with, she thought she was not going to encounter any complaints. Haruka exited the room with a rather dreamy expression on her face, narrowly avoided a collision with a pair of gossiping girls, yelled at them to watch where they were going, how rude, and hurried off to the class she had beginning at eleven o'clock that she was already several minutes late for. Yukino made her own way out of the room soon after.
Just another morning as the Executive Adjunct, not-so-secretly in love with her partner.
"You wanted to see me, Fujino-san?"
"Yes, please have a seat." Chie sat, with a casual indifference that Shizuru found refreshing, not many students felt this comfortable when she requested their presence. Or, at the least, not many can pretend so well, she thought with a hidden smirk. "Assuming you've already found out--and I'd say you're slipping if you hadn't--I first wanted to get your thoughts on Yukino-san's situation."
"Yeah, I heard. The whole school knows about that, Fujino-san. Never thought I'd see that kind of lovey-dovey mess on Suzushiro-san's face. You know, most people think her happy smiles are scarier than her old manic ones."
"Harada-san, you mustn't be so mistrustful of unfamiliar things," Shizuru admonished.
"I suppose, it used to be kinda odd to see that on Kuga-san's face too, you know." There was a pause. "Though I'd appreciate it if you don't tell her I said that."
"I think I can see fit to not have it come up in conversation."
"So how have things been for you with this little change, President? I imagine you got to get in some choice digs on Suzushiro-san, after the way she's acted about you and Kuga-san."
"I am human, so I can admit I thought of such things, but alas, I never did say anything. From the pensive, guilty looks Suzushiro-san gave me, I thought she was aware enough of the situation. She even thanked me today, and apologized, all stiffness and formality. I could perhaps have understood the apology, for reasons that you have just mentioned, but the gratitude was almost beyond me. I assume, for the moment, that Yukino-san decided to reveal my part in recent events."
"Wait, you think Yukino-chan told her... and she thanked you? I don't know, I'm going to believe the thanks was for something else entirely; I can't see Suzushiro-san managing that."
"Whatever belief makes you comfortable. Ah, but there's another matter I wanted to talk to you about, Harada-san."
A whistling from the adjacent room cut their conversation short as Shizuru went to go prepare tea. She set a steaming cup in front of her guest. Chie took a cautious sip, eyes alighting with pleasure.
"Mmm, this is good, Fujino-san."
"Thank you, I'm glad you enjoy it."
"By the way, where is Kuga-san right now? I thought you two would be enjoying some time together right now, after graduation and all."
"Oh my, something the Most Reliable Source doesn't know?" Shizuru dug with a friendly smile, "She's speaking, at length, with Mr. Sakomizu right now. You were aware of her less than perfect attendance, I assume?"
"Apparently it was glaring enough to cause her to repeat a year."
"Oh, dear. There wasn't anything President Fujino could do?"
"It took me by surprise as well. Can you believe that the first thing I thought of was to hold off my own graduation to attend with her once more?"
"Ha! That seems a little drastic. I guess you cooled off on that?"
"Yes, but prepare for another shock: it was mostly due to the intervention of Suzushiro-san that I changed my mind. She did her best to convince me to graduate out of duty to the school and students, of course, but what really did it was when she went out of her way to bully Sakomizu-san to modify certain school rules, in order to allow Natsuki's graduation."
"Will wonders never cease! But I suppose that our Director wouldn't want to get an unfair advantage over you at the University."
"My thoughts exactly, Harada-san. I can scarcely believe that I didn't try something similar before Suzushiro-san stepped in, I must not have been in my right mind."
"It happens to everybody now and again, Fujino-san, though I am still somehow surprised to see it happen to you."
"We all have our flaws, but I believe that Natsuki is a lovely flaw for me to have."
"Kuga-san is a flaw?"
"Don't take things so literally, Harada-san. Ah, but as long as we're keeping track of things to not mention to Natsuki..."
"So then, it looks like I shall just have to notify my household that I will, regretfully of course, have to remain at the campus over the summer holidays. It is still my duty to this fine academy to help all its students succeed, and Natsuki is going to need a tutor if she's going to pass the cram course and final exam to pass."
"I feel your pain, Fujino-san, but I know you can make it."
"Speaking of which, I wanted to know how you managed to make it. Out of trouble, that is. You heard about the misfortune of young Takeda-san?"
Chie started laughing, and Shizuru patiently waited for her to finish.
"However did you avoid blame for that?"
"Oh, it wasn't that hard, President. You know most of it already. I threw attention off myself by using an extra-large pair of shoes and sneaking a club key. Then all I had to do to implicate Takeda-kun was avoid his nameplate, and I nabbed one of his notebooks--you wouldn't believe some of the terrible doodles he has in there--for study and made my modest graffiti in his styling. I didn't even think they would check such a thing, but I went with my instincts there."
"You certainly are being candid, Harada-san."
"If you wanted me to be punished for this, Fujino-san, you already know I did it, and you wouldn't necessarily feel the need to go through proper school channels to make anything happen."
"True," Shizuru said with a shamelessness equal to Harada's explanation. "But, further, why did you choose Takeda? Wouldn't it have been a better idea to choose a member that was not so openly supportive of the sport as he?"
"It worked, didn't it?" Chie said with a grin, "But really, you're right. It might have been better to do that, but with his involvement--even completely innocent involvement--in the lingerie thefts at the beginning of the year, Suzushiro-san already had him marked as a delinquent. I didn't think it would be hard to convince her to leave a little logic on the wayside when going after him."
"You truly wagered so much on a small bias from Suzushiro-san?"
"I also got the subtle impression that you wouldn't worry too much about picky little details either; Takeda-kun has a not-insignificant amount of unflattering history in your book as well."
"Oh my, am I truly so transparent?"
"Clear as this tea," Chie replied, lifting her cup of moderately milked black tea. She had smirked at the disapproving look she had earned from Shizuru earlier, for milking and sweetening her tea, but she could not resist poking at the President a little bit, like a tourist poking a caged tiger, "So what ended up happening to Takeda-kun anyway? He looked just awful at the graduation ceremony."
Shizuru's eyes actually looked mildly sympathetic. "He'd just gotten to leave the church, poor thing, though it was only a temporary leave to attend graduation. He's going to be at the church for quite some time."
"Yuuki-san seems to be enjoying it, I wondered why she looked so satisfied recently. I thought she might have found spiritual joy in religion. That might have been a bit much to hope for, admittedly."
"It appears as though god has a use for all his creations, even Yuuki-san." Shizuru said solemnly, with a merry twinkle in her eyes. Chie laughed, and Shizuru sipped her tea before continuing.
"In all, I would say that such cleverness as yours surely warrants a pardon from any wrongdoing; it would be a shame to discourage creativity among the students."
"I'm happy to have your appreciation, Miss President. Now then, unless there was anything else, I really do have to be running. Unlike Kuga-san, Aoi isn't doing anything particularly important right now, and what's more, she's doing nothing important alone. I would rather like to be doing nothing important with her."
"Of course. It was very nice chatting with you, Harada-san, perhaps we can do it again some time."